GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The Dallas Stars on Thursday announced the hiring of Todd Nelson as an assistant coach.
Nelson is the fifth Grand Rapids Griffins head coach in 22 seasons to earn a promotion to the National Hockey League. He follows in the NHL footsteps of Jeff Blashill (2012-15), Bruce Cassidy (2000-02), Curt Fraser (2008-12) and Guy Charron (1998-00), who earned coaching promotions with the Detroit Red Wings (head), Washington Capitals (head), Dallas (assistant) and Anaheim Ducks (assistant), respectively.
Nelson, 49, guided the Griffins to the franchise’s second Calder Cup in 2017 and totaled the third-most regular season wins in the AHL since 2015-16 with a 133-78-4-13 (0.621) mark in his three campaigns behind Grand Rapids’ bench. The 10th head coach in franchise history, Nelson ranks third all-time in victories, trailing only Fraser (146) and Blashill (134). The Griffins exceeded 90 points and 40 wins during each of his seasons.
Nelson posted a franchise-record 0.667 postseason winning percentage with the Griffins as part of a 22-11 record – tallying both the second-most playoff wins in team history and the second-most victories in the AHL since 2016. He led the Griffins to the Calder Cup Playoffs in each of his three seasons to extend his stretch of seven consecutive postseason bids in each of his seven full campaigns as an AHL bench boss.
In 2017-18, Nelson helped the Griffins overcome a 10-15-1-3 start to conclude the season 42-25-2-7, including a Central Division-best 32-10-1-4 mark from Dec. 22 onward. Nelson joined Blashill as the only coaches in franchise history to lead Grand Rapids to three straight postseason appearances. The milestones he achieved included: becoming the fifth active AHL head coach with 500 or more games on Nov. 11; becoming the fifth coach in franchise history with 100 or more wins on Dec. 2; and becoming the 20th head coach in the 82-year history of the AHL with 300 or more wins on March 16.
In 2016-17, Nelson directed the Griffins to a 100-point season (47-23-1-5), the franchise’s sixth time hitting the century mark and second since the league went to a 76-game schedule in 2011-12. Grand Rapids shattered the franchise record while leading the entire AHL with a power play efficiency of 24.4%, utilizing a five-forward lineup for 35 of the team’s 80 power play goals (43.8%). Nelson coached the Central Division in the All-Star Classic – thanks to Grand Rapids posting a division-best 0.694 points percentage through Dec. 31 – and became the third coach in Griffins history to coach in an all-star game. His 0.599 winning percentage marked the highest for any head coach in team history through his first two regular seasons. Nelson capped 2016-17 by completing the Calder Cup trifecta and becoming only the third person in AHL history to win the Cup as a player (1994 Portland), assistant coach (2008 Chicago) and head coach, joining Bob Woods and Mike Stothers on the list.
During the 2015-16 season, he led Grand Rapids (44-30-1-1) on separate 15- and 13-game winning streaks – the two longest in franchise history – as the Griffins became the first AHL team since 2009-10 to log multiple double-digit runs in the same season.
Overall, Nelson staked the Griffins to a 70-38-2-4 (0.640) mark at Van Andel Arena, including a club record 14-game winning streak from Nov. 11, 2015-Jan. 15, 2016. Grand Rapids finished 10-0 on home ice during its run to the Calder Cup in 2017, becoming the fourth team in AHL history to compile a 10-game home winning streak in a single postseason.
As coach of the top development team of the Detroit Red Wings, Nelson helped 24 Griffins move on to the NHL (not including conditioning stints), including 14 who made their debuts after playing under him: Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Bertuzzi, Jared Coreau, Kyle Criscuolo (Buffalo), Martin Frk, Joe Hicketts, Nick Jensen, Matt Lorito, Anthony Mantha, Tomas Nosek, Dan Renouf, Robbie Russo, Evgeny Svechnikov and Dominic Turgeon.
Nelson mentored two rookie defensemen to year-end awards during his Grand Rapids tenure. Russo became the first player in team history to earn both All-Rookie and All-Star Team accolades in the same season after he was named to the 2016 Second All-Star Team. Russo led the AHL with a plus-40 rating and his 39 points established a club record for top single-season scoring rookie defensemen. Filip Hronek became the fourth defenseman in team history to be named to the All-Rookie Team in 2018 and the eighth Griffin overall to garner such accolades. Hronek’s 39 points tied Russo’s mark for team first-year blueliner scoring.
In his eight seasons as an AHL head coach, which includes Oklahoma City (2010-15) and Grand Rapids (2015-18), Nelson compiled a 309-189-16-47 (0.607) regular season mark. His 309 wins rank 17th all-time in the AHL. Nelson adds a 42-31 (0.575) record in 73 career Calder Cup Playoff games to tie for sixth all-time in postseason victories.
The original Griffin, Nelson was the first player ever signed to a Griffins contract prior to the team’s inaugural season in 1996. Through parts of four seasons (1996-98; 99-00; 01-02), Nelson amassed 67 points (11-56—67) to rank 16th among franchise defensemen and skated in 236 games, which places eighth among club blueliners. Most notably, Nelson was a member of the Griffins’ 1999-00 squad that reached the IHL Turner Cup Finals. He was an honorable mention IHL All-Star during that campaign after pacing the circuit with a plus-36 rating, and he places eighth overall in franchise history with a plus-53 mark.
Nelson began his coaching career full time as an assistant with the Griffins in 2002-03, helping the team reach the Western Conference Finals after winning the Central Division and posting the best record in the conference during the regular season.
Following in the footsteps of Danton Cole (2002-05), Nelson was the second former Griffins player to be employed as Grand Rapids’ head coach.
Nelson is the fifth former Griffins player or coach to currently hold a bench coach position in the NHL.
Nelson returns to the NHL after leading the Edmonton Oilers to a 17-22-7 record in 46 games during the 2014-15 campaign while taking over for Dallas Eakins as the interim head coach on Dec. 15. Following two seasons (2006-08) as an assistant for the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, which culminated with the 2008 Calder Cup, Nelson served as an assistant to the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers from 2008-10 (70-75-12-7 record).
A native of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Nelson owns a 475-269-48-47 (0.623) record as a professional head coach.
In 333 games as head coach of the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons from 2010-15, Nelson totaled a 176-111-12-34 (0.598) regular season record, which included the Western Conference’s best record in 2011-12. He tallied a 20-20 Calder Cup Playoff record, including consecutive trips to the conference finals (2012, 2013).
Nelson also spent three seasons (2003-06) as head coach of the UHL’s Muskegon Fury and tallied a 149-58-25 mark (0.696) and consecutive Colonial Cups (2004, 2005). He won his first Colonial Cup with Muskegon during the 2001-02 season while serving as a player and assistant coach.
A fourth-round selection by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft, Nelson appeared in three regular season and four playoff games with the Penguins and Washington Capitals between 1991-94. During a pro career that spanned 12 seasons (1990-2002), Nelson appeared in 887 career games, logging 391 points (80-311—391) and 599 penalty minutes from his blueline position.