Heading into tonight’s game with Toronto, it’s a good time to assess the job that Dallas Eakins has done so far as coach of the Oilers. Expectations were sky high at the time of his hiring, and the hype that came with him energized the fan base in a way that hasn’t been felt in Edmonton in many years. Today, with the team sitting dead last in the Western Conference with a record of 3-8-2, it’s certainly worth discussing – is he the right man for the job?
Before we get started, let’s recognize the facts. There have been 4 coaches in the past 5 years, and none of them have had any modicum of success. The crust of the team has changed, however the filling remains the same. The players are primarily responsible for this mess and have yet to show any signs that the message is getting through.
Dallas Eakins replaced the much maligned Ralph Krueger and hasn’t done much different than him. In fact, the team has been worse. You don’t need corsi stats or a look at the standings to see the difference. Under Krueger, the Oilers lacked defensive responsibility from the forwards, general ability among the defensemen, and overall grit and competitiveness from the entire team. What they did have however, was outstanding special teams, solid goaltending and disciplined play.
Ralph Krueger coached an abbreviated 48 game season, in which he had no training camp, very little practice time, and an almost identical roster to the one he took over from Tom Renney the season before. The team marginally improved in the standings however there were signs of life that showed that the team was moving in the right direction. Some major changes needed to be made in personnel in the off-season, and given better tools to work with, Krueger could have advanced this team even further into relevancy. Unfortunately for him, he was never given the chance and was dismissed soon after the season ended. Was it the right decision? At the time, I thought so. As much as Krueger seemed like a nice guy, I wanted more of a hard ass. Someone who wasn’t afraid to get in the players faces and put them in their place if need be. That man, was Dallas Eakins.
A hot commodity during the summer with no less than 6 coaching vacancies rumoured to be after him, Edmonton turned out to be the opportunity he chose to go with. And who could blame him? A young team trending upwards littered with high end talent. When you have options as a coach, this is as good a situation as you can get. Coming out of the hype machine in Toronto, Eakins had all the credentials. Young, charismatic, a record of success with young players, a fantastic head of hair and an excellent quote. You couldn’t ask for anything more. The major striking difference between Eakins and Krueger was the voice. Eakins, unlike Krueger, did not mince words. He was direct, honest and wasn’t afraid to ruffle some feathers. A breath of fresh air after the ultimate optimist in Krueger.
To Eakins credit, I believe the Oilers have lost three games this season strictly based on shoddy goaltending. Taking that into account, the Oilers are a .500 team. Improvement? Yes. But are the Oilers really better?
The 8th ranked power play in 2012/13 has slipped to 24th. The 9th ranked penalty kill has dropped to 29th. The amount of turnovers? I have lost count. Almost 90% of goals against this season have been the result of careless turnovers in all three zones. Now that’s not an official stat, but I’m counting in my head and 90% sounds about right. Stats are always a fun way to judge a team, but the naked eye doesn’t lie. This team is sloppy. It lacks structure. The majority of the time it looks like a bunch of 4 year olds scrambling on the ice hoping for something good to happen. I’m not honestly sure what the strategy is going into each game, but this team has no signature style. You know ahead of time what kind of game you are going to play when you walk into Detroit, St. Louis, LA and Vancouver. Honestly, you just never know what’s going to happen when the Oilers step on to the ice.
“The way you coach players now is you get them one-on-one. You grab them for lunch, you hit them at the coffee machine. It’s small group meetings, it’s one-on-one meetings and it’s constant. It’s every day.
“You’ve got to know their triggers. You have to look under a lot of stones sometimes to find out what makes a guy tick. But once you’ve got it, you can really help push him in the right direction.”
How has Eakins dealt with individual players? The obvious discussion revolves around Nail Yakupov. Yakupov famously was scratched for 2 games early this season, and his comments afterwards showed signs of a rift between him and coach. Personally I like it when a coach asserts control of the team, but with Eakins boasting about his ability to connect with his players, this was alarming. Last season, Krueger made a ballsy decision to scratch Ryan Smyth for a game. A long time veteran player, Smyth took it in stride and handled it as classy as expected. Yakupov didn’t, and it’s imperative for Eakins to repair that relationship. With Yaks scoring a goal the other night, hopefully those ridiculous trade rumours swirling around him can be put to rest for a little while. To Eakins credit, he gave the same tough love to Nazem Kadri, and almost every Leafs trade rumour included him in it until Kadri finally got the message and became what he is today. Hopefully Yakupov gets it too.
At the end of the day, it’s too early to suggest that the Eakins tenure has been a failure. Quality goaltending would go a long way to moving this sinking ship towards land, and quickly reverse the confidence of the players on the ice. The learning curve can be accelerated once that area of concern is addressed. Until it is, the jury is out.
Today’s twitter count is 110. I’m aiming for Kim Kardashian type numbers, so I’m going to start putting up random pictures of half naked women holding power tools and see what happens. And cats. More pictures of cats. Follow me on twitter @Yaseen_AC.