The idea of retaining a head coach from one season to the next is a novelty for quite a few Oilers. Former Oilers forward and current Arizona Coyote Sam Gagner had five different head coaches in his seven years with the team. Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle have had three head coaches in their four years in the league, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has had three in three years. Nail Yakupov has technically been in the NHL for a season and a half, and he’s already had two different head coaches. All of these players have received loud criticism for not playing up to expectations. Notice any connection there?
In the ever-changing world of the NHL, the hiring of a new coach brings along a new system to learn, new staff to work with, and a lot of adjustments to make. Put a young player through this process every fall his first few seasons in the league, and you’re going to wind up significantly impacting his development. If he’s worried about starting over and impressing a new coach every year, he’s going to be less able to focus on adjusting to playing in the NHL rather than junior (or his equivalent) and the challenges that itself brings.
All of the “young guns” the Oilers have put pressure on to turn their playoff-less streak around have been put through a constantly revolving carousel of coaches since they came into the league, and I can’t tell you how many articles I have read in that same timeframe about those same young players not playing a “team game”. What has to be considered, though, is that the task of learning and re-learning systems they’ve had thrust upon them hasn’t only impacted the individual development of the players, it has also limited their ability to play with a team mindset. They’re all too worried about learning what the coach du jour wants, and about making him happy so they don’t end up in the press box.
Consistency Could Be Key
Hall mentioned to EdmontonOilers.com writer Chris Wescott this week that he likes having consistency at head coach because it allows the Oilers to come in and “hit the ground running at camp”. It isn’t difficult to imagine Hall’s relief, and the relief of his teammates, knowing they’re coming into this season with Dallas Eakins still at the helm. They have 82 games worth of learning and adjusting to what Eakins expects from them on the ice under their belts, and that’s a more solid foundation than these kids have had in a while.
Obviously the lack of consistency doesn’t absolve the players of their responsibility in the situation. No matter how difficult it may be to start over with a new system every fall, they’re still professional athletes who are expected to perform to their highest potential, and no one is interested in excuses. But it’s a possible piece of an explanation, and perhaps even a sign of good things to come for this year’s Oilers.
More Stability, More Points?
It’s a fairly simplistic comparison, but hear me out: in 2010-2011, Taylor Hall put up 42 points under Tom Renney, then put up 53 under Renney the next year. Jordan Eberle made an even bigger leap, putting up 43 points in 10-11 and 76 in 11-12 (Hall’s injury history should be taken into account here, though I’m looking at the two players separately rather than comparing them). This is obviously too small a sample size to draw the conclusion that they’re going to score more points in their second consecutive year under Eakins the way they did under Renney, but it does allow Oilers fans to hope that they’ll each show similar growth this year. In the 2013-2014 season, Hall put up 80 points and Eberle 65. Numbers that high or higher from Hall and Eberle, combined with better performances from their teammates, would go a long way toward helping the team.
Don’t underestimate the importance of stability. Don’t underestimate the potential effect of these kids being more comfortable playing in Eakins’ system. Hall himself said that it’s good to start the season knowing what their coach expects out of them. Having that foundation to work from will only allow these players to build on what they can already do, and hopefully improve their performance – perhaps even enough to get into the playoffs?
Hannah Stuart is a copywriter by day, hockey writer by night. Covering the Carolina Hurricanes for THW and working on a Masters in Sports Leadership from Duquesne University.