When somebody comes off like a pompous know-it-all the way Edmonton Oilers’ president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe did with his infamous “six rings” remark, he deserves to be righteously roasted, as Lowe was. That’s as it should be.
Lowe, clearly rattled by a line of questioning by Edmonton Journal columnist John McKinnon during a media availability in April of 2013, unwisely played the been there, done that card when pressed about Edmonton’s management group.
Lowe leaned on his five Cup wins as a player with the Oilers and another as a member of the New York Rangers — and ignored that he’s won zip-all as a manager since 2000 — when pressed why fans should be confident of a turnaround with largely the same group in place that had taken the franchise, now eight straight years out of the playoffs, off the rails. “I know a thing or two about winning, if there’s ever a concern.” I know best stuff.
In contrast to Lowe’s approach, I’ve liked what I’ve seen from Dallas Eakins as he prepares for his second season as Edmonton’s head coach after a rookie campaign that was often tumultuous, and one in which he was questioned for his on-ice strategies and use of player personnel. Looks to me like Eakins is aware there’s room for improvement on his part. That’s a start, no?
THE TAKE IN BIG D
Eakins, who has seemed pretty sure of himself from the very minute he was introduced by GM Craig MacTavish, prompting some fans to label him as arrogant, spent last week taking in training camp with the Dallas Cowboys, notably to pick the brain of head coach Jason Garrett, according to Bruce McCurdy over at the Cult of Hockey in the Edmonton Journal.
“One of the first things (Eakins) said to me is, he sat in a lot of the different meetings and he said ‘There’s unbelievable diversity on your staff — old guys, young guys, guys who have come from different places, Different philosophies, different coaching and teaching styles,’ ”Garrett told ESPN.
“We have done that, whether it’s very, very consciously in every decision, I don’t know if that’s the case, but I do believe that’s important. You want to be able to reach the players and touch the players a lot of different ways.
“If I tried to hire everybody who was exactly like me, that would be a really, really bad thing. If we tried to hire everybody who was exactly like some model, that would be a bad thing. You want to have guys who have different personalities and somehow touch the guys differently. I think we’ve done that. It was interesting to me that he recognized that.”
Given we’ve seen a significant overhaul of Edmonton’s coaching staff this off-season, with Steve Smith and Kelly Buchberger being moved out and 63-year-old Craig Ramsay and former tough guy Rocky Thompson moved in alongside Eakins and Keith Acton, the trip to Big D should be of interest to Oiler fans as well.
ROOM TO GROW
From where I sit, Eakins came off as a bit of a smarty pants to start last season when he stepped in for Ralph Krueger, tip-toeing along and often crossing over the line that separates confidence from arrogance as somebody who’d never been an NHL head coach.
I like a guy who can think for himself and doesn’t just tow the company line, but Eakins seemed a bit too intent on putting his stamp on the team right away. He seemed hell-bent on re-inventing the hockey wheel – the swarm defensive scheme and his tactics and use of personnel on the power play, as examples.
To his credit, Eakins tweaked his approach as the season went on and admitted he’d made some mistakes along the way. Then, came the turnover in the coaching staff. Lately, this trip to Dallas for the chalk talk with Garrett. Doesn’t sound like a know-it-all to me.
Obviously, Eakins didn’t get the results he wanted in his first season behind the bench, so it goes without saying that there may be an element of self-preservation here. Even with the full backing of the GM, which Eakins certainly has from MacTavish, coaches who don’t produce results end up down the road sooner or later.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I can’t pretend to know what motivates Eakins because I don’t know the man. The way I see it, that Eakins seems to be at least willing to grow as a coach and draw on the know-how of people around him is a lot more important than the reasons why.
We’ll see how this evolves as Eakins leads a revamped coaching staff and roster into 2014-15. We’ll see how he employs Ramsay and Thompson as resources. We’ll dissect his strategies and his handling of a young, talented core — I put getting on the same page as Nail Yakupov at the top of that list — and how he blends that talent with the veteran pieces MacTavish added this off-season.
The proof, as it always is, will be in the pudding – the results. Even with Lowe hovering in the background, what I’ve heard and seen from Eakins this off-season seems like a welcome step away from the six-ring circus fans have been subjected to for far too long.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.