Dallas Eakins 5

The bottom line is it doesn’t matter much that Anton Belov didn’t want to return for a second season with the Edmonton Oilers as long as Dallas Eakins was the coach here, opting instead to sign with SKA in Russia.

Belov, who arrived in Edmonton after being named the KHL’s best defensemen the previous season, didn’t go into detail in comments to Russian reporter Pavel Lysenkov, as noted earlier today in an item by Jonathan Willis, but he did point a finger at Eakins.

“There is no one reason that made it an abrupt change,” Belov said. “It all was building up during the season, especially more so after the Olympics. And the hire of coach Bykov (by SKA) was also an influence. The other point is that I could have re-signed with Edmonton, but I didn’t want to stay with that coach (Eakins)

In what can only be described as a sometimes-up-often-down season, Belov was an inconsistent and often mistake-prone player unable to command ice time with a defensive corps lacking both quality and depth. Was Belov worth having back? Sure. Is his departure a big loss? No.

That Belov clearly had issues with Eakins – be it a personality clash or a beef about how he was used — isn’t a big deal. I’m much more interested in seeing if Eakins and Nail Yakupov can get on the same page going into next season because if they don’t, well, that is a big deal. Way more at stake.



After scoring 17 goals and tallying 31 points in 48 games (.65 PPG) as a rookie last season under coach Ralph Krueger, Yakupov went sideways this season under Eakins, finishing with 11 goals and 24 points (.38 PPG) in 63 games before an ankle injury put him out.

Yakupov, 20, saw his ice time drop from 15:34 under Krueger to 14:19 under Eakins, with his power-play time dipping slightly from 2:28 to 2:10. How, when and with whom Yakupov was deployed by Eakins was questioned by agent Igor Larionov during the season.

More than once this season, Yakupov appeared frustrated and seemed at odds with Eakins. By the end of the season it was almost as if he’d mentally checked out. I’m not the only one who has made that observation. I’d be surprised if Larionov doesn’t plan on getting back on the telephone with GM Craig MacTavish this off-season to re-visit what’s happening with his client.

I’ve taken a few runs at Yakupov for being too individualistic and not working as diligently as he could at all aspects of his game, particularly his defensive play. He’s a work-in-progress, sometimes a frustrating one at that. It comes with the territory when you’re talking about a 20-year-old.



Despite some obvious shortcomings at this stage of Yakupov’s young career, I think Eakins has to take some of the blame for this sideways season – a fair amount, actually. Did Eakins give Yakupov the best possible opportunity to succeed in terms of how he was used and where he was used? No and no.

Did Yakupov contribute to the problem by withdrawing or sulking when things didn’t go his way? It seemed so. Did Eakins dig in his heels and insist things be done his way, as coaches are prone to do? Yes. Simply put, the way I see it, Eakins and Yakupov both have their stubborn streaks.

In the end, splitting the blame whatever way you see it doesn’t really matter. What does matter, and the challenge for Eakins, is that he finds a way to get on the same page with Yakupov. If that doesn’t happen, he risks losing the player and having Yakupov check out for good, and we’re talking about a first overall pick here, not a fringe blueliner.

If that happens – nobody has told me we’re at that point yet – and Larionov picks up the telephone and tells MacTavish his client wants out, Eakins will have a big problem, vote of confidence from the GM or not. The way I see it, Eakins and Yakupov better have a meaningful sit-down before Larionov and MacTavish do. Over to you, coach.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • NoShtShrlock

    If a system is fundamentally flawed and players are having to change their style of play to suit the coach’s what should be done.Is it possible for a coach to be let go before the end of the season if the players can’t understand or learn their system?
    Ask David Moyes how his Tuesday is going.

  • Sorensenator

    I don’t care who we draft as long as Sam Bennett is not on the board for Calgary. He will eat up our guys for years.

    Do the right thing and Draft Sam Bennett Oilers…

  • OilClog

    This thread lol.

    Yakupov isn’t getting shipped out for cents on the dollar.

    Yakupov isn’t getting shipped out, his dreams aren’t crushed, he’s not going back to the KHL.

    If Eakins gets to the point next season where he’s benching Yakupov again, Eakins will clearly be nearing the end of his stay, as it will be clear the team still looks like blind mice out there.. Due to Eakins having no clue how to deploy players.

  • OilClog

    Also, since when do wingers have to be two way players now? There are maybe like 5 wingers in the game who put up decent points and are considered two way guys. The rest are all centermen. I know he had a bad plus minus, but gad he had to play with Gagner all freakin year.

    Both Perron and Yak would benefit from a better pivot.

    • Czar

      If you want to make some noise in the playoffs all your forwards should have the ability to play in both ends of the rink. They don’t have to be Selke nominees but a definite clue is required.

      • OilClog

        Can you name any outstanding 2 way wingers in the NHL? Landeskog, Callahan, Perry, Brown (though not this post season). Tough to think of other outstanding two way wingers. Reason being, that’s not what they’re there for. Is Kane a two way guy? Is Hossa blocking shots? Does Nichuskin pride himself on his defensive responsibility?

        I think Ovechkin said it best this year, he’s not there to play defence he’s there to score goals, and that is the main job of every winger.

        Point being that yes Yak needed to play better in his own end, they all did. But saying he’s a wasted player because he isn’t a two way winger is a bit preposterous.

        It’s the same reason Hall doesn’t get more props for being the best LW in the game. Oh, he’s not a complete player, he’s a WINGER!

        • Czar

          Whoa up there Willy, when did I say Yak was a wasted player? What’s preposterous is the fact that you think wingers should get a pass on playing defense and not take pride in it?

          Stanley cup champs have everyone buying in and playing responsible defensively even their WINGERS! If Ovi took more pride in his over all game he might be playing right now, no?

          I agree with Derian’s post #118, times have changed dude.

  • Derian Hatcher

    At advanced levels, players need to recognize the defensive need and fill it. Defensive sytems in higher levels of hockey no longer use the “winger” “center” positions for defensive coverage. Reading the play, recognizing the threat and reacting to the scoring threat is what makes a good defensive forward. Granted, it is often the centerman who fills this role, but the excuse of “that wasn’t my guy cause I’m a winger” went out with Punch Imlach. IMO 64 has to be willing to learn to play on the defensive side of the puck on a consistent basis. I’ve lost hope for 89 in this regard.

  • Tikkanese

    Maybe if Belov showed even 10% of his hyped offense and toughness when given ample opportunities early in the season, and even at anytime throughout the entire season for that matter, he wouldn’t have ever been a healthy scratch. The Oilers would have been more inclined to match the KHL offer as well.

    He was touted as an automatic top 4 D and a possible top pairing guy. He can blame Eakins all he wants but his play alone made him end up being a #8 on the worst D in the NHL. He took a paycut to see how he would fare in the NHL. If there was ever a D that one could easily shine on, it was the Oilers’ D this season. He didn’t fare well. No real loss. Easily replaceable and upgradeable.

    Belov, on your way out don’t let the door hit you where the good lord split you.

    • Tikkanese

      Wow, 8 trashes and 2 props. I swear at least half of you are really fans of other teams just on here trying to get a reaction out of Oiler fans. None of that was untrue.

      Belov did not live up to the hype, fact. Belov did not exactly shine on the worst D in the NHL, fact. Did any Oiler D really shine? No. If Belov even delivered half of the hype he had, he would have shined brightly.

      • Joy S. Lee

        I found it interesting that he signed a 4-year deal in the KHL. He has always signed 1-year deals to stay hungry, as a personal motivation. I appreciated that he felt it necessary to prove himself each and every year.

        This diversion from that mantra suggests he came to realize that he is perhaps not as capable of dominating in the NHL as he thought he was. He would have been a UFA, yes? So he could have signed with any team, if Eakins was his only concern… right?

        But, he didn’t. He went back to the KHL, knowing the NHL is the best league in the world. He admitted to having trouble adjusting. It would have been in Eakins and his brilliant assistant’s job descriptions to teach the NHL game/ice to Belov, of course. Obviously, Belov didn’t like the way he was being taught. That can be a player thing as much as a coaching thing, so we’re still in the dark and probably always will be on this one.

        I think Belov could have been an impact NHL Top 4 D-man had he stuck it out, but it’s okay, because he couldn’t get much beyond 5-6 on the league’s worst defense. He gave up too soon. But that’s the strange part, for a guy who prided himself on earning every contract he got. Why would a guy like that give up so quickly? That’s the question I’d ask him, if I had the chance.

  • Joy S. Lee

    All this talk of Yakupov’s demise is concerning because this is an ultra-talented player, possessing great passion, and capable of being much, much more than what he is now. It is a stretch right now, but not entirely ridiculous to say that he is capable of winning the Maurice Richard Trophy, for pete’s sake.

    In other words, there is little option but to step up for this kid and make him successful. I’m sure the Oilers realize this. Anything less than a complete organizational investment in #64’s rise to prominence would be a failure. Let the kid show passion, give him appropriate opportunities, and let him learn the game. Then, let him do what he does best. There are many qualities to his game that aren’t getting recognized, but that’s okay, it should be abundantly clear next year, with the revamped team, and a defense that can move the puck.

  • A-Mc

    There are a lot of excuses being flown around to justify the bad season for Yakupov.

    You want to blame the coach for his poor performance? 20+ other players had the same coach, and the offensive ones did just fine.

    You want to talk about his line mates? Yak played on all lines and wasn’t effective on any of them.

    Specifically you want to target Gagner as the main problem? Perron also played with Gagner, and Perron kicked butt this season.

    Yakupov just wasn’t good this season and that’s on him. Next year is a fresh start and i hope he can get his ducks in a row; this team needs him to figure it out.

  • A-Mc

    One of your best commentaries Robin. Fair, balanced and insightful. If this club isn’t big enough for both of them, then unless it’s all Yak’s fault, it better be Eakins out the door. If Igor Larionov is complaining, I’m listening. Whatever room he is in, he’s the smartest guy in it.

  • Sorensenator

    I have a felling Todd Nelson will flee when he has the chance. Snubbed of a job with the Oilers, Klowe and company backstabbing him by trading,calling up(even though they aren’t ready), and letting them walk, treating him and his team as if it is a storage room for the big club, and lastly not recognizing nor paying attention to the amount of work he has done. Ask Marincin,Arco,Lander, any young player that has came up through the Barons. They will mention how Nelson has helped their game. Sounds the exact opposite of Eakins dosen’t it?

  • Oilers4ever

    Plain and simple in my mind. This team got worse under Eakins. Stats dont lie. If he loses Yak who else does he lose? He’s proven nothing in this league. Turf him and hire Trotz. He did well in Nashville for so many years and nowhere near the talent pool the oilers have outside of a couple stud dmen and Pekka Rinne. If he loses Yak then who’s next. I dont normally go this way cuz you dont can a coach cuz of a player. But Belov had comments… Smid, Bryz… When they start to add up there has to be some truth out there. If he was a proven coach I’d say otherwise but he’s not.

  • Rob...

    it seems odd that they would pick a Yak and keep him, when he has none of the qualities they seem to want in him. He has the defensive awareness of a 10 year old. Didn’t they scout him? Didn’t they interview him? Ok, he has a good shot, and if you want to pick him for his value, fine. But, why wasn’t trading him for players you actually like and need an option?

    Just like Gagner, they will play the Yakupov hand completely wrong.

  • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

    Oilers have a habit of shipping out of town players that they can’t effectively manage…..the best indicator of future management behaviour is past management behaviour. It concerns me and would be a strong indictment of the organization if they cannot properly develop this kid.

  • Sorensenator

    OK I’ll try to be more reasonable. I do think Yakupov will prosper from a better two way centre. Gagner is horrible, he has no grit to his game whatsoever and he is a defensive liability. Most players can push Gagner off the puck with one hand.

    I think Bennett would be a better option instantly. He is tenacious and extremely explosive. Gagner is neither of those things.

    Hall Nugent Hopkins Eberle

    Perron Bennett Yakupov

    Small top six still but potentially very dangerous.

    Now they need a couple players that can play third line players and still produce and one more maybe two Top 4 defenceman to solidify the back end.

    I am cautiously optimistic