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As many players, especially defensemen, take a long time to develop, couldn’t one expect the same from coaches & management? – Brett in São Paulo, Brazil

I don’t think it’s ever a good thing to have turnover like the Oilers have had with their coaching staff during the past 5 years. Too many voices for players is not a great thing.

It’s created some bad habits and headaches for the new coaching staff no question. After years of player type coaches, I think the time for a stricter coach is now. This team needs a consistent voice and message going forward.

I think it’s fair to say it can take time for a coach to get his players to play the way he wants because sometimes it does. Most fans are tired of waiting and rightfully so, but anyone losing patience with Eakins 10 games in is crazy. Old habits and an old identity can be hard to break. At some point the answer is not a new coach every year. Any changes in the future I have to expect will be players leaving and not another coaching change.

Eakins has the tough task of getting these players to be safer with the puck, limit turnovers, be relentless on the puck and win more puck battles. If they want to win, those have to be staples in their game. There hasn’t been enough of that for several years.

For me, the team’s early struggle is more about the makeup of the team and mix of player styles than getting to know a new coach. The Oilers have too many of the same player and management has their work cut out for them.

Sadly for Oilers fans it will likely take Mac T some time to change things. He has some valuable pieces to play with but he can’t just overreact and make dumb moves. When the right move is available, I assume things will get done. I don’t envy his position.

What defensive system works best? Is Eakins swarm effective if all players buy in?- @mikebayrak

Good question.

That most common or “standard” D zone coverage is where one defenseman pursues the puck carrier into the corner, usually the centerman or first forward back is asked to support his defenseman and play off the other team’s second player entering the puck battle. The center makes sure he always tries to be positioned on the safe side of the pile, between the puck, opposing player and the net. The other defenseman covers net front and wingers are responsible for their point.

Dating back to Junior in 1998-1999 this is the only defensive system I’ve ever played.

The swarm is a system built on timing and trust within your D zone. I’ve seen this approach more on penalty kills when a puck is up for grabs.

It’s similar to the first system, except another winger or defenseman is expected to join the pile and cause an outnumbered situation in the corner. This is all good if you get the puck and can be big trouble if a defensive team hesitates or isn’t on the same page.

At times, I see guys that are a little unsure about when to go because it is tough to just give up your point or net front position. It’s not something commonly taught. For this system to not bite you there has to be a ton of communication and a complete understanding of what the trigger is for everyone to “swarm”.

I can see why this could be very difficult to play against but I suppose the easy answer to this question is the “standard” D zone system that the majority of teams use is likely the best. I’m not sure that’s the correct answer but if most coaches use it, then I have to think it probably is.

The swarm is not all that different from your “standard” D zone; it’s just more aggressive. If Eakins eventually decided to go back to the basics, it wouldn’t be that hard to do, so it’s worth a shot if the swarm has worked for him in the past.

I’m not sold on it based on the execution so far, but that could change.


Years ago, a player only had to ignore the local newspaper and the fans on the street. Now you have to try and tune out 24 hour sports networks, twitter feeds, blogs and everything in between.

My question is how aware is the average player of what these sources are saying about them (and the team) and what effect it has on them?


It is a media crazed world these days with all those outlets you mentioned. The mental strength of a player in today’s game is tested more than ever before.

In US markets I found it fairly easy to see only what I wanted to see. Every morning in the dressing room, highlights were always on a TV somewhere but you didn’t have to watch it. A media packet was available with every newspaper article published around the league that day. If you wanted to read it you could.

Having never played for a Canadian team, I can only assume it is much more difficult to escape it all. When you walk into a dressing room in the USA there are a handful of media members. In Canada there are 30 people in the room or more. You are not hiding from that costly mistake the previous night or a two game slump. When you are interviewed, it’s only common nature to want to see what’s being said about you. In Canada that may be a couple times a week.

Many players are on Twitter or Facebook and are fully aware of the criticism and even stupidity that comes with being accessible. Others around the league choose not to partake because often times it leads to negativity and it’s just not worth it.

The reason you have likely heard guys say they don’t read or watch anything about themselves is because negative stuff can have a big impact on a player. Losing confidence or self-doubt are not things a player wants to creep into his game. Players are usually their harshest critic but hearing it elsewhere or being piled on stings even more.

The best players struggle at times but also have this unflappable self-confidence and belief in their game even at the worst of times. That’s usually why they are the best players. Many guys don’t have that ability.

I still don’t think many players in any market are seeking out radio shows or blogs and newspapers but even the strongest ones that can fight the urge to not follow any media whatsoever can feel pressure just from questions being asked by the media.

It’s great to watch or read things when times are good and awful when times are bad. The best solution is to try to stay away from it all but that’s easier said than done these days.


Thanks for the great questions. There were several I didn’t get to but I will do my best to answer them in the future. Send any hockey related questions my way via email at or on twitter @briansutherby.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    I’m not sold on the swarm either. Leaving a point man or the front of the net open seems to contradict playing ‘defense’. It would work if you win the battle every time, but no team wins the battle 100% of the time.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    I’d like to the difference between the Oilers’s swarm, and Winnipeg’s modified swarm.

    Another question would be what’s gone wrong with the Oiler’s special teams.

    • oilerjed

      There was an excellent article written by a Peg Nation writer during the preseason( i think) that covered this very topic very well. It was the day after a Win-Edm game which were the 23 Sept or the 1st Oct reg season game. Your on your own scouring old posts though.

      Edit: to clarify the article was posted in ON

  • Results show whether system is suited for team , So far the results are not very good . Will it improve over a very important next 10 game stint ? Playing an aggressive style at all portions of the ice seems necessary in todays NHL and that most can agree on . We seem to excel only in offensive zone aggressively . Unfortuneately I do not believe our personnel has the consistency and makeup to excel at an aggressive style – especially amongst our skilled youth , as results seem to bear out . Moving some or portion of duplicate talents may be required . I liked the Eberle and Hopkins combo last game (getting dominant), and look forward to them leading our club against the Capitals . Yak has been disappointing so far , and J.Schultz and Petry did show some spark last game . Belov is working out nicely .

  • I’d think that the swarm could be effective if you have a good goalie and trust him and truly hustle. I’m not sure that trust is there any more, but they played terrible defensively just as Dubnyk did in net. I think that leaving the guy on the point would be better than leaving the guy in front of the net – we’ve seen that burn the Oilers a few times.

    Overall, other than the fact they lost the first few games due to goal-tending and still haven’t put in a 50 minute game let alone a 60 minute game, I think they have played better in the defensive zone than they did last year. Last year they were pinned in their own end much longer. Any stats on that yet and if so, where do you find it?

  • I don’t see an unflappable self-confidence in Yakupov. The guy has all-world talent and one of the best shots around, but even in the world juniors he was trying to show the world he’s not a selfish Russian and put on a passing show. I feel the scrutiny of Edmonton has him tentative about his game, and when he means to say he’s just going to go and play his game it sounds like he’s not trying to play the coach’s system and he doesn’t want to backcheck and skate around a lot…think that might be affecting Yakupov much?

    • Ogie Oilthorpe

      The trouble with 9 mosquitos buzzing around the rink is that they will be worn down from the constant pounding they will take before the other team is worn out from skating. NHL rink is a small rink when you have 10 players, 2 goalies and 4 refs on it. Edmonton has yet to play a heavyweight team like the bruins or kings, the results after a couple games with them will be eye opening.

      • vetinari

        or Leafs, Sharks, Kings, etc. etc. etc. Let’s trade some of these SMURFS and SOFTIES for some big, bad Functional Toughness and just plain good ole fashioned NASTINESS!!!

  • Admiral Ackbar

    When your home team have performed as poorly as the Oil a rising tide of frustration and criticism is bound to become a factor. Your point about that negative atmosphere is well taken.

    Blowing sunshine with the Oilers 7 yr record of futility is a little hard to simaltaneously accept and remain sanguine about.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Myself, I prefer the Press’d D system. One guy holds the puck activatee up, and another crushes him (said puck carrier) from the front. Sandwich hits are always the best. Or, one guy goes low while the other goes high slamming his noodle into the glass. Old time hockey.

    It’s unfortunate MacT sent Nurse back. He’d be just the guy to crush that punk Chimera this evening. I’m sure we’ll see a no hitter tonight at the Coliseum. One team will play 20 mins and grab those 2 pts.

    Ah, the beauty of controlled violence….the most affordable form of crack known to hockey fans.

    • Nurse will still learn a lot in the OHL and would only be playing limited minutes in the NHL. Sending him back to junior is much better for his development and gives him a bit of time to put some meat on his frame. Besides, Nurse was not going to single-handedly win any of the games we lost for us so wasting a year on his ELC would have been pointless.

  • oilerjed

    @ Brian Sutherby
    I see on the Oilers site that Potter is skating again, the question is do the oilers have any need of him at all? seems to me he is only going to clog up an already crowded 7-8-9 spot. Any thoughts?

  • 916oiler

    We all know that DE wanted to put his stamp on things……… question is why not start with a basic structure and over time introduce new ideas such as the SWARM?

    Starting with a basic structure that most NHL teams use would have given the team the much needed start we were all hoping for.

    More to the point is the illogical line-ups, players playing PP and PK that have no record of doing so, line matching or lack thereof, and playing players out of their natural position. Eakins caused more confusion with this than anything. Watching RNH and Hemsky kill penalties is painful………..I hope they catch on but initially it was painful.

    I think slow and steady to make changes iwould have been more prudent, given the major roster changes that we had.

  • 916oiler

    Where is NewAgeSys to tell us the ins and outs of the swarm system and when it was invented by NewAge and where.

    I’m guessing it was in 1982 on a Commodore 64.

    Eakins must have been perusing the local Value Villages and found an old floppy containing the swarm system.

    Good article Brian, I appreciate your take on things.

    And Brett is in Sao Paulo Brazil? Damn, send Suds some beachkini pics for his next few articles. Thanks in advance.

  • Ogie Oilthorpe

    The only problem I see with the swarm is that alot pucks are seeming to get out to the point and then the oilers have 4 guys blocking shots (and screening) Duby.

    I am a fan of the more traditional.. 2 d and a center down low with one D always clearing the crease. let the center put the pressure on and wingers know their assignments.

  • Ogie Oilthorpe

    Gagner’s return should help the PP . When Hall returns that should be two lines that opposition will have to shut down on PP . Arcobello is not Gagner but doing a reasonable job filling in to this date .

  • vetinari

    Thanks for the reply, Brian.

    On the issue of coaches taking time to develop, you do notice a different rapport between a new coach and his players and a more experienced head coach. By that, I mean experienced coaches seem to have a better sense of what a player can do (and not do) and deploy them in situations appropriate to their skill set.

    On the issue of the defensive system, I don’t know if one system (swarm) is better than another (standard D zone coverage) but it’s obvious that unless all players buy in on the ice, pandemonium ensues. Likewise, playing a heavy “bang and pin” defensive style isn’t going to work if your team is smaller than the opposition.

    Finally, on the media coverage issue, confidence is so important to some players and how they play their position (hello, Mr. Dubnyk ad goalie everywhere) that I’m surprised that more coaches don’t ban their players from Twitter during the season or hide the newspapers while on the road.

  • vetinari

    I believe that Eakins is one of those career minor leaguers. Much like players there are coaches that can just not make it in the bigs. Eakins is outcoached most games and has very little concept on how to run an NHL team. Krueger at least had the Oilers in a playoff position last year. Eakins has managed to get us out of playoff contention after a month. His ego is too big to realize his systems are not working. He has killed the PK and the PP is just too lazy for 2 minutes and that is straight up coaching.
    MacT made a rookie mistake, hiring and unproven Egomaniac