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


Photo: Scott Haselius/Wikimedia

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."


"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.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    Robin, i think the players got so used to losing that as the season wore on, they started to tune out the coaches and it cost a couple of pretty good ones, Krueger and Renney, their jobs. hopefully this mentality can be changed with the right player movement and a coach who has played in the NHL, and isn’t as old as Quinn was.

  • John Chambers

    NHL Numbers recently ran an article about rolling Corsi metrics over last year’s 48-game season. The Oilers were from this metric, by far the worst team in the conference last year, surrendering far more shots than the opposition, period after period after period.

    We were pathetically outshot. Whatever system Kruger installed was an utter failure. The team’s weaker players were exposed and exploited.

    The personnel is a little bit better, especially on D, but I have to agree with Hitch that the best thing we did this summer was turf Kruger. Hopefully Eakins comes as advertised.

    • DSF

      It’s facile to blame the Oilers being outshot on the “system”.

      If you look at the actual shots, not some contrived stat like “Rolling Corsi”, you can easily see the Oilers have been outshot for years.

      Shot differential per season:

      12/13 -6.0 (Krueger)

      11/12 -4.0 (Renney)

      10/11 -5.0 (Renney)

      09/10 -4.8 (Renney)

      08/09 -4.4 (Quinn)

      The more likely conclusion to draw is the Oilers are consistently outshot by a wide margin because their players just aren’t very good.

      Too early to say if the offseason player acquisitions will have a positive impact (although the loss of Ryan Whitney should be a positive) but to suggest a coaching change is the silver bullet is reaching.

      Dallas Eakins, while having some success at the AHL level is somewhat promising but he has never actually won anything as a coach.

      During his 4 year tenure with the Marlies, the team missed the playoffs twice, was eliminated in the second round once and lost in the finals once.

      • To say he has never won anything is a little idiotic, not that anyone should expect any less. Sure, in simple-minded terms, he never won anything.. but there are thirty teams in the AHL, just like the NHL. To think that reaching the Finals in a four year coaching tenure with 30 teams in the AHL is not a big accomplishment.. well, that sounds like the usual Canucks fan trolling.

        I guess by this comment, the Vancouver Canucks have never done anything of any value ever.

        • DSF

          There’s a difference between “doing something of value” and winning something.

          Despite winning division and conference championships for years in a row, Alain Vigneault got fired because he didn’t win anything.

          Results. Matter.

          • DSF

            Conference championships, years in a row? I’m sorry, maybe I’ve a bit foggy this Sunday afternoon too, but how many years in a row did the Canucks win the conference championship?

            AV was sent packing for a multitude of reasons. Getting embarrassed in round one is part of it, but I believe it was moreso due to MG selecting AV as his scapegoat.

          • DSF

            They won the Presidents Trophy 2 years in a row.

            I think the main reason AV was turfed is he couldn’t get the team to the next level despite being a very good coach.

            Whether that is justifiable or not or whether blame should be focused elsewhere is pretty much my point.

            If Tambellini had brought in a solid veteran D and found a decent replacement at centre when Horcoff went down, you have to wonder if the Oilers would have made the playoffs for the first time 7 years and whether or not Tambellini and Krueger would have been punted?

          • toprightcorner

            AV was turfed because Gillis would not take responsibility for the mistakes he made and AV was the scape goat. He single handedly caused the Luongo/Schneider fiasco, brought in Booth, traded Hodgson for Kassian.

            Sure, Tambo didn’t do any better but Gillis only needed a few minor moves to take the next step and he could not do that. Much different than a GM having to make many significant moves to improve their team. Oh yeah, Tambo was fired and Gillis is still employed even though the hill Tambo had to climb was significantly more difficult. Better yet, AV was more traded for Torts than simply fired, I wonder if Gillis will take responsibility for that when things go wrong?

          • Your point was “lets toss PP/SH/EV together and ignore game score” rather than take the time to separate them (because apparently that would be contrivance).

            Have the Oilers been a bad team the last few years? Yes, absolutely. Were they worse because Ralph Krueger was coaching last season? Yes, absolutely.

          • DSF

            Interesting that you can state so definitively that it was all Kreuger’s fault when it’s pretty easy to make a convincing argument that it was likely Tambellini’s fault for not addressing team needs at C and D when gaping holes appeared in the lineup during the season.

            Have you been able to create a Fibonacci Sequence that accounts for incompetent management?

            If we look at actual goal differential over those same 5 seasons. we see this:

            12/13 -15 (pro rated)

            11/12 -27

            10/11 -76

            09/10 -70

            08/09 -14

            Now, you can certainly make the argument the Oilers would have been more successful last season with a coach other than Kruger but you sure can’t prove it in any meaningful way.

            However, I think it’s wise to remember the old saw that the most successful coaches are the ones who get off the bus with the best players.

            I’d be interested, since you’ve obviously been convinced the Oilers under performed under Kreuger, what your reasonable expectations would be for shot differential and goal differential under Eakins.

          • toprightcorner

            Maybe you should actually read the post before inaccurately commenting on it. Nowhere did JW say it was all Kreugers fault. he simply stated the obvious that the Oilers have been bad for a few years. Last year the team, on paper, should have been a big improvement over the past with Hall healthy and more experience, Ebs coming off a breakthrough season and Nuge having more experience after a great rookie campaign, Hemsky healthy, Whitney healthy, Schultz with his offensive upside and Yak with his scoring abilities. Given a better team with no real significant improvement shows Kreuger did about the same but with a lot more to work with.

            The first and “main” point in JW’s reply to your post was how can you ignore much more detailed and relevant information in different circumstances during the game and simply use shots on goal to come to an accurate conclusion. Another example of ignoring that vast amounts of information that contradicts your point.

          • toprightcorner

            Firstly, 1 pm is not morning.

            Secondly I think your comments are usually a little foggy.

            Thirdly, you never admit it when you are wrong or make a mistake. If you were able to do this, you would be more likely to earn the respect of others, myself included. Until that happens, you will continue to lead the way in “trash” comments.

      • John Chambers

        Not sure why I’m bothering with this but…

        The ’13 team had a much stronger lineup than the ’10 thru ’12 teams where Khabibulin or JDD were the main goalies of record, and 18-year olds were being heavily relied upon to execute difficult assignments.

        Last seasons lineup, although flawed, should shown a measured improvement In terms of night to night competitiveness, ie Corsi, but actually regressed to where it almost seemed like the team’s strategy was to rope-a-dope and allow shots from the perimeter as a way of re-obtaining position.

        But please, please continue to offer up more obnoxious commentary.

  • 2004Z06

    I was told once, “if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, it’s probably a duck”. He looks like a duck to me!

    So far I’m thinking that Dallas is a coach, just how different he will be from all the others will tell the tale. Right now I would say most fans will give him a blank slate, and let him draw his own picture. I hope that he succeeds, the alternative is getting old!

  • Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate

    I’m not gonna say “Fresh Blood behind the bench” because that is lame and overplayed (Kruger, Renney, Quinn et al.)
    I won’t comment on his family either, that’s low.
    I WILL say that I hope Dallas takes the club to a place that no 7 yr old fan has seen before.

  • I think the most impressive thing about Hitchcock’s backing of Eakins was that Bob Stauffer asked Hitch what the Oilers best off-season move was.. not “what do you think of Dallas Eakins?”. He asked what the Oilers best off-season move was, and, without hesitation, Hitchcock answered with Dallas Eakins. Definitely high praise coming from one of the revered coaches out there.

  • TayLordBalls

    Structurally, the Oilers still need to build a better foundation to the team.

    This includes replacing the entire slate of Oklahoma coaches.

    As LowTide pointed out:

    “Eakins is very good at developing the department of youth. Beginning in 2009-10 Eakins coached and sent the following players to the NHL: Viktor Stalberg, Christian Hanson, Tyler Bozak, Darryl Boyce, Jay Rosehill, Carl Gunnarsson, Keith Aulie, James Reimer, Nazem Kadri, Joey Crabb, Korbinian Holzer, Jake Gardiner, Ben Scrivens, Matt Frattin, Mike Kostka, Leo Komarov.”

    Just look what OKC coaches did to a gem like Magnus Paajarvi.

    The drafted talent on OKC is not in good hands.

    • John Chambers

      You really think so? I think coach Nelson has done great work, what with taking the team deep in the playoffs the past couple of seasons.

      Paajarvi and Lander appear to have rounded their all-around games, while Fedun and Marincin seem to be almost ready to spot in to big league action.

      I don’t think you can blame the OKC coaching staff for the failures of Plante, Teubert, or Pitlick … Those guys seem to have been given ample opportunity.

      • toprightcorner

        Just to reiterate Taylordballs. point of the fact that Eakin in a short time turned around a lot of
        so so players into much imporved NHL’ types for the Leafs. I beleive thats why he was a hot commodity in terms of coaching this summer.

        Can’t say that for the operation in OKC. Their somewhat limited success came with playing veterans , with the team needing to make the play offs, to improve their attendence, revenue, etc.
        I appreciate part of the OKC problem was a shallow
        roster in terms of prospects etc. but no shinging stars arrived to the big club from the farm.

  • @DSF

    What had Dan Bylsma won before he got his gig as Pens head coach?

    Joel Quenville hadn’t won anything either when he got his first career NHL coaching job.. or his 2nd… or even the one with the Blackhawks in which he’s now won 2 Cups.

    Mike Babcock hadn’t won anything at all before his first gig with the Ducks, in which he lost in the finals.

    Daryl Sutter? Well, he championed the Indianapolis Ice to a championship back in 1990.. what a huge feat.

    Randy Carlyle? No “wins” before he got his job as Ducks head coach and going on to win the cup.

    In usual fashion, you’re here to snuff out any potential excitement Oilers fans have over changes here. I get it.. it’s your M.O.. But really, many coaches who are successful in the NHL start out with a pretty short list of what you consider “winning something” criteria.

    I don’t think he’ll be a Jack Adams winner in year one or anything, but I think Eakins is the least of our worries. Bottom line is he coaches a North American style game. Kruger had a much better team to work with than Renney did. I’m not sure he still had a team that could win, but I don’t think his European mentality of not line matching could really fly here… that’s his biggest downfall. Perhaps Renney coached here in the wrong time frame… before the team was really built to win.

    The Oilers have been putting together a winner via the draft, and I think MacTavish is the right GM to fill in the rest of the pieces as best as is possible for a GM.. like the Pens, they just needed the player pieces to come together before a coach could really have success there.

    • DSF

      The list of promising AHL coaches who made the jump to the NHL and fell flat on their faces is at least as long.

      Scott Arniel, Guy Boucher, Cory Clouston, Randy Cunneyworth are just a few of the names that come ot mind.

      While I think an endorsement from Hitchcock is a great thing, I think it’s wise to wait and see what happens before anointing Eakins and trashing everyone who came before him

      • I haven’t trashed anyone before him, personally. I think each of the coaches had something to offer… like I said, in Renney’s case, I think he just came at the wrong time. No coach would have won that battle.

        As far as Eakins, I think most people have guarded optimism with him (myself included). I don’t think the majority expect him to pull this team out of the ashes and win a cup right away (or even at all, under his leadership).

        It seems though that with the Canucks being as jaded as they are, you like to come here to poke at anyone who shows any optimism as though you need to bring other’s down to your own level of disappointment. But anyways, this stuff will pass through you like the wind by now, so I’ll just move along on my merry way and discuss topics with the other folks here.

  • toprightcorner

    I remember after Quinn and Renny were hired, I thought that was a great move, then when I heard him on an interview (I believe on the Jason Gregor Show) in August, he was asked if he had spoken to any of the players yet and his answer was no. At that moment I knew there was going to be trouble.

    Todays younger players thrive on a relationship with the coach and some type of positive connection. Quinn obviously didn’t provide that and Renny was no better. Kreuger was a great communicator but not a relationship guy.

    During the press conference Eakins was very adamant that he needed to get to know each of the players individually and learn how each one ticks and use that to his advantage to get the best out of him. That gave me confidence that MacT mad a great hire. 2 weeks after the hiring during another interview, he had already spoken to the players at least once. Gagner’s interview after being hired said he had spoken with Eakins multiple times, Hall, Ebs, Nuge, Ference all said the same thing during interviews.

    A coach with that type of relationship with his players can demand a lot and and get the players to buy in. The Oilers will not only be implementing a new system but an entirely new fitness and work ethic expectation to make that system successful, because of this I could see it taking a little longer to see the results on the ice, but I am confident it will come.

    This is how the NHL needs to be coached. 20 -23 year olds need to clearly know what is required but have positive relationships with the coaches so when they are sat or yelled at, they still know the coach likes him. That is why younger teams are hiring younger coaches and old hardass coaches that don’t develop personal relationships are not nearly as successful anymore.

    This is why I laugh knowing Torts is coaching Vancouver, worst hiring they could have made.

  • toprightcorner

    AV wasn’t getting the job done similar to MacT. when he left – it was time for him to move on . Eakins a good coach as was Kreuger . If you could not play well for a players coach like Kreuger , then you will not play well for anybody .Kreuger victimized by short season (to little time ) , lack of an additional coach (which we have now ) , and veteran collapse , and rookie mistakes in abundance down the stretch . Eakins should fare better as youth is starting to age , and several of the collapsing veteran core replaced . I suppose we can always bring Kreuger back if Eakins and MacT. fails to produce results .

  • toprightcorner

    Getting the right coach is huge, and should not be underestimated. Look at what Maclean has done in Ottawa. A team with an average roster can look above average with sound coaching and player “buy in”. If we can get a couple of more depth pieces, and Dallas comes as advertised, then its going to be an exciting year. Can’t wait to fire up the gamecenter.

  • toprightcorner

    In my opinion, who cares about the coach. On ice talent wins games, not coaches. Systems and line matching are largely irrelevant in a largely efficient league where opposing sides adjust to eliminate any significant effect.

    The largest impact a coach has on a game is the distribution of ice time. And with only small differences between different coaches in this implementation, the only variable that influences wins significantly is on ice talent.

    Put Eakins, Renney, Krueger, Quinn, Todd Nelson, Dan Bylsma, Paul Maurice, Patrick Roy, whoever, to coach this team, and on ice results will likely be the same on average.

  • 1. What was hitch’s opinion of Quinn, Rennie, and Krueger when they were hired?

    I put little stock in publically expressed opinions in such a closed circle as NHL managers…

    That said I agree that the CV has some impressive aspects. But then so did those who preceded him.

    What I would take caution about most is that he’s coming from the centre of the universe and the media hype on all things leaf makes opinions about Eakins – manager of the ahl Marlies very suspect.

    In sum, Eakins is a very unknown entity – certainly compared to other potential options that MacT could have looked at had he bothered to.