Dallas Eakins to Oilers: Good Move?

Craig MacTavish had just made his first big move since becoming Oilers GM and that was the very surprising firing of first year coach Ralph Krueger. It was a shocking move by MacTavish, Krueger only had a half season to implement his style of hockey on a young squad and it didn’t pay off. Krueger should have gotten another chance, but there is a hot name on the coaching market and MacTavish chomped at the bit.

Dallas Eakins

Toronto Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins is a guy that a lot of teams think will be the next great coach and it appears as if the Oilers got to him first. Brian Burke spoke very highly of him at Eakins’ press conference introducing him as Marlies head coach.

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But is he going to going to live up to the hype or will he go by the wayside of some many Oiler coaches before him?

The hire of Eakins is a clear move that the Oilers are in it for the long haul. Eakins has a great track record with developing players during his time with the Toronto Marlies, as seen this season with the Toronto Maple Leafs making a return back into the playoffs. If MacTavish wanted to be in a “win now” direction, a hire of Alain Vigneault or John Tortorella would have been more likely, but it looks like MacTavish and the Oilers brass are willing to give Eakins a longer leash than with Krueger.

As stated before, Eakins has a good track record with developing young players and this roster is full of them. The window is only open for so long for the young players on this roster to improve and MacTavish sees this and went with the Marlies head man.

Can His AHL Success Mean NHL Success?

Eakins has spent four seasons as the Toronto Marlies head coach and in that time, the Marlies have had only one losing record, his first season at the helm in 2009-2010. Eakins has compiled a record of 157-114 with 41 OT losses during his tenure with the Marlies. It’s a good record, but will it translate into the NHL game?

The NHL is a whole different beast and the Oilers are going to be in a new division due to the new realignment with the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, and old division foe, the Vancouver Canucks. It’s going to be an uphill climb for Eakins with tougher rivals, so, Edmonton’s not going to be a contender overnight, but Eakins has a chance to turn the Oilers into something special.

Dallas Eakins’ Pedigree

Roger Neilson Statue in Vancouver (cr: Carol Browne@Flickr)
Dallas Eakins had a close relationship with Roger Neilson and is trying to emulate his style (cr: Carol Browne@Flickr)

If Eakins is going to be successful at the NHL ranks, he can credit the great coaches he played for as an AHL and NHL journeyman. Coaches like Roger Neilson, Mike Keenan, Lindy Ruff, Jacques Martin, and Terry Murray. He spent the most time with Neilson with Florida and St. Louis. Eakins’ looked up to the late, great Roger Neilson and thought of him as his second father, saying

(R)oger was like a second father to me. I grew up with Roger Neilson. I spent a lot of time with him. We spent almost all of our summers together. He was not only a great friend, somebody I looked up to, and like I said, a second father. I learned a ton off of Roger. All the coaches I played for, I was always paying attention to what was going on. Whether it was, Iron Mike or Pat Quinn, it didn’t matter who it is; I was watching what they were doing and when they played guys in different situations.

Eakins also said that he tries to be like Roger Neilson when he coaches,

 I think I’m probably a pretty good mix of a Roger Neilson who deeply cares about his players to a Mike Keenan who can be very hard on his guys. And I think I’m kind of right in the middle. My guys know that I’m 100 percent behind them. I encourage them. They know I want them to make it so badly, yet at the same time, they know not to cross the line with me. I demand a lot out of these young men because I know what the reward is at the end for them.

Although Neilson never won a Stanley Cup, he is one of the greatest NHL coaches of all time and Eakins picked a good guy to look up to. Eakins has been compared to Dan Blysma, which right now isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, but is still a good coach despite laying an egg against the Bruins.

Playing Experience

Eakins was a journeyman during his 120 games in the NHL, but he amassed 208 penalty minutes during his short time in the league. He was known as an enforcer and a guy who could hold his own in a fight.

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That prior experience as an enforcer will be a great thing for this Oiler team. Eakins will challenge his players, get them tougher and that will help them compete in a much tougher division next season. As mentioned earlier, being a journeyman in Eakins’ situation is great because he got to spend time with so many great coaches and try to learn from them and become a great coach himself.

What’s the Verdict?

The Edmonton Oilers hiring of Dallas Eakins I would say is a good move. The Toronto Maple Leafs organization is sincerely going to miss him and his ability to develop younger players, but it became quite clear the Eakins is ready for the next level. This is the perfect place for Eakins to start his NHL head coaching career with a young team he can mold much like the Marlies.

MacTavish must be patient with Eakins though because the Oilers will probably not be contenders right now, but look out in about 2-3 years because, if Dallas Eakins can use his Marlies magic on the Oilers, this team will be a great one for years to come.