Like it or not, Dallas Eakins will be back for a second season as head coach of the Edmonton Oilers despite some well-documented bumps in the road during his rookie campaign as an NHL bench boss. That much we know.
Those wanting a continuation of a coaching carousel that’s seen Craig MacTavish, Pat Quinn, Tom Renney and Ralph Krueger come and go after watching the Oilers go 29-44-9 for 67 points and a 28th-place finish won’t be happy about that. Understandable on a lot of levels.
Those of us, and there are many, who believe sacking Eakins on the heels of running off MacTavish, Quinn, Renney and Krueger doesn’t address the real problem with this team – that the player personnel isn’t good enough and the mix of that personnel isn’t right — are happy the failures of another season aren’t being heaped at the feet of yet another coach.
That’s not to say Eakins was without fault in a season where he obviously needed time to adjust and made some mistakes, but I don’t think it’s difficult to argue, as many of us long have, the focus is slowly shifting, and should, to the players for a season that fell well short of expectations.
Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, who will have a significant say in the future fortunes of this franchise, weighed in on the question of continuity and the return of Eakins in 2014-15 before exit meetings, and both gave their coach a vote of confidence.
WHAT THEY SAID
“There’s no doubt that coaches grow just as much as players do,” Hall said. “When you have someone that has only coached in the AHL, you come in here and there’s a lot of room for growing. I think you’ve seen that with Dallas.
“You guys aren’t in the room like we are, but the way that he has grown over the course of the year is really something that we can look forward to. Our team, we’re young, and we made some mistakes this year. We’re going to make up for that, hopefully, over the course of the summer and we’re going to learn and we’re going to get better.
“I’m looking forward to having a coach coming back next year and really knowing what to expect. Hockey players, they like comfort and they like stability and having Dallas back next year, knowing what to expect, for me personally is something I’m looking forward to.”
“It’s huge. It’s nice to have that,” Eberle said about starting a season without having to adjust to a new coach. “I’ve only had that once so far. We can kind of just pick up where we left off.
“Like I said, we were playing well at the end of the season and if we can just play that way there’s no reason why we can’t be there. I think starting the year like we were talking about before – we really struggled to find that defensive game that the new coach was bring and I think that’s why we struggled early.”
TALK IS CHEAP
Whatever side of the “Eakins isn’t going anywhere” debate you come down on, talk, as fans have come to know around here these past eight seasons, is cheap. With a season of adjustment behind him, Eakins will be, and should be, on a shorter leash in 2014-15.
Continuity won’t matter a bit if the player personnel and the mix doesn’t change. It falls to MacTavish and the rest of the front office to give Eakins and his coaching staff better pieces to work with. It then falls to Eakins and his staff to make better decisions with the pieces they have at their disposal.
I believe this is going to be an off-season of significant change in terms of player personnel – it has to be. Likewise in hockey-ops and behind the bench, where I think Eakins will get some help in the form of an experienced associate/assistant coach. I suspect some of the incumbents will be gone.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.