After seven seasons out of the playoffs under a carousel of head coaches that has included Craig MacTavish, Pat Quinn, Tom Renney and Ralph Krueger, it’s perfectly understandable frustrated fans of the Edmonton Oilers are going to take a wait-and-see attitude about new bench boss Dallas Eakins.
After all, if a fan base has a right to be cynical after having its optimism buried by sales pitches and empty promises that have resulted in more futility than success, it’s the people who buy tickets to watch the Oilers, ahem, perform.
Wasn’t the Quinn, given his edginess, experience and resume, supposed to be the answer for the young Oilers after MacTavish’s best-before date expired? I thought so. Not even close. Renney? Sounded reasonable on many levels, no? Krueger? Apparently not. Now, in comes Eakins.
I don’t know a lot about Eakins, 46, who joins the Oilers from the Toronto Marlies, aside from what I’ve read and heard, but when Ken Hitchcock, who has 1,110 games, 576 career wins and a Stanley Cup ring as an NHL bench boss and is somebody I’ve known for almost 30 years, sings the praises of Edmonton’s new coach, I listen.
Hitchcock, who has never been prone to blowing smoke in the decades I’ve known him dating back to our days on the bus with the Kamloops Blazers in the mid-1980s, was in Edmonton Friday for a fund-raising luncheon. He chatted at length with reporters about Eakins
HITCH SAYS . . .
Keeping in mind I, like Jason Gregor, am of the mind that swapping out coaches can be an easy answer that doesn’t address core weaknesses of a team – especially one like the Oilers that has gaping holes in its roster – it sounds like Hitchcock believes, here and now, Eakins is the man for the job.
"That was the most important move MacTavish made this summer," said Hitchcock, and Edmonton native plying his trade these days as coach of the St. Louis Blues. "I’ve known Dallas for 10 years, in conversations at coaching clinics. I told people four years ago that this is a young man who’ll be a good coach."
Hitchcock, 61, is seen by many as being more old-school than innovator, but, in reality, he’s a mix. He believes in commitment to system and hard work – he’s been called a disciplinarian – but he’s also evolved over the years. Hitchcock has changed with the game. He communicates. In what little we’ve seen and heard of Eakins before he’s coached his first game here, it sounds like there’s some similarities between him and Hitch.
"His candid approach to things will work long-term," Hitchcock said. "He understands that there’s a certain level of work that has to be put in, he’s demanding of that. You can see that in his personal life. The way he carries himself is impressive.
"He’ll talk your ear off about conditioning but it’s not a smokescreen. He’s going to demand things of the Oiler players they’ve never done before and they’re going to find it quite difficult. Quite frankly some of the players are out of the barn but he’ll gather them all back in. He’s going to say things that make the players squeamish but he’s going to be one of the best things you’ve had there. He’s tough."
WALKING THE WALK
"He’s tough." Sounds like a start. Then again, Quinn was tough, too, and entertaining for those of us toting notepads with his post-game quotes, but the game had passed Quinn by, at least in terms of handling daily coaching duties.
"He’s demanding . . ." There are a lot of fans out there who’ll welcome an approach, after seven seasons of futility, where expectations supersede talk about "the process," learning curves and blah, blah, blah.
Is Eakins the right man for the job? We don’t know yet. As always, we’ll find out soon enough. There are, even with the show-me-don’t-tell-me stance being taken by fans, worse places to start than the kind of endorsement Eakins got from Hitchcock Friday.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.