CATCHING UP WITH EAKINS…

Dallas Eakins 2

The Oilers have spent the past week having a mini-training camp getting ready for the final quarter of the season. I sat down with Dallas Eakins yesterday for a quick one-on-one to get his thoughts on his team, the powerplay, learning to win and what he learned about himself during the first 60 games.

Prior to the interview we chatted about the Olympics, biking and some other stuff, and I noticed he seemed much more relaxed than he was in October. We’ll have more on that later.

Here is the interview with my thoughts in italics.


Gregor: What is the biggest difference you’ve seen from training camp number
two compared to the camp at the start of the season?

Eakins: Well, I think that the biggest thing is that the guys are
quicker to understand what we are trying to do system wise. We’ve modified a
few things with our systems and it seems like they’ve been able to grasp it
much quicker. Now, that being said, we’ll see how it translates into the games
but I find that they’re picking things up quicker and it’s mostly because they
understand my language, they understand the terms that we’re using. When a new
coach comes in, he’s got certain ways that he explains things, he’s got
different words than the previous coaches have and it takes them a while to
pick it up, but so far, so good at the end of this second training camp.

**Outside of having less overall skill and size of other teams, the Oilers have had to spend too much time learning new systems in the season while other teams get to refine theirs. Not only have the Oilers made too many coaching changes, they haven’t added any experience behind the bench the past few years.

Currently 15 NHL teams have as associate or assistant coach who used to be an NHL head coach. You need experience on the ice and behind the bench. I expect Eakins will make changes to his coaching staff this off-season, and when he does he needs to bring in at least one, maybe two experienced NHL coaches.**

Gregor:
Did it make it easier because your team went in on a winning streak and the
guys come back in a better frame of mind, more willing to listen?

Eakins: I think that the answer is yes and
no. I don’t think that it ever hurts to be winning, but even if we had lost a
couple, it’s so long ago. It seems like it’s been ages since we’ve played, but
I think that the biggest thing is sort of over the last bunch of games, us
being in the games, us being able to win a few has got some hope. The guys are
able to maybe see the light flickering at the end of the tunnel and that’s big.
You want to know that you’re going to be in the games, and we weren’t in the
games early. But as of late, we’re there. We’re knocking on the door to either
be close, tie the game up or we’re in the lead. And that’s where you need to be
in hockey games to win.

Gregor:
This team hasn’t had a lot of continuity behind the bench these past six years.
Next season would be only the second time in six years the team had the same head
coach. Can you send the message to your players that these 22 games, even
though they don’t help us in the standings this year, they really do matter for
next year?

Eakins: Yeah and it’s already been set. Coming
out of the break we firmly sent the message that what we’re doing during this
time of practice and through the games is how we’re going to play the game next
year. I don’t want to be coming into training camp next year, teaching a whole
bunch of systems. We should have a good number of these guys back next year and
we should be able to roll right into it and get going. I thought that was what
cost us this year. I thought that a couple of new system things weren’t picked
up very well and we had to change out of it, we didn’t have success with it.
That shouldn’t be a factor next year, but these games are big for the
individuals and for the group as well because we want to have success. But the
biggest thing for me through to the end of the season is to continue to hammer
home our habits and our system play.

**Nugent-Hopkins has had a new head coach every season. That is ridiculous. It is time the young core guys get comfortable in a system, so they can just react on the ice, because they know what to do, rather than have to think where they need to go.**

BECOMING COMPETITIVE

competitive

Gregor:
Andrew Ference talked about how it’s easy  if you’re a young guy going into a winning
organization and see what all of the vets are doing and how they have success. That
hasn’t happened here.  MacTavish has added
a few veteran guys in Matt Hendricks, Boyd Gordon and Ference, guys who know
how to compete hard every night. Have you seen a difference in your young
skilled players in their overall, night-to-night competitive level?

Eakins: Yeah, yeah. As of late, yes. And
you’re right, most teams the way that they have been built is young players
come in, but the veteran guys run everything and those good teams like the
Boston Bruins and others, their veterans have unbelievable habits, unbelievable
work habits, they have an attention to detail and a young player comes in, if
they have any type of character at all they’re like ‘OK this is how it’s done’
and they fall in and the continuity keeps going.

Here in Edmonton a lot of the leadership had been put
on the younger players and I’m not quite sure that they were ready for it. So
by bringing in the Ferences and the Gordons and now Hendricks, Mark Fraser to a
certain degree, we’ve got a number of guys that have great habits, great work
ethic, they’ve got great attention to detail that we’re looking for and as we
add more players of that ilk I think you’ll see this team start to transform.
But I do see our younger guys, the guys that don’t have a lot of experience in
this league or who are young in age, growing and they’re slowly turning into
men.

**Some might be wondering how the kids can learn from Fraser. I’m with you, it won’t happen in a game, but during practice Fraser has been working over the kids. That will help them. They need to know how to handle big, heavy D-men. He practices very hard and doesn’t go easy on the skilled players. That will help them. He might stick as a #7 next year, his footspeed is a major issue, but his competitiveness in practice will benefit the young forwards.***

Gregor:
You’ve had 60 games to get an understanding of your players and find out what
makes each individual guy tick. What have you learned about Taylor Hall, for
instance, during those games that now that you might coach him differently coming out of
this break than you did in game one?

Eakins: Hey listen, I know that the guys
who have been here all year, it’s fair to say that I know them inside out. And
it takes time; you don’t get that in two weeks or even two months. Sometimes it
takes a whole year to figure it out.

I’m not going to go too deep in on this but
the one thing that I truly know about Taylor Hall is that he wants to be the
best player on the ice. And he’s hard on himself and he expects to be the best
player on the ice. And that’s an encouraging thing for a coach and it should be
an encouraging thing for our team. And we need to continue to teach him and
show him how to play the game so he can be the best left winger on the ice each
night.

Gregor:
At this point right now is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins the most committed of your young skilled
guys to that two way game?You spoke earlier today about Jonathan Toews two-way
game, is Nugent-Hopkins getting enough credit publicly for his two-way game?

Eakins: He’s made some massive strides boy.
He’s taken the next step; we’re using him on the penalty kill a lot now. He’s
getting stronger, he’s been able to handle some more minutes so I think that
he’s quietly going about his business and that’s how I want it to go. I want it
to go quietly. I don’t want to be comparing Nuge to other players but I spoke
about Toews today and his role on that Canadian team and I think the world of
that player.

I think Nuge is
growing, he’s growing into his own skin, I think that he’s understanding his
role on this team and how important he is to our team. And the biggest thing
that I’ve been trying to push Nuge in is to push back a little bit more. I
don’t think that it is in his nature; he’s a very respectful kid. I think he’s
been very respectful of the other players in the league and we’re quietly
pushing him to be a little bit less respectful of the players on the other
teams.

***Nugent-Hopkins is very good down low. He is the most committed of the young guys to being a great two-way player, and he needs to be because he plays centre. The other thing I like about his game is that he is sneaky dirty. Watch how often he gives guys a slippery stick to the hands or back of the legs.**

Gregor:
That seems to be something that’s encompassing of a lot of your younger guys;
there’s not a real big bite in any of their games. Taylor Hall shows it at
times when he gets mad. He admitted that he doesn’t like to get involved in
scrums because he thinks that it gets him off of his game.

As a
coach and a guy who had to play that kind of way to stay in the league, can you
get guys to be less respectful on a continual basis and is that difficult to
bring out in players?

Eakins: Well I think that it’s extremely
hard. I’m a firm believer in either you have some nastiness in you or you
don’t. And it’s OK if you don’t. But to go ask a player to go play that type of
game and he doesn’t have that gene inside of him, is the exact same thing as
asking a very limited skilled guy to go and score 30 goals. That’s not going to
happen. So the biggest thing that we do ask our guys is if one guy is in there,
we all have to be in there. We never want anyone isolated in a scrum, even if
it’s not in your nature or maybe not your job to do that, you have to support
your teammates and if you’re on the outside that is a huge, huge red flag for
me and for that player’s teammates.

The one thing that we’ve seen here at the start of the year, maybe through the
first 15 or 20 games, we did have guys on the outside of scrums. ‘Hey I don’t
do that’ and we weren’t supporting each other, but now when something is happening
on the ice, we do have everyone in there pushing and pulling together. And
that’s an important thing on a team.

POWERPLAY

470_power_play_470264

Gregor:
There’s been a lot of focus on your power play. I did an extensive study and
found out that most of the top-ten teams last year weren’t there this
year. Your team is one of them. You’ve
got a lot of passers, not necessarily a lot of guys who really want to shoot;
[Nail] Yakupov is maybe the best shooter, but even he doesn’t shoot that much.
Have you talked to guys to try to get them to be more of a shooter?  How do you go about that and does it change in
who you’re going to use in your power play format the remainder of the season?

Eakins: Yeah, you know what we were talking
about just before I came in here and you’re right. There are a number of things
that I agree with you on. Number one is special teams from one year to another
year, they have nothing to do with anything. Not only does your personnel
change, but the personnel that you’re playing against changes. So it’s very
hard to compare one year to another.

The second thing is that you’re right, the
guys that we have on our power play, if you go through the ten players that we
use consistently, almost all of them are pass first guys. And yes, we encourage
them, we plead, we yell, we scream, we’re beating them over the head to shoot
more but it doesn’t come naturally to them. And when they have to start
thinking about it, that’s that extra second that the play dies. So what we’re
trying to do here, is we are committed to being in a shooting power play and
that is what we are going to build for next year especially when we are looking
at personnel.

We want to stick with the 1-3-1 setup that
I think is the most dangerous in the league. It’s almost impossible to defend,
we find it extremely hard to defend on our penalty kill, so we want to stick
with that and for that to work we need guys to put the puck to the net.

The thing I alluded to, we were just
speaking about was I just asked my staff ‘are we trying to fit square pegs into
round holes with this, should we just go back to something where we’re going to
try to pass the puck in the net?’ And I don’t think that we can do it. I think
we have to be committed to what works, the players have to be committed to what
is working around the league and that’s shooting the puck.

The one thing that did happen over the last
couple of games is we switched guys around again, still in that same 1-3-1, but
we ended up getting more pucks to the net. So we’re going to stick with it.
Listen, it’s something that we spend a lot of time thinking about, a lot of
time practicing, a lot of time talking about. It’s not something that we’ve
just swept under the carpet and is not a concern to us.

***They need a D-man with a heavy shot from the point. J.Schultz is good at moving the puck, but he is more of a passer. In the off-season I expect the Oilers to look for a top-pair D-man, or a top-three at least and it will be a guy who is a shooter. The biggest change on the Oilers PP this year is how teams defend them. They have taken away the down low pass and because they don’t have to worry about a shooter up high. And a shooter isn’t just someone who can one-time the puck. They need a pure D-man shooter, then when teams respect him it will free up Yakupov for a one-timer, or for the cross-crease pass down low.***

Gregor:
What’s the one thing that you’ve learned the most through the first 60 games as
a coach?

Eakins: Just to breathe. I think early on
in the season my intensity got up very, very high. I don’t think that it’s
something that is ever going to be taken out of me, but I do have a fair amount
of fire from time to time and I think with this group maybe the expectations
got a little bit ahead of themselves and that’s from me.

I found myself very angry early in the
season where now I firmly understand where our needs are, where we need to get
better, what we need to do with certain guys moving forward and I’m a little
bit more at ease with where we are at as a team. I feel like we’ve got the
process going, the playing going where we can really build a good program
moving forward.

**It was nice to hear Eakins admit that the expectations were unrealistic at the start of the season. Every one will make mistakes, the key is what you learn from them and how you change it moving forward. Even in our interview I noticed he was much calmer and not on edge like he was early in the year. It was clear he had high expectations at the start of the year, which is good, but they need to be realistic. I think he knows where the weaknesses of this team are now, and unfortunately there are many of them, so it will still take awhile before this team is a top contender.**

WRAP UP…

  • I don’t see major changes to the core of this team over the summer, and that is why I think these final 22 games are crucial. They need to have a clear understanding of the system, be comfortable with it, and execute it. That will allow Eakins to see what small tweaks he can bring to camp next season, and it will allow the players to be more comfortable. Learning a system, especially when your core is young and inexperienced, takes more than a few months. The Oilers skilled forwards never had to be defensively sound in junior, and having a new coach every year in the NHL hasn’t helped their learning process. Continuity is key, because it will allow them to react and not think.
  • I mentioned Pittsburgh as a possible destination for Hemsky, and people wondered about Simon Despres as a possible return. The scouting report I got from a source in Pittsburgh is that he lacks consistency and drive. In my opinion, The Oilers don’t need another D-man with those attributes.
  • I do agree with the line of thinking on Despres. He is an older prospect, 22, and I’d rather see the Oilers get a prospect who is 20-22 than another draft pick.
  • The Oilers have 22 games left and they only play back-to-back twice, so I’d give Ben Scrivens 14 or 15 starts. Fifteen starts would pro-rate to 55 starts in a full season. Let’s see how he handles a starter’s workload.
  • If you are looking to watch some competitive playoff hockey I recommend checking out the Midget AAA semi finals. Leduc/St.Albert and CAC/Lloydminster. They start on Wednesday and the full schedule is here. Also, the Golden Bears are at home at Clare Drake arena on Friday and Saturday for semi-final action vs. UBC.
  • As of today there have been no serious discussions on a contract extension for Hemsky. Things can change in a week, but I just don’t see why Hemsky would pass up the opportunity to test the free agent waters. It would likely be his final opportunity to cash in on the open market.

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR 

    • TayLordBalls

      Have you seen Tyler Dellow’s work on what’s happened with Taylor Hall’s CORSI this year? It looks like the coach is telling the team to dump the puck in more this season with Hall on the ice and it isn’t working.

      Major missed opportunity to ask Eakins about it. You can’t have the coach screwing up the use of your best player.

      • TayLordBalls

        Yeah Eakins is really screwing him up. He has 56 points in 53 games. Corsi doesn’t tell the entire story, not close. Too many factors in Corsi that don’t impact Hall.

        Of course you’d like his number to be higher but don’t exaggerate and say Hall is screwed up. Hall said last week he is really happy with his game and thinks he is getting better.

      • Otis on Oilers

        Screwing up our best player? Hall is tied for 12th in the league playing on the 2nd worst team in the entire NHL. Who cares what his CORSI says? He is having another great year playing under another head coach again. I’m betting Hall would still be putting up great numbers no matter who is coaching the team.

        • Jason Gregor

          I said, “Screwing up THE USE of our best player”. Please pay attention.

          For the first time in Hall’s career, the team is getting killed on the shot clock with Hall on the ice.

          Dellow’s research indicates it is likely result of a coaching decision – a decision that is leading to less chances for than the Oilers should be getting with Hall on the ice.

          Are you saying you are happy if the coach inhibits Hall’s productivity? Are you saying you Hall should be happy at 12th when he should be higher?

          • Otis on Oilers

            Ya, I’d say considering the circumstances I’m happy with Hall this year. Of course the worst defense and team in the league is gonna get out shot. The Oilers have been getting out shot for years now. It’s got nothing to do with Eakins. Things are no better or worse since Eakins has come in.

            That being said, I’m not disagreeing with you that there are likely coaching errors that could be preventing more production from the entire team and perhaps Hall included, but Hall and the team are playing to their abilities right now.

            The problem isn’t chances for, it’s chances against. This team gets killed in every way no matter who is on the ice. And I don’t think you can blame Eakins for one of the weakest rosters in league. Until there are changes to the roster, there isn’t much any coach would be able to do with this team.

            The way this team is coached, and the system it plays shouldn’t be the concern. How this team can grow into a tough, goal scoring team that can win games without having to sell off every future star we have should be.

            • I’m sorry to jump in here, but yo might want to listen to what @gcw_rocks is trying to tell you.

              If you read @ MC79 research as to why Hall and the rest of the Oilers have regressed it’s actually very in depth and interesting.

              It explains a lot about Corsi, but it’s only one of the factors involved in measuring what’s actually going on with the Oilers.

              Give it a read, watch the video explanations & come to your own conclusion.

              Your going to find out it actually has alot to do with Eakins.

            • Otis on Oilers

              I actually did read his articles and there is certainly truth to lots of it, and an interesting read.

              Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not saying @gcw_rocks or @MC79 are out to lunch or anything. He does have a point and asking Eakins to explain why he is coaching the style he is would have been great. I’m sure the answer Eakins would give would have been unsatisfactory though. I do agree that different coaching tactics might benefit the Oilers, but how far will that take them? They are such an incomplete team right now. Hopefully he has the ability to adapt his coaching tactics to fit the situation in the future as the Oilers get better.

              I was just suggesting that misuse of Hall or not, he is still thriving during under this system.

      • Otis on Oilers

        Dumping the puck gives other players the chance to get it, rather than Hall doing his usual “I can get by anyone” move, which is so predictable, that every other team knows exactly what he’s doing, and of course he either falls over or gets the puck taken away. It’s called TEAM work, not rocket science. Team Canada dumped the puck often and made a pretty good show of it. Until everyone buys into being part of a team rather than individual players, the problems wont go away.

    • oilabroad

      Good interview

      The more I hear Eakins talk the more I question the guys thought process. Last year they had a great powerplay, but he is stubbornly sticking to a system now that is not working yet he refuses to give it up because it works elsewhere???

      Same with the defensive system they started the year with, didn’t matter they were the worst team in the league, he had a system that he knew worked. I really think he needs some experience on the bench with him, he is clearly not getting the honest feedback he needs from his current assistants

      • Jason Gregor

        Happens all the time. He has drive, but it isn’t as high as guys who are in the NHL.

        It is a very fine line that separates NHLers from AHLers…in skill and in heart. His consistency to compete has not been where it needs to be to succeed in the NHL.

    • vetinari

      Still feel mixed about Eakins but since the season is lost anyways, let’s see what he does with the team for the next 22 games, especially after the trade deadline when MacT will likely move out 2-5 players from the current roster.

    • vetinari

      How dumb can these players be. PLayed 60 games and still cannot pick up on the system, or maybe the coach has changed the system 10 times since the start of the season, and no one knows what the frig is going on. Still see too much junior style hockey being played by the young guys..make them watch replays of some of the Olympic games.. that might give them an idea.

      PS:.. Had to bring in Ference, Hendricks, Gordon, and Fraser to show the kids how veterans act and play… where was Hemsky, Smyth, Smid, and Schultz Sr.

    • Rick Stroppel

      GOOD DEFENCE BEATS GOOD OFFENCE

      Yesterday Eakins was quoted in the Sun as saying something to this effect: the success of the Canadian team shows what can be achieved when the ENTIRE TEAM is committed to sound DEFENCE. IMHO, the utter failure of the Russian team proves the inverse.

      Compare the difference in attitudes.

      Babcock: I don’t care what kind of offensive hot-shot you are, you play the system we tell you or you don’t play. Players: OK.

      Eakins: Yakupov, you need to back check. Yakupov: Sorry coach, not my game. I don’t like to play without the puck! I’m bringing my agent to town! Eakins: OK.

      Until Eakins convinces the ENTIRE team to play sound DEFENCE, the team will fail. Giving up 59 shots is not sound defence. Actions speak louder than words.

    • Otis on Oilers

      Eakins is a joke as well as the whole coaching staff of this team he was a nose to the grind stone player and that is how he coaches. it worked for him with the marlies because the ahl doesnt have players with super effective amounts of skill as the nhl has the majority of players down there are grindstone players that end up on third and fourth lines or bottom parring d man. he has showing as madding level stubbornness or inability to retool and change game plans for this resulting in a lack of success. the only thing encouraging about this season is that our stars have succeeded (even marginally at best for some not all have succeeded) in spite of his tutelage he may eventually be a very good assistant or associate coach but not her or now. Please Mac t Call Laviolette and Dineen and do this properly admit your mistake and move on

      • Jason Gregor

        Seems to me Eakins did very well with a young deloping skilled player in Kadri.

        He desperatley needs an effective knowledgable staff to help him out. The fact that Bucky and Smith still have jobs is the biggest pile of BS this team has ever seen.

    • Thumby

      Meh, hopefully Eakins can be the guy. I’m sure the players are psyched to not have to learn a new system. Imagine how excited they’ll be if Mact T can nab them some impact players along the way.

      Players on my wish list I think are actually attainable:
      Yandle, Stasny, Callahan, Downie, Scrivens, Halak, Niskanin, Meszaros, Nikitin.

      I really can’t see Mac T getting a top 2 guy for the simple fact that every team in the league is looking for that guy, and no team is looking to trade that guy. So instead I think he will need two really solid guys who shoot left to play with Petry and J. Schultz. That way Ferrance can mentor the Marincins, Klefbombs, and Nurses.

      Eberle and our 1st for Yandle and their 1st? They continue the defensive prospect pipeline of legend, we get a top 2 shoot first guy, still a decent first round pick, then have the opportunity to maybe overpay for a free agent.

    • Word to the Bird

      Best quote from Gregor was “I did an extensive study and found that most of the top ten teams from last year weren’t there this year”. Lol sounds extensive! what did that take? Google search? 5-10 minutes?

    • Cain

      Interesting article Jason, thank you.

      I’m wondering what YOU think of Eakins. Is he developing into a Bona Fide NHL coach, or does he only get enough rope to hang himself 20 games into next season,at which time we start all over again with learning new coaching systems etc.?

      • Jason Gregor

        I find it hard to know if a coach is good until he has good enough players to at least be competitive. The Oilers still aren’t there yet.

        I think he has learned a lot. Early on I felt like he thought the Oilers would be in better shape than any other team and that would help them. Fact is every team is in great shape, so that was an oversight.

        I think he didn’t realize how far this team had to go to be good. I understand why he would come in expecting them to compete, but the sad reality is that many of the core players are young and they don’t know how to win in the NHL. It is harder than people think.

        The final 20 games will show me if the players truly are improving. That is a sign of a good coach is if you see improvement. And it won’t happen overnight. It takes time and patience, something the Oilers management hasn’t shown much of the past three years.

        At this point Eakins is still a question mark as far as how good of a coach he will be, but until they get better D-men, it will be hard to get an accurate and fair read on his coaching abilities.

        I’d give him a C+ thus far. He’s made some good moves and he’s made some mistakes, but I don’t blame him for where they are. This team still doesn’t have enough skilled size in key positions, top-six and D, to be competitive.

    • Otis on Oilers

      **Some might be wondering how the kids can learn from Fraser. I’m with you, it won’t happen in a game, but during practice Fraser has been working over the kids. That will help them. They need to know how to handle big, heavy D-men. He practices very hard and doesn’t go easy on the skilled players. That will help them. He might stick as a #7 next year, his footspeed is a major issue, but his competitiveness in practice will benefit the young forwards.***

      IF Fraser is still on this team at the start of next season. Then MacT get a big Giant FAIL for his work in the off season. Plain and simple.

    • Otis on Oilers

      I understand what Jason is saying about not firing the coach now but if in the next 22 games we see a back slide in the teams performance I think he has to be held accountable and fired.

      I still feel that he still has an undeserved level of overconfidence. I hope I am proven wrong.

    • Otis on Oilers

      meh..was a mediocre player…is a fringe coach.

      so the reason it was this bad was because the players couldn’t pick up his system? did I understand that correctly? that’s a problem with the coaching then