Back on June 10, 2013, the Edmonton Oilers made the official announcement that they had decided to part ways with their current head coach, Ralph Krueger, and replace him with the much-hyped but fairly inexperienced Dallas Eakins. While the former bench boss of the Toronto Marlies was a favourite of many in the eastern media, he proved to be the wrong man for the job in Edmonton.
Be it from a wins and losses standpoint or on the development front, the decision to bring the so-called highly sought after coach on board was a complete and utter disaster. He was clearly in over his head and his inability and/or unwillingness to adjust to his audience ended up costing both him and his general manager their jobs. However, as we approach the two-year anniversary of the hiring, one can actually make the argument that the duo of Dallas Eakins and Craig MacTavish ultimately saved this franchise from its own ineptness.
Taylor Hall and RNH Continued To Improve
Outside of Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins showing signs of improvement in their overall games, you would be hard-pressed to find another player who showed progression on the development front during Eakins’ eighteen months in the Alberta capital. Despite his point totals having yet to reach the levels many were hoping, Nugent-Hopkins has morphed into a solid all-around centre, and much of that can be attributed to the assignments he was regularly handed by his former coach. It may not have always been pretty to watch, but it certainly helped the former first-overall pick turn into a much better hockey player.
As far as Hall is concerned, yes, he had a tough go of things in 2014-15, but much of that can be attributed to injury. In my mind, simply dismissing what he accomplished during the 2013-14 campaign, finishing tied for sixth in league scoring with Phil Kessel and trailing only Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Ryan Getzlaf and John Tavares in points per game average, would frankly be idiotic. With that said, Eakins has to be given credit for putting his player in a position to succeed.
It Was Not So Pretty For The Rest
Unfortunately, that was something the now 48-year old struggled mightily with when it came to the rest of his roster. His curious use of the likes of Nail Yakupov and Anton Lander have been discussed ad nauseam in this neck of the woods, as was his repeated preference to turn to players he previously coached with the Marlies — despite being asked to produce in the National Hockey League — as opposed to the American Hockey League. Can you say recipe for disaster?
In his defence, Eakins was not exactly working with a well-constructed lineup, which is completely on his general manager, but there was no good reason for the Oilers to have looked as lost as they did while he was the running the show. As terrible as his 36-63-14 coaching record looks, it was the fact that the entire group looked so disjointed under his guidance … which was troubling. This was definitely not a good sign and it rightly ended up costing him his job.
Nothing Bold From MacT
The same logic can be applied to the work MacTavish did during his tenure as GM. While he made some nice additions to the roster, most notably the trio of Boyd Gordon, Matt Hendricks and Benoit Pouliot, he failed to address the most glaring holes — centre, defence and netminding. To make matters worse, the 56-year old’s inability to recognize a quality NHL defenceman within his own ranks and, at times, his coach’s misuse of said player, essentially cost this team Jeff Petry and, for good measure, got them next to nothing in return.
— Jim Matheson (@NHLbyMatty) April 19, 2015
All and all, it has been a disastrous couple of years, but it has indirectly allowed this franchise to move forward as an organization. The collective failures of both these men handed Edmonton the possibility of having Connor McDavid fall into their lap. With a generational talent on the way, Bob Nicholson wasted little time in making his mark since taking over as CEO of hockey operations and within a blink-of-an-eye, MacTavish was pushed aside and the reins were handed over to Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan.
Had this team not reached a new low over the last 24 months and regressed to the degree it did, does anyone honestly think Daryl Katz would have still went along with the moves that have taken place over the past couple of months? Anyone who has followed this team over the last number of years knows the answer to that question, but, thankfully, it is one that never needed asking.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.