Monday, June 10, 2013

Eakins set to become 12th coach in Oilers history

Mere moments after news broke of the Edmonton Oilers decision to part ways with head coach Ralph Krueger, rumours started to make the rounds of Dallas Eakins being the front-runner for the vacant post. Word is the Oilers plan on making things official later today, announcing the Toronto Marlies bench boss as the twelfth head coach in franchise history.

Ever since the Baby Leafs were bounced from the second round of the American Hockey League playoffs, courtesy of the Grand Rapids Griffins, Eakins has been somewhat of a busy man. Outside of Edmonton, the forty-six year old had also garnered interest from the likes of the Dallas Stars, New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks.

While having interest from a number of NHL clubs has to be somewhat flattering for the Marlies head coach, he seems to have made the biggest impression on one Craig MacTavish. So much so, that the Oilers general manager decided to change his course of action after interviewing Eakins for what was supposed to be the role of an associate coach.

The former NHL blueliner had a second interview slated with the Canucks for their vacant head coaching position but few expected a rookie coach to be the guy driving the bus in Vancouver. Just as well, as Eakins had made it known he would rather inherit a younger roster, like Edmonton or the Colorado Avalanche, should opportunity arise.

Obviously the gig in Colorado was a non-starter, with Patrick Roy being in the mix, but he did manage to work himself into the equation with the Oilers. In MacTavish's mind, he was the ideal fit. Leaving him the unpleasant chore of showing Krueger the door, with next to no warning late last week.

Having already been an assistant coach with the Maple Leafs from 2006-08, Eakins would have likely been hesitant to leave his post as head coach of the Marlies, unless he was securing a job as an NHL bench boss. His desire to be a head coach combined with interest from other club's, basically forced MacT's hand into a decision he was not expecting to make.

Eakins has been given much of the credit for helping develop Maple Leafs youngsters Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner but has also earned much praise for his ability to adjust his coaching style on the fly and throw different looks at opposition, with a mid-game adjustments. Which is all well and good but the Oilers are a different beast altogether. His job will not be to come in and help Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugnet-Hopkins, Justin Schultz or Nail Yakupov find themselves as professional players.

These guys have already arrived as NHL players. What they need, is a coach who will help push them over the top and turn this group of kids into a perennial playoff team. Not exactly the same deal as coaching in the AHL but MacTavish believes his coaching philosophy makes him the right man for the job and he is obviously not the only general manager who thinks so.

Eakins is the latest in a line of young coaches that have become your so-called flavour of the month, that organizations hope will become the next great NHL coaching mind. While Tampa Bay's Jon Cooper was the latest "hot commodity" to find himself behind a National Hockey League bench, going with the "it" guy doesn't always guarantee success, just ask Guy Boucher and Todd Richards.

On the other hand, bringing in an experienced coach like a Lindy Ruff, Brent Sutter, Dave Tippett or Alain Vigneault doesn't mean post-season hockey would automatically be returning to Rexall Place come next spring. Clearly the Oilers felt Eakins was to good a candidate to pass up on and made whatever moves were necessary, to bring him to the Alberta capital.

At the end of the day, Dallas Eakins may or may not be the answer to help turn the Edmonton Oilers around. Only time will tell but unless Craig MacTavish can pull off one helluva a re-tooling job of his current roster, this team will continue to struggle to find its way...regardless of who they have behind their bench.

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