If nothing else, Dallas Eakins is giving critics who roasted him during his rookie season as head coach of the Edmonton Oilers pause for thought this summer with what looks to me like a very productive off-season.
I touched on Eakins 10 days or so ago by writing about his visit to the training camp of the Dallas Cowboys – he also paid a visit to the Mizzou Tigers – in an exercise to better understand the working dynamics between coaches. Coaching isn’t just X’s and O’s, it about relationships.
That came after taking the opportunity presented him by GM Craig MacTavish to make changes to his own coaching staff – Steve Smith and Kelly Buchberger are out and Craig Ramsay and Rocky Thompson are in – which I also touched on.
When you add to that Eakins also had a significant say in the hiring of advanced stats and analytics man Tyler Dellow and that he’s apparently taken steps to mend fences with Nail Yakupov, with whom Eakins had a strained relationship last season, it looks to me like he’s checking off a lot of his own boxes in the “be better” message he’s been delivering.
If Eakins came off like something of an arrogant know-it-all who was often in over his head during his first season behind the bench – it seems almost unanimous he did if you go back through the comments sections of various fan websites like this one – this off-season has been a stark contrast.
While Eakins started last season with too much strut in his step for a guy who’d never been a head coach in the NHL, he finished the campaign by admitting he’d made some errors in judgment and promised he’d be a better coach when the puck dropped for the upcoming season.
Saying it is fine and good, and it likely wasn’t easy for somebody who’d walked in as confident as Eakins did when he was first hired, but in a city where hockey fans haven’t seen a playoff game for eight seasons, actions do the real talking. In that regard, Eakins has said a mouthful.
Fans wanted changes to the coaching staff. They got it. People put off by the over-the-top confidence Eakins showed early wanted to see some kind of humility and willingness to at least consider that he might not have all the answers. I think they got that with the trips to Dallas and Mizzou.
Now, we have the addition of Dellow and word from Yakupov that Eakins has reached out to him.
Regarding the hiring of Dellow, Eakins told James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail:
Tyler just seemed like the perfect match for me. He’s sharp. He’s more than the one-trick Corsi wonder. He understands everything fully. We think there’s going to be a great opportunity to look at our team in a number of different ways that Tyler can help us.
A coach’s job is not to sit there and say, ‘I already know it all. I don’t need anybody else’s opinion.’ I want to hear everybody’s opinion. Then it’s my job to make that final decision.
I’ll listen to Craig Ramsay and Keith Acton and Rocky Thompson and Craig MacTavish. And we’re going to listen to Tyler Dellow, too. He’s going to have a voice in our room on certain matters. We’ll see where this goes. I’m excited by the hire.”
For a lot of people, how Eakins handles Yakupov this coming season is going to go a long way in determining his success or failure. To understate, Eakins and Yakupov have had a less-than-harmonious relationship.
My understanding is Eakins and Yakupov have talked more than once this off-season. Yakupov discussed one conversation with Oilers Now host Bob Stauffer in a recent interview.
“I remember my chat with Dallas, we had a pretty good conversation. I talked to him during the summer … we weren’t even talking about hockey. We were just talking about life and how my foot (injury) goes and about families and stuff.
“I think it’s a good thing, because in the summer you gotta refresh your health a little bit and don’t think about hockey too much. There are other times you have to work and think about it. I know what he wants because we talk about it during the season, but in the summer we talk about different things. We try to be a little bit closer to each other.
I think that helps, first because a team needs to be closer to each other, the team, the staff, equipment manager, doctors, we need to be together and we gotta be a team and I think it’s going to be easier to play that way.
THE WAY I SEE IT
Whatever we thought of Eakins during his first days, weeks and months running the bench, you have to admit, unless you’ve been plugging your ears and covering your eyes, these are not the words and actions of a coach without an interest in upping his game, just as he demands from his players.
We’ll see soon enough how it plays out.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.