Is Bears’ Head Coach Todd Nelson The Next Man Up In D.C.?

screen cap: YouTube/Hershey Bears

It’s already been a crazy season for the Washington Capitals, as key injuries have derailed their 2022-23 campaign right from the start. How the team responds in the next quarter of the season will say alot about the direction of the team as they approach the 2023 trade deadline in March. A decision will need to be made in January. Will they be buyers? Will they be sellers? We should know in a months time.

Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette is in the final year of his three-year, $4,900,000 per season deal, with the team currently sitting at an underwhelming 10-11-4. Once again, injuries have had a lot to say about the record. As a result, it’s possible Laviolette gets a pass for this season’s results. That’s tough when it’s a contract year.

Regardless of how things ultimately playout with Laviolette, it’s never too early to begin thinking about a plan for the next step, whenever that may occur. Bears head coach Todd Nelson could be that next step.

The Capitals/Bears officially announced the signing of Nelson as the Bears next head coach back on August 11.

“Todd has had an accomplished coaching career featuring multiple championships. He’s a coach that is driven to win, and he has played a pivotal role in developing a long list of players who have advanced to the National Hockey League,” said Bears VP of Hockey Operations Brian Helmer in the August 11 press release.

Helmer added, “Having played for Todd myself, I know how detailed he is, and he’s truly a coach who gets the most out of his players. We’re fortunate to have Todd at the helm, and we’re excited about rounding out his staff with an experienced and decorated group of coaches.”

Nelson, 53, has over two decades of experience in the United Hockey League, American Hockey League, and NHL. The native of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan spent the last four seasons as an assistant coach for the NHL’s Dallas Stars.

Prior to that he spent three seasons as the head coach of the Grand Rapid Griffins in the AHL. Nelson led Grand Rapids to a Calder Cup Championship in 2017, becoming only the third person in AHL history to win the Calder Cup as a player (1994, Portland), assistant coach (2008, Chicago) and head coach, joining former Bears Bob Woods and Mike Stothers on that exclusive list. Nelson also spent time on the bench with the Edmonton Oilers.

So far Nelson has continued his coaching success in Hershey. The Bears have “roared” out to a 14-4-2-0 (.750) record to start the 2022-23 season and currently sit atop the AHL’s Atlantic Division. He’s dealt with the inevitable roster callups and injuries, and kept the team focused on the task of winning hockey games. It’s early, but things look good in chocolate town.

So is Nelson a fit to someday come to Washington. The simple answer is yes. He’s got the experience and knowledge of the Capitals players and organization. However, any future decision on Nelson coming to Washington will likely depend on timing. Will he be around when an opportunity becomes available?

Spencer Carbery was another Bears head coach that was primed for a move to Washington (as we wrote about here). Carbery was named the AHL’s Most Outstanding coach for the 2020-21 season in May of 2021 before the Toronto Maple Leafs swooped in and hired him as an assistant coach a month and a half later.

Carbery is one that got away, as he will likely get an NHL head coaching opportunity in the next few seasons (he’s already interviewed in the past). It’s too early to say if Nelson is “THE” answer in Washington, but right now, he’s another one they don’t want to let get away.

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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24 Responses to Is Bears’ Head Coach Todd Nelson The Next Man Up In D.C.?

  1. Anonymous says:

    I still haven’t got over losing Carbery. He is gonna be a hell of an NHL coach.

  2. lfgaming2022 says:

    Run it back with Trotz

  3. Zach B says:

    Hey Jon @baxter_14 on Twitter here just saying I love the work you put in. We’ve always had good interactions on Twitter and love your content so I was sad to see that you threw me a block. Any chance you can unblock me so we can talk this out and I can keep up with the prospects ? Keep up the great work

  4. Lance says:

    I’d look at giving Carbery a chance at head coach first. Nelson is also interesting. We’ve got to clear out some of the old guard and change our philosophy. We need the personnel and coaching to play a heavier game than this.

  5. hockeydruid says:

    Nelson, Carbery, Scott are all interesting. However the owner is not going to let the GM pull the plug on the HC because he is to afraid that Ovie will not get the record that he wants!! He would rather have a slow, old, tired team that either exits the first round or doesnt make the playoffs rather then pay a coach to fix this teams problems which start in the front office by handing out bad contracts and hanging unto players to long. Loyalty is nice but you cant keep everyone forever or at the expense of your younger players. A few others that would be nice: Gronborg, Leaman, Muller, Roy (and you get someone with goalie experience also), Vellucci, and for GM how about Ferguson who is ass Gm Bruins, MacFarland Colorado Asst GM, Tulsky Carolins Asst Gm, Mathieu Darche TB Hockey operations. Have to get soem new ideas and new life into the front office and get prepared for a rebuild as this current crew IMHO is not the crew to do it.

    • franky619 says:

      So according to you it’s Ovie’s fault if the team sucks right now. What a load of crap. The blame goes to GMBM for putting this team together, Ovie’s gonna score no matter what and would only break the record faster if the team was competitive. Ovechkin is the only reason they made the playoff last year and that they are on the bubble this year. The last few years very bad decision have been made with this roster and coaching staff, and none of them have been made to help Ovie score. Put the blame where it belongs. On Maclellan.

      • novafyre says:

        Druid didn’t say it was Ovi’s fault. He said it was Ted’s fault. I agree. Ted is focused on the man who has really put the Caps where they are today — a major NHL franchise in a non-hockey city. Ovi is DC’s best athlete. And Ted is getting scared that something will derail Ovi’s quest. So he is going to go with what is warm and fuzzy and he is comfortable with what GMBM and Lavi are doing. Whether right or wrong is immaterial — Ted has to be comfortable with the decisions. And all indications are that Ted is comfortable with what GMBM and Lavi are doing.

        • franky619 says:

          He was pretty much implying like you are that the state of this team is due to the fact that the only focus right now is Ovy passing Gretzky. And that is a load of crap. Ovy will pass Gretzky no matter what and it would only happen faster if GMBM had built a good team around him. What would derail Ovy quest and how does scoring goals hurt the team? As if this team was put together to help Ovy score. Extending Backstrom and letting go players they should have kept to do so like Burakovsky and Stephenson only shows the lack of knowledge and comptence of GMBM.

          • novafyre says:

            I agree that the Caps could help Ovi by building a better, younger team around him. I just feel that Ted, as he has gotten older, has gotten more risk adverse — he wants to take the safe course which is to build an older veteran team. Like you, I feel that is wrong, I just feel it is Ted’s decision and that GMBM and Lavi are just following it. So I place the blame higher.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I agree with many of the sentiment, however, in my personal opinion the team needs to go for a younger coach (someone like Carbery) rather than a more experienced NHL bench boss). Yes experience is useful, but if the Caps truly (ever) commit to going younger, then I just can’t see an older/experienced coach meshing well with that unless they know the players coming through the system (like Bruce Boudreau did back in the day with many of the players that played for him in Hershey).

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      I like that idea as well. The tendency is to fire the “experienced” (recycle) but there are so many good (young) coaches out there. Carbery would be a great future hire, in my opinion.

    • BrianB (@Puckstop31_) says:

      Carbery will of course be a good option. But the Bears are clearly buying into what Nelson is selling right now. If (huge IF) the plan is to bring up a decent amount of current prospects to the NHL soon, Nelson might be the better option. Next year. Ha. The Bears are cooking up something special right now. Would love to see how far they can go. What a great experience that would be for the kids. Come into DC off a huge high.

      • Jon Sorensen says:

        Good points Brian. He’s got the Bears playing well and believing. Will that transfer to NHL level? Big unknown. I too want to see what he can accomplish this season in chocolate town.

        • novafyre says:

          Right now I’d prefer to leave Nelson in Hershey where the Bears can win a Cup with him and hire Carbs away from a rival.

  7. dwgie26 says:

    Nelson is really gelling the Bears. Love what he is doing, but he has only been there for one year so he is not deeply entwined with prospects IMO. He is more at home in the AHL and I would like to see him with Bears at least one more year but Lavi’s contract is up now. Carbery has risk like Cassidy, Hunter, and Reirdon as first year coaches. maybe Carberry with Nelson as an assistant? I think you have to have a veteran paired with Carberry.

  8. Jonathan says:

    I’d line him up now. Let him know that we’re interested, and ask him if he is? Than plan tentatively him as the coach beginning next season, without undermining Lavi’s work or Nelson’s future. I’d be prepared to put him in sooner if deemed a better move for the team for this year. I’d consider doing it right now in better prep for next year. The only reason I’d hesitate is if I felt that Lavi had a chance to go deep in the playoffs, and that would take insider knowledge on the injury situation. I’d be at 80% lean towards replacing him now.

    Nelson’s improvement over the previous Hershey coach is quite dramatic. Of course, he’s had two things going for him too. 1) More AHL superstar depth, and 2) a willingness to lean more heavily on those stars over prospects, and let the prospects learn by watching the more veteran players and earning more time that way. Starting LaPierre on the 3rd line? Brilliant move. And LaPierre has responded, doing quite well on that line.

    I was neutral on Lavi. Now I’m under that. Not quite negative, but not positive either. I see multiple things that create concern.

  9. Jonathan says:

    I think I’ve solved the mystery of why Lavi kept McMichael from going to Hershey while he sat on the NHL bench twiddling his thumbs. When it obviously made no difference to the Bears record, he gave up and sent him down.

  10. Bob Tretler says:

    I think it’s time to bring a former Cap back in the fold, Jeff Halpern

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      You are not alone in this feeling. I’ve heard it from quite a few.

    • novafyre says:

      I like Jeff and think he has been good with Lightning, He has 2 years as assistant with the Crunch and 4 years as assistant with the Bolts. I would prefer him to get some HC experience before being hired as HC with the Caps.

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