Over this extremely busy Super Bowl Weekend the fine people at TSN Analytics had former Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins on their program. The show aired on Saturday the 31st before the Oilers took on the Flames (and got beat down after being dominated most of the game) and can be heard right here. It’s worth a listen as Dallas Eakins is a relatively engaging speaker and since there are some interesting topics covered. I don’t think it will change your mind on Eakins as a coach, but he covers things from being sold a bill of goods when it came to joining Edmonton, to the structure of the roster, to hiring and using Tyler Dellow.
A BILL OF GOODS
On Monday the talk was specifically focused on something Dallas Eakins mentioned I think in passing, and that was when he said he was “Sold a bill of goods” when he joined the team. He was indeed a sought after coach at the time of his hiring and the Oilers made a strong pitch to get him. The twist that a few people seemed to give that small quote was that the experience in Edmonton was not what he was told it was going to be. This was somehow construed to be a negative comment against the organization.
I really don’t think that is the case at all.
For one, Dallas Eakins has consistently put his full support behind not just his successor (Todd Nelson) but also behind the man that hired and fired him. Eakins is the man who coined the phrase “Craig’s On It” which by now at least 5% of hardcore Oiler fans have tattooed someplace extremely inappropriate on their body. I think it would out of character for Dallas to make that statement as an underhanded swipe towards the team.
Secondly, when it comes to the makeup of the team he was probably telling the truth. I think he was told he was going to be given a team that could do x, y, and z and he just needed to take them the next step. Let’s not forget that it had only been a month into his first season when he had to give up his preferred system because in his estimation the team had no idea how to play a traditional defense. The team was absolutely lost when he wanted to hit the ground running and that has to have taken the wind out of his sails.
All of the moves that the team made leading up to the hiring of Eakins seemed to indicate they believed they were ready to compete with the players they had and the stated goals were not to go back into rebuild mode. By the time he was let go the Oilers were moving backwards in their quest to acquire and retain proven NHL talent.
In these ways he was “sold a bill of goods” as to what his team was and where they were in their development but there was too much made of that comment, in my opinion.
Another interesting tangent that Eakins went on that Oilers fans have been keyed onto for years is that the team is not structured well in terms of who its drivers are. For Edmonton to become a competitor in the West they will need to overcome or address the fact that their best players are wingers.
He sort of tip toed around it without throwing people under the bus or appearing too critical, but, to paraphrase Eakins, every team needs a center, a defenseman, and a goaltender to be among their best players.
The Oilers have Taylor Hall who is a fantastic player (when healthy) and Jordan Eberle who is a consistent contributor on the top line, but after that these current Oilers are lacking. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is just coming into his own and I believe he’ll be a great player one day but he’s just establishing himself. He is becoming more of a driver but he has other levels he needs to get to. On defense there is nobody who can do everything at an elite level and their best defender is halfway out the door. And in net the Oilers have rolled Snake Eyes on Fasth and Scrivens. One of those two might turn it around, but I’m not convinced that at their best they are ever going to be true starters in the NHL.
In the positions that are traditionally associated with success the Oilers are weak. Their best hopes to get better in that area are via kids playing in the CHL. As of right now it will be from Leon Draisaitl coming into camp next season better prepared to deal with an NHL season and Darnell Nurse starting his full-time professional career. The team just doesn’t have many other players in the system who look like blue chip prospects.
Even those two players are likely a few years away from making the kind of impact needed to address the concerns that Eakins brought up. I’m sure this is why Dallas said this club needed fiv more years after he was let go.
ON STATS AND DELLOW
Eakins made his appearance on the TSN Analytics show and you can appreciate that they were very much interested in the way the coach used Tyler Dellow, who was very much hired to aid the coaching staff versus helping management. It’s an interesting set-up and the more I think about it the more I am impressed by how outside the box it is for the NHL.
When you think about the way it appears most teams are using their Analytics Department, they have them there to bring a deeper understanding of the players on their team or the opposition’s. It’s a statistical pro-scouting department on a fancy stats level. We hear a lot of NHL managers say the analytics will help confirm their impressions of players. The Oilers were the first team that admitted they were using analytics to help their coaching staff on a systems level.
Right before he was hired by the Oilers, it was that kind of work that he was pioneering by marrying video and a traditional understanding of the way hockey is played with a deeper statistical understanding of what was happening at ice-level. Others might have been trying the same thing, but Dellow was the most public figure doing it for mass consumption.
It was a unique situation, to be sure.
The one thing that he wouldn’t go into in much detail with were the exact details of how Tyler Dellow went about his work or what they came up with because those are tricks he would like to keep in his bag for the future. It’s understandable given how close to the vest teams are now with their analytics details. There are clubs that wont even let the consultants name who they work for, which is fine when you work for the CIA but a little odd in the entertainment industry.
One example that Eakins did give was with the Todd McLellan Power Play and how the Oilers tried to do things the Sharks were doing on the man-advantage. Shot attempts were ridiculously low in his first year and even well before he got them but this season the numbers have gone up significantly. This is something I actually noticed and wrote about earlier this year. Even though the overall PP efficiency is still bad, the team was improving via other measures.
Identifying systems that work or don’t work is something we know the Oilers were using their analytics consultant with and Dallas Eakins was quick to give credit to Tyler Dellow for helping to raise the underlying numbers of the team back to acceptable levels. As Eakins noted, these changes were part of long term solutions. Over time teams that operate at positive possession tend to succeed. More so when they get good goaltending…
The most eyebrow raising segment of the interview was when Eakins revealed how deep the animosity between Edmonton’s sports journalists and the new Analytics Consultant had been.
…Bringing in Tyler was an interesting process on a number of fronts. Something that caught me off-guard. And the first thing that came up in hiring Tyler was we pushed hard for it, got it through, was the local reaction from the media. And it was interesting because we announced the hiring, immediately we had an email to our PR department asking the question “Is anyone from the organization going to talk about the hiring of this prick.”
This wasn’t a text to the coach you share a beer with on the plane from time to time or an email to the scout you’ve known for 20 years. This was a professional request given to the head of the PR department in an official capacity and this is the way one of the journalists that covers the Oilers conducted himself. It’s in many ways unfair to the people (and there are several) who conduct themselves with the utmost integrity because this makes these guys look like clowns.
The backlash to the fancy stats era has been an odd one from the perspective of those who are most interested in it. It doesn’t take away anything from the game, only adds more insight, and so far has been very intuitive. It’s nice for that opinion to be echoed in someone who coached at the NHL level when he says, “…if you’re for goals and assists and points then why wouldn’t you be looking at these other stats too?”
To quote Lowetide on this issue, “The War is over…The Nerds won.”
If you thought you had an idea about some of the people who cover the Oilers out there and the way they conducted themselves with regards to analytics and believed that maybe they need to educate themselves to stay relevant then I think this probably re-affirms that.
For me, it’s just another way in which some of these guys prove to be completely out of touch with the Hockey world and the scope of their jobs. How entitled to your position do you have to be to fire that email off in an official capacity as a journalist?
It’s pathetic, but that’s one of the reasons Edmonton has been such a hotbed for hockey blogs. The coverage we get here is altogether too lackluster on its own to be sufficient.
THOUGHTS ABOUT THE INTERVIEW
One thing that I think was glaringly omitted on Eakins’ part was an admission of guilt for his record. He didn’t really say he would have handled anybody differently at all. He didn’t suggest maybe the pace of his practices were too slow. He didn’t take responsibility for too much of the bad at all. If he feels like he made those kinds of mistakes he kept them to himself.
Considering his overall record with the Oilers I would have liked to hear him acknowledge to playing some part in it.
Since he has left Todd Nelson has improved practice based on all the comments of those who witnessed both his and Dallas’ practices. Eakins’ practices were described as plodding and it seems that he failed to relate to players particularly well. There are obvious ways he could have taken ownership of at least part of the problems.
At the same time, I have been on record several times saying I thought the Oilers were a better 5v5 team this year under Eakins than they were last year and that he was undone by terrible, terrible goaltending. I still think this is true.
As I mentioned before, the Dellow email revelations hurt the image of a lot of people that work hard and really are doing their job in a very professional manner. It makes them all look bad and I could probably figure out who sent the email if I had three guesses but they would just be guesses. Personally, I would like to see somebody step up and admit they did that.
His interest in analytics and how they can help develop winning systems is still cutting edge and Dallas Eakins is young enough to get more opportunities to grow as a coach and as a motivator. I must admit that I’m interested to see where he takes things now that he feels like he’s got a formula to succeed with.
If Dallas Eakins failed as a coach it wasn’t because he thought shot attempts were important and tried to get his team to play in a way that maximized them. It’s because he couldn’t motivate them to execute his plan. It’s because he couldn’t find the right buttons to push in order to make his goalies stop the puck more frequently. It’s because his GM gave him a sorry excuse for an NHL lineup and told him to win games it had no business winning. Heck, maybe it’s because his practices were slow. Whatever it was, it sure as heck wasn’t because he wanted his team to out-shoot the opposition.