As the Edmonton Oilers get set to embark on their twelfth head coach in the organization’s history, there remains a concern about what lies ahead for this young group of talented players. Not only will Dallas Eakins be the franchises’ twelfth coach, he will be their fifth different head coach in the last six years. Furthermore, he will be the third different head coach in the last three years. Consistency behind the bench is suddenly a priority for the Oilers.
It started with Pat Quinn who took over Craig MacTavish. A veteran coach who helped lay the foundation for these young stars. He was prematurely replaced by his assistant Tom Renney who was deemed as the next logical step to further develop the “kids” that the Oilers were drafting and grooming so that they learnt how to play “Oiler” hockey.
The Renney era only lasted two short years (or long years if you look at it from a no playoff point of view) before it was deemed that he was no longer the guy to take this team to the next level. He would be replaced by his associate coach, Ralph Krueger. See a trend developing here? Two years or less seems to be the shelf life of Oilers coaches lately and now with Eakins getting his shot at the big leagues, his first as a head coach, the young Oilers need to hear the same voice for the foreseeable future.
Think about it this way. Imagine you show up to your day job and once a year or every two years you have a new boss. Your role hasn’t changed and neither has the group of individuals you work with (at least not much). A new boss comes in with new ideas and new concepts in which he completely overthrows the old tactics and strategies. How productive can you be? You have to learn the new systems and strategies which can take time before you are completely 100% effective.
This is an Oilers team that is running out of time. While it’s not the eleventh hour and by no means is it time to hit the panic button, another year of missing the playoffs by a considerable amount is unacceptable for the Oilers. Remaining competitive all season long is something that this club has failed to do in recent years and with a new coach coming on board you have to wonder if they’ll need time to adjust to Eakins’ way of coaching. Just look at the Washington Capitals this past season under first year head coach Adam Oates. They eventually got rolling like everyone knew they could and cruised to a division title, albeit in a weaker division than what the Oilers compete in. But it took some time before things started “clicking” in Washington.
But it goes to show that a new voice behind the bench requires a feeling out period for all involved. The nice thing about Krueger when he took over the reins from Renney is that he knew the players, the systems that worked and the organization from his time as an associate coach.
Eakins is a proud prodigy of the Toronto Maple Leafs having spent the last four seasons developing the Buds’ young stars. While he did a fantastic job with the Marlies and the likes of Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner, it did take a few years before both players were “freed” from the minor leagues (in reference to the Gardiner campaign when he felt like he deserved to be in the NHL).
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the coaching change and bringing Dallas Eakins in to run this team. Craig MacTavish wanted to hire his guy and put his touch on the team. He’s now doing so by firing Krueger and bringing Eakins on board.
I just hope that Eakins gets a fair shot in Edmonton, something Krueger never got. Even if it means a year or two of no playoff hockey but the team is showing considerable growth, let’s give this man a chance to succeed over the long haul. Allow him to instill some of his systems with the core group of players that this team is building around. Allow him to tinker with the lineups and style of play that he feels is best suited for this young and electric Oilers team.
Judging by the fact that MacTavish met with him to explore the idea of bringing him on board as an associate coach only to be so impressed that he wanted him as the head coach, speaks volume of Eakins’ hockey sense. Maybe this is Mac-T’s plan as well. Let’s hope it is because having a new head coach every year or two is getting old and that’s just from a fan’s perspective. I can’t imagine how the player’s feel.