When a coach or manager is hired by an NHL organization, they bring with them a wealth of connections to other players and managers and coaches and often those networks are used to determine who an organization adds. For example, the signings of Denis Grebeshkov and Brad Hunt added players who Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish knew from his coaching days.
This season, the Dallas Eakins connection to the Toronto Marlies has at least informed a number of the Oilers’ decisions, with varying results.
Scrivens spent large chunks of three seasons tending goal for the Toronto Marlies. He was an excellent AHL goaltender for Eakins, with 0.924, 0.926 and 0.917 save percentage seasons for the Leafs’ farm team.
One of the fascinating things about Eakins is his use of Scrivens since the goalie’s arrival. Scrivens has history with the head coach and has been excellent since joining the Oilers, but Eakins has made a point to balance his workload against that of Ilya Bryzgalov. Whatever his reasons for that decision, he’s been rewarded not only with strong play from Scrivens but with a recent rejuvenation from Bryzgalov.
Here are the numbers for both since Scrivens’ first start:
- Scrivens: 3-3-0, 0.948 save percentage
- Bryzgalov: 2-1-2, 0.920 save percentage
This is a case where not only has the acquisition of a former Marlie paid off, but Eakins’ subsequent use of him has been remarkably balanced (and also appears to be working very nicely for Edmonton).
Fraser played a total of 67 regular season/playoff games for Eakins’ Marlies, and was part of that team’s run to the Calder Cup Finals in 2011-12.
He’s been a mess for the Oilers. In the four games that Fraser has played – during which time he has exclusively occupied the team’s third pairing – the Oilers have been out-chanced 24-8 with him on the ice at even-strength and out-chanced 46-34 with him off the ice. They’ve been bad in both situations (owing in large part to that lopsided loss to Boston) but never so bad as when Fraser has been on the ice.
Still, it’s been four games. Presumably Fraser isn’t this bad, and if he is one imagines he’ll be out of the lineup in short order.
One of the reasons we can say with confidence that Fraser will find himself on the outside if his play continues as it has is the case of Will Acton. Acton, an undrafted player, worked his way up the Marlies depth chart under Eakins and got his first legitimate NHL chance when Eakins was made the Oilers’ head coach.
Acton was given the fourth line centre role out of training camp. He did a decent job of keeping the unit a low-event one, but contributed extremely little at the other end of the ice; it was a line designed to hit things and not get outscored too badly and it lived up to that mediocre goal.
He got a long run in the role, but by December the coaches had seen enough. He was replaced by Anton Lander, and then when Lander failed to deliver as hoped for Eakins turned not back to Acton but rather to Ryan Smyth as the team’s fourth line pivot. Acton got an honest chance, but was sent out once the Oilers determined he wasn’t ready to help.
Hamilton, like Acton, took the hard road to the majors. He was never drafted but first forced himself into the consciousness of professional hockey before developing into an offensive player at the AHL level, the kind of guy an NHL team might have time to look at.
His chances with the Oilers were confounded by a knee injury; he ended up playing just two games with Edmonton through November, not looking particularly good in either, before being demoted to the farm. He’s been decent for the Barons but not so good as to make a call-up inevitable, and so the call-up hasn’t come.
I think it’s difficult, based on the evidence we have, to fault Eakins for how he’s used the AHL guys who came over from the Marlies. Obviously he expected that Acton and Hamilton would be able to compete for NHL jobs; Acton brought some good things but not enough of them and was sent out, and Hamilton never really got on track thanks to injuries and suffered the same fate.
As for the mid-season additions, in short runs Scrivens has been exceptional and Fraser pretty terrible. But while Eakins can speak to the character of those players and how he saw them, it would have been up to Edmonton’s professional scouts to gauge the suitability of those guys for NHL work based on what they had done this season, so it doesn’t make sense to me to hang the responsibility for those trades on Eakins.
In any case, I find it pretty hard to fault a coach who has made tough decisions on players that he must have vouched for. If the Oilers are over-focused on ex-Marlies, that strikes me as a problem with the scouting staff having a one track mind, not a coach who can give the team some inside information on the players being considered.
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