Dallas Eakins was relieved of his duties this morning by GM Craig MacTavish who claimed it was his decision alone to do it. The reasoning behind it was simply the performance of the team under Dallas and there’s nobody who can deny it was poor.
Under Eakins the Oilers went 36-62-14 in 112 games which translated to a Winning percentage of just 0.321 and a lot of sleepless nights. The NHL is a results league and the Eakins Oilers did not deliver results. The story could end right there, but it shouldn’t. There is a lot more to this.
Dallas Eakins was Craig MacTavish’s 1st coaching hire as the GM of the Oilers. He set out after the Lockout shortened year where the Oilers played only Western Conference teams and had climbed up the standings a bit to find Ralph Krueger a solid Associate Coach to help him on the bench. It was clear that Oiler lackie Buchberger (who has somehow made it onto the Barons’ coaching staff in light of changes) wasn’t pulling his weight there and Ralph needed help.
As MacT has seemingly done his entire tenure as GM, he made wild extrapolations about how good someone could be based on very little corroborating info and bet the house on him. Seeing his spirit animal inside Eakins, MacTavish immediately fired Krueger and made the new guy the fully fledged Head Coach. He didn’t hedge his bets, either. Eakins was signed to a 4 year deal despite the fact that he lacked a lot of experience at the NHL level (or the AHL level for that matter).
Krueger, we were told by MacT himself, got a raw deal. It wasn’t his fault that the Silver Fox found the man he wanted to be his Head Coach. If it wasn’t then it was apparently going to be as soon as he faltered a bit and then Eakins would have been named the HC anyway. Ok. Fine. I guess in a demented way that made some modicum of sense.
Krueger left the NHL, apparently he had been called by other teams but he left to become the most interesting man in the world. He became the head of one of England’s poor sister Football clubs and immediately ascended into the heavens where he now runs the team from his seat on Mount Olympus, or something.
The Oilers got Dallas Eakins who immediately made everybody’s diet his business. Everyone. The players, the media, everybody. If you were eating something sweet within a 50 meter radius of Dallas Eakins you would be ridiculed and your commitment to winning would be questioned.
Under what I can only describe as post-War Soviet Era conditions the Oiler regressed under Eakins in terms of on-ice performance. Part of that is on him, part of that is bad luck. It was his job to bring Yakupov along and as of today there are many who would already label him a bust (not me). It was his job to make Schultz a better player than when he got him. It hasn’t happened. It was his job to take this collection of highly talented young men and make them play like a team. That’s a pipe-dream as of this morning.
These things ring hollow with many readers because the results were not there, but at least under his 2nd season the Oiler skaters were getting better 5v5 in terms of possession. They arent hopelessly outshot and they arent out chanced the way they had been in the past. Today the Oilers have a 50.9% CF 5v5 which is 14th in the NHL. Last year they had a 44.3% CF and that was good for 28th in the NHL. Does that make you feel better? Maybe not, but the Oil really are a better even strength team today than they were a season ago.
In any event, as the Even Strength play got a little better (at least by 1 metric) the Special teams play did not. Under Krueger the team had done well (though largely based on shooting percentage) but under Eakins it has been abysmal. It was 21st last season and has dropped even further to 28th in the league. A team with three 1st Overall picks and a litany of other 1st Rounders has no real excuse for a bad PP. There’s a real issue with players not working hard on the PP and not collapsing to the net on a regular basis. I don’t know IF that’s Eakins not forcing that issue or the players just being a bunch of weenies, but it’s probably a healthy mix of both.
One other thing we saw from Eakins that in my mind really hurt this team has been the unwavering love of players who are not good enough to play in the NHL. Pitlick, Acton, Gazdic, Pinizzotto, Aulie, Hunt, Larsen, whomever. None of those guys really belong in the NHL and they were played, and often played ahead of clearly better options. Be it because their “fitness level” was better or whatever, some guys kept being put in situations that make the Oilers fail and that’s on coaching. We can also question the love affair this team has with Justin Schultz, but I think that goes well beyond coaching.
Here are some things that arent Eakins’ fault though.
1) He was given 2 NHL Centers this year. He had Nuge and Gordon, and Gordon got hurt. The GM made no changes to get him more. In fact, in the summer he moved Gagner out for another winger. Arcobello has been barely passable and Draisaitl has really struggled up until now. It isn’t Dallas Eakins’ fault that neither one has struggled to shine. It should have been assumed that the rookie would have problems and Arcobello has always been considered a fill-in. MacTavish went into the season in the Western Conference with an established (sort of) 1C and 4C. That’s it.
2) He cant make the goalies stop the puck. Kudos to Jonathan Willis for spotting this and doing all the work, but before last night Scrivens had played the same number of games this year as he had last year for the Oilers but seen about 200 less shots over that time. He let in the same number of goals. He went from a .916 with the Oil a year ago to a .890 this season. The Head Coach doesn’t control the goaltending and there are plenty of evidence to shoot down the idea that the Oilers give up more Grade A chances than anyone else. Eakins didn’t get any saves this year and that is in large part why he’s out of a job today.
3) There still isn’t an anchor on this blueline. The closest the team has is Petry and, outside of mind-numbingly sitting him out of a game early on as a healthy scratch, Eakins has played him a lot. There isn’t anyone else who you can play 25 minutes a night and expect both offensive contribution and defensive soundness out of on the Oilers. MacTavish knew that and tried to fill the holes with bondo like Nikitin and Fayne. Both of them are better than Larsen and Belov who were their spiritual predecessors but neither of whom actually fix the issue at the top of the team’s order.
Eakins needed to be let go. You cannot lose this much this often and survive. A statement to the players that this is unacceptable needed to be made, but I don’t think it can end there. What about the circumstances of his hiring in the first place? What about the fact that MacT didn’t lift a finger to help this team all year? Not one move except to send players down to the minors or loan them out of North America.
MacTavish said there was blood on his hands too. He was right. His bloody fingerprints are all over the failure of this team.
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