As hockey coaches go, Dallas Eakins is a little more complicated than your average Orval Tessier. His rookie season as head coach has been a lot about friction, resistance, learning curve (his and others) and new words for the lexicon. Swarm. Character. Message. I’ve been struck by another word—communication—and how sometimes in life it can take awhile to open the channels.
Eakins spoke recently to two Edmonton media people: John MacKinnon and Derek Van Diest. Two bright fellows themselves, it gives fans like you and me a chance to hear the field general and his take on the first 60 games. And the future.
- Eakins: “We’re trying to morph this team into a team that’s going to use their skill greatly, but be a defence-first minded team.”
I think the changes we’ve seen in-season—beginning with the Gazdic claim and then adding Matt Hendricks and Mark Fraser—give us an indication about where Eakins is heading with this team. When he (and Craig MacTavish) spoke in the off-season about the type of team we were going to see in Edmonton under their regime, I got the impression it would be more button-down. Give the offense room to flourish, button down homebase. I felt it would be a “possession” team, but most of the players added during this season haven’t been those kinds of players. The Edmonton Oilers flushed Lennart Petrell and gave the job to Matt Hendricks. Are they better?
- 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’s been a lot of talk about Eakins’ personality, but NHL history shows all kinds of people can be successful in the job. Communication may be an issue, but sandpaper worked pretty well for Scotty Bowman. If you tell me that Eakins met with more resistance to new ideas because of his personality, I’d buy that one. However, this group of kids needed someone with iron in his words and staying power, so MacT is right in staying the course.
- Eakins: “We want to keep moving forward with our system play, we’d like to get a little more aggressive on it now. And coming out of the break, that’s what we’re going to focus on. We don’t want to come off what we’ve been building, especially in the last little while here. I want to come out of that break running, not walking along or stumbling.”
It sounds like Eakins is going back to the big hill that was training camp in an effort to climb it again. He has more settled goaltending, some additions to the blueline and a better understanding of the men in his charge. I think he’s a bright guy, and will follow closely his progress in the season’s second half. I’m encouraged by the coach’s forthcoming words in regard to Hall’s season and how they may have done him a disservice through miscommunication. I’m also heartened that he sees the good in new hires like Mark Fraser (whose adjustment to the Oilers have been chaos incorporated) and feels he can make it all work. I am discouraged by the distance between “possession” and the obsession with size over skill.
I’ve said this one thousand times, and I’ll say it again: NO ONE is saying big players are bad, but they have to be actual NHL players. Matt Hendricks. Luke Gazdic. Mark Fraser. Are these bets superior to Lennart Petrell, Darcy Hordichuk, Andy Sutton?
The Oilers began the season 39gp, 12-24-3. Since then, they are 21gp, 8-9-4 and are 60gp, 20-33-7 overall. If they can finish 10-9-3 their overall record will be 30-42-10. It would be a poor overall record, but the final half would come in 43gp, 18-18-7. After what we’ve seen, that would represent progress. Remember Eakins words: “We’re trying to morph this team into a team that’s going to use their skill greatly, but be a defence-first minded team.”
It is always the goal of this blog to reduce all things to black and white, but the Oilers and Dallas Eakins won’t cooperate. They are conflicted and inconsistent and frustrating and holy hell they’re going to drive us crazy.
I’m all-in on this MacTavish-Eakins pairing. They’ll be sending away Fraser unless he can pull an Ulanov, and Hendricks will be 4line by next autumn’s chill. Craig MacTavish is going to get this right. Find good players for Dallas Eakins. Keep good players for the deep run and the sweet, bloody marathon to Stanley and the promised land.