The official announcement is at least a day away, but based on twitter feeds from hockey insiders Dallas Eakins is the 12th coach in Oilers history. It is an interesting choice, and in order to better understand the coach I’ve run the ‘in a box’ on him as we’ve done in the past with Craig MacTavish, Tom Renney and Pat Quinn.
First, some background. Eakins came out of the famed Peterborough Petes in the mid 1980′s–that’s a team that is legendary (along with the Regina Pats) for delivering stunning two-way talents groomed under the watchful eye of men like Sam Pollock, Del Wilson and Roger Neilson. Eakins had a long pro career and turned to coaching very shortly after playing his final pro games (he is now 46 years old and less than one decade removed from life as a player).
Eakins played under a strong group of coaches: Peterborough (Dick Todd, Jacques Martin), AHL (Terry Murray, Ron Wilson), IHL (John Anderson) and NHL (notably Roger Neilson and Mike Keenan but also including Lindy Ruff, Perry Pearn, Randy Carlyle and Pat Quinn). He was under the direction of Neilson in Florida and Neilson had him again as an assistant coach in St. Louis. When discussing coaching mentors Neilson is the gold standard–he was so far ahead of the NHL he invented much of the language. A small writeup on Neilson (this doesn’t touch the tip of the iceberg) is here. Jason Gregor also talks to him here and Eakins talks about Neilson–that’s a great look at the coach.
Eakins tells small details of his relationship with Neilson here and it sounds very much like Eakins has his mentor’s work ethic and astounding attention to detail. James Mirtle was ahead of the curve again one week ago when discussing Eakins and the Oilers (here) and I wanted to grab this quote:
- Mirtle: Eakins brings a decidedly “new school” approach behind the bench, and as a coach that players rally behind, is more in the mould of someone like Pittsburgh’s Dan Bylsma than the long list of veteran NHL coaches available right now.
There are some life details here (I warn you, this link leads you to a heartbreaking story that is not about hockey) and with that I’ll stop prying into his past and we’ll try to learn something about him as a coach and the Oilers future.
CHAPTER ONE: THE MARLIES
- Did the kids flourish under him with the Marlies? God yes. It has to be the number one reason he got the Oiler job. The list of players who adjusted quickly under his coaching and took steps forward is enormous for a coach with such a short (4 years in the AHL) resume.
- Name these players. Nazem Kadri is the one who gets the most attention, but beginning in 2009-10 Eakins coached and sent the following players to the NHL: Viktor Stalberg, Christian Hanson, Tyler Bozak, Darryl Boyce, Jay Rosehill, Carl Gunnarsson, Keith Aulie, James Reimer, Nazem Kadri, Joey Crabb, Korbinian Holzer, Jake Gardiner, Ben Scrivens, Matt Frattin, Mike Kostka, Leo Komarov.
- How many of these players would have emerged anyway? Hard to say. Bozak, Gunnarsson, Gardiner, Kostka and Komarov for sure, maybe Stalberg. You can certainly give him full credit for helping along Aulie, Reimer, Kadri, Scrivens and Frattin.
- Is the total (16 players) good for 4 NHL seasons? Outstanding. Leafs certainly improved their chances by being aggressive in trades and college free agency but even with that the procurement and development department were certainly firing on all cylinders. During the same 4 seasons, the Oilers sent Devan Dubnyk, Theo Peckham, Teemu Hartikainen, Linus Omark, Jeff Petry, Justin Schultz. That’s 6.
- Different circumstances. Certainly. Eberle, Hall, Nuge, Yakupov all passed over the AHL, and that would skew the number. Still, impressive total for the Marlies.
- What kind of prospects flourished under him? Wide variety. I’d say the most impressive job was on Kadri, but we can also give some credit for the way Reimer and guys like Frattin turned out and Aulie too. The clay was there, but the results were also there (in 57 AHL games under Eakins, Frattin scored 33 goals) upon arrival. Those players are a big part of Toronto’s future–I’d say that the Oilers would be in a far different situation now with only Aulie and Frattin added to the current roster. Minor league development is really important, and based on the track record Eakins was a big part of a successful procurement and development group.
- How much of this was blind luck? Kadri was a player in some trouble in the organization. There were issues (I talked about that here) and the organization needed a steady hand with a young player in a volatile situation.
- Did he do weird stuff with prospects? I think he showed intelligence in all kinds of situations based on what I’ve read about him. Kadri needed to be handled one way, but Jeff Finger needed something else again.
- Anything else with prospects? It’ll be interesting to see if the Oilers and Leafs end up making some deals over the next few seasons. If Eakins and MacT agree the 3line needs a little offense while not giving up too much grit, maybe Matt Frattin is a target. Or, maybe he swears on a stack of Bibles that Drew MacIntyre can handle the backup or AHL job. I’m just saying we should probably get to know the Leafs better.
CHAPTER TWO: THE OILERS
- Which players will benefit most from Eakins arrival? I think the entire roster will benefit from having a coach who will do things like hard match, protect his lesser defensive players and shorten the bench, forecheck, breakouts, etc. I assume these are the things that concerned MacT (also the playing time for Hall through Yakupov) enough to make the move, and would also assume we’ll see someone with legit NHL experience behind a bench (Mark Lamb?) come in to help the process.
- Anything else? If we use the Kadri issue and place it over the Oilers as a team, I think players like Anton Lander and Teemu Hartikainen may benefit from that kind of handling. That’s a guess, though. I also think a player like Sam Gagner may benefit but that’s probably a systems thing.
- Who will be in his top 6F? Well, that’s an interesting question. I assume the Oilers are going to change gears at least a little in order to accommodate the new coach. If we follow the current wisdom, the top 6F will be Nuge-Hall-Ebs and Gagner-???-Yakupov but for me that’s fluid. The new coach may have ideas about line shuffling or moving people to their off wing, or to the wing.
- What Eakins coached player would look best in the top 6F? Probably Kadri although I like both Stalberg and Frattin too.
- Who will be in his bottom 6F? Hell, that’s a massive question. Paajarvi, Hartikainen, Lander? I don’t know how many of the veterans are coming back now. Even Ryan Smyth might be in peril. This coaching change gives the GM/Coach cart blanche–there are no strings and that won’t always be the way. So, if you’re going to make a change, now is the time.
- Will the 4line have an enforcer? Great question, don’t know the answer. Marlies were plenty tough, but that might be a Brian Burke driven priority.
- How will he handle the blue? Hopefully he can find a way to get Jake Gardiner here, but beyond that I don’t think we’ll know really until he arrives. It looked pretty traditional on the PP (Gardiner, Ranger with the big minutes and someone named Simon Gysbers seemed to be a hidden gem 5×4) and he did have some nice options available to him (why Gardiner was in the AHL is beyond the pale).
- Who will be in his top 4D? Smid, Petry, Schultz the younger and someone as it stands, but this thing is going to overundersidewaysdown.
- Which of the young D will benefit from Eakins? Great question, I don’t really have a reason to list anyone outside of the obvious (Klefbom, Marincin, Fedun) and point out that much of the NHL D is about as young as his Marlie blue.
- How are his special teams? Last season, both disciplines were mid-pack and in the previous season they had the best PK and a mid-pack PP. I don’t think the PP is going to be a problem through the end of the decade in Edmonton. MacT’s moves this summer will dictate the PK’s success.
- Anything else? I don’t want to overstate this, but among the intelligent Leaf media available there seems to be genuine disgust over losing the guy. There is ALWAYS a danger in over-selling a move–this guy could fail miserably–but the family he’s leaving are at the curb waving goodbye. Generally speaking, that’s a trustworthy tell about the impact left by a person.