Eakins Talks Oilers

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

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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.

TEAM STRUCTURE

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

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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…

THAT PRICK

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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

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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.

  • Zarny

    Typical Eakins. No accountability. Takes his lead from his former bosses #6Rings Lowe and MacT. I think Nelson’s, at least, shown Eakins could have done more with this team, despite the bad D and terrible goaltending. The team is poorly built but he could have done more as a coach, rather than set the team back 2 years. #Craigs on It

  • vetinari

    Does anybody else find the top photo with Eakins funny? Is he explaining where Schultz will turn over the puck? Or is it blank because he had run out of ideas at that point?

      • AJ88

        So Hall and Eberle are off the hook for getting their game to another level? Giveaways, defensive positioning, capitalizing on opportunities, consistency, attitude, that must all fall onto RNH, the centreman. Sorry, but the 21 year old is playing at a higher level than his wingers, saying that I like all of them and I sure hope they keep improving!

        • No, it doesn’t. I think, broadly, Eakins was talking about how lineups need to be their strongest down the middle. So the levels that Hall and Eberle needed to attain aren’t the focus of discussion. It doesn’t mean either Eakins or myself believe those two are great at Status Quo.

  • Petrolero

    For me the biggest tell about why Dallas Eakins failed in Edmonton is when he talked about the power play. Basically he says he tried to shoehorn the strategies that made other teams successful (his example was the sharks power play)into the Oilers, instead of crafting a strategy based on the strengths and weaknesses of his own personnel.

    Dallas fell for the trap of analytics: he thinks the numbers tell a universal truth. He seems to treat advanced stats like physical constants like the speed of light. The latter is the same in pretty much every scenario whereas analytics are approximations based on observations of the result of processes with a large number of variable components (players, players’ skills, coaching, ice conditions, game conditions, recording biases, etc, etc).

    In other words, for example, trying to achieve a power play efficiency of over 20% is a valid goal because statistically that number explains a large portion of success for teams in the NHL, but getting there by attempting to do the exact same things the sharks were doing is doomed to failure because of those variable components.

    • pkam

      Have you listened to the interview?

      Eakins said the Sharks put 120 shots per 60 minutes of PP time which is very good. Oilers only put 80 shots per 60 minutes which is not good. So we had to find ways to increase the number of shots per 60 minutes of PP time. Where did he say the Oilers had to do the exact same thing the Sharks were doing?

      • Petrolero

        Did you listen to the interview?

        He said they were looking at the personnel the sharks were using on the pp. here’s the actual quote:

        …”ok, what are they doing? who’s their personnel? what hands are they?…”

        One of the biggest examples of Eakins trying to to shoehorn the Oilers was the infamous swarm. I don’t know if you are missing the point of my comment or just chose to focus on on a specific sentence. If your issue is my choice of words, let me rephrase: instead of saying “doing the exact same thing”, I’ll change it to “emulate rather too closely”.

        My point remains unchanged.

        • pkam

          So you don’t think a coach should watch how the other teams executed their PPs? And they shouldn’t pay attention to the detail when they watch them? And if they see some great strategies they shouldn’t try to adopt them into their PP?

          I tend to disagree. Of course, you cannot do the exact same thing, but you will try to adopt it whenever possible, usually with some modification. I don’t think any coach will come up with every PP strategy from their own. You may come up with a few, but most are adopted from the other teams.

          • Petrolero

            This is what I think the process was like with Eakins (based not only on the radio interview but on his body of work we all witnessed here):

            1.-Eakins, Dellow and co. identify what they think makes a team successful via the use of analytics and video. This is a very good thing.

            2.- They identify for example that a good pp helps teams win more. This is a very good thing.

            3.- then they look at what teams have been successful with the pp over the long term. Another very good team.

            4.- Now they “dissect” the pp of those teams to really look at what makes them tick. Very good thing indeed.

            5.-Here’s where it gets crazy imo: once they had this information, they failed to apply the same process to the oilers, or they failed to get accurate conclusions when they did. What they did instead was, for example, identifying that it was the heart and the liver that made the body of the sharks pp so successful, then tried to make the oilers’ body work in the same way, even though the heart was smaller and the liver might have had cirrhosis.

            I agree with what you’re saying, I think where Dallas and co. failed was in the “whenever possible” and the “usually with some modification” parts.

            I cite the swarm again, if Dallas had done his homework, he would have known the Oilers’ players were extremely lacking in defensive coverage fundamentals. Even after he learned that the hard way he was still stubborn about it for a while.

            Imo the Oilers do have structural issues and weaknesses all around, but I think Dallas failed because of his own coaching philosophy more so than because of the team’s deficiencies. I’m not saying a different philosophy would win a Stanley cup with the current group, but I firmly believe it would have done much better.

          • pkam

            I don’t want to continue with the PP since it is all speculation on how they adopt it from other teams.

            About the Swarm system, I remember Eakins explained his modified SWARM system. ‘When one of our player pinned an opponent along the board in our own zone, another player will go in to get the puck.”. Again it is my speculation that it is Eakins solution to our inability to win one on one puck battles along the board. How can you play a puck possession game if you can’t win the puck battles along the board?

            I guess you can blame him for not realizing that our players can’t even win those puck battles 2 on 1.

            And I remember Krueger also implemented a one on one defense system. I remember the Oilers player would ignore a free puck a few feet away and looked for the opponent he shadowed. It was very odd when a player skated away from a free puck a few feet away. And that happened even in the 2nd half of that shortened season. Does it mean Krueger is even worse than Eakins?

          • Petrolero

            Hard to evaluate Krueger, since he only got 48 games, a shortened training camp and the tougher west as the only opposition.

            Eakins on the other hand had two full summers to prepare and 2 training camps, ended up with over 100 NHL games as head coach, not to mention he got to bring some of his own people. Krueger Rolled with what was there. If you want to go far back, I think the biggest mistake was actually firing Renney. The numbers support that.

            I kept mentioning the pp because that’s the example I rolled with. We weren’t speculating about the pp, we were discussing what the guy who implemented it actually said about it.

          • pkam

            I am not debating who is the better coach.

            I just want to point out that there is no evidence that Eakins was coaching the Oilers PP the same as the other teams.

            I also want to point out that Krueger is even more stubborn with his own system than Eakins. Eakins dropped his SWARM after about one month, Krueger had never dropped his although the team seemed to struggle even in the later stage of a season.

          • Petrolero

            Why would Krueger drop a system that had the Oilers on the verge of qualifying for the post season?.

            When the team still had a chance to hunt for a playoff spot Eakins failed to make corrections and the result was the team out of contention by halloween. Then next year came around and the same thing happened.

            How in the world can you say Krueger was more stubborn? At this point you just sound like you want to defend Eakins at all cost.

  • Matt said: 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.

    If the NHL all star game has shown us anything, it’s that a complete lack of defence makes the best goalers in the world look like back alley chumps. Eakins was undone by terrible, terrible defence.

  • pkam

    I think there was an element of ” sold a bill of goods” from both parties [ Eakin/MacT],

    MacT singing songs of “bold moves” on the way and Eakins riding the crest of his agent and PR man as the next greatest NHL coach in the making, wanted by teams like Dallas and Vancouver.This alone had Katz tearing his Bono gogles insisting Oilers win this big catch.

    Long story/short.. Eakins gets 4 year deal and
    Kruger gets a Your Fired instagram.

  • Just speaking for myself. I don’t care one wit what this idiot has to say. Every time he opened his mouth he just proved that he fit in with the massive egos and sense of entitlement that the boys(who crashed our bus) exhibit, controlling things upstairs. Good riddance, too bad you couldn’t take the dunderheads that decided to hire you with you. I don’t even want to read his name on this blog as it relates to “Professional Hockey” . A subject he proved he knew very little about. Just go away, you are irrelevant .

  • Joy S. Lee

    I find it interesting that everyone, including the author, got so pissed off about a journalist’s personal opinion of a opinionated stats guy. Unprofessional? Maybe. But does the verbage really affect anything, seriously? People’s feelings get hurt over the slightest things. I’ve called business associates pricks before – albeit rarely to their face – because that’s how I felt about them. Doesn’t make it right or wrong, but I personally feel entitled to do so, because I feel entitled to my feelings, if that makes any sense? I think it does.

    That reporter felt that way. Get over it. His terminology is really not vastly different (except that it’s simple and straightforward) than the attitude towards it currently being deployed. Neither one is productive, unless we’re about to launch the Sports Media’s Word Police Agency. The Oilers could have said, “don’t speak that way again about one of our employees,” informed the agency, and moved on with it. But they clearly wanted to make a big deal of it, and you guys jumped on board.

    What makes this kind of funny is that the feminine half of our species is sometimes ridiculed over the other half’s being unable to understand them. This is apparently due to a propensity to take the smallest thing and shift their entire world on it’s axis to accommodate it, while possibly taking the biggest thing and reducing it to something inconsequential. Gee, that sounds vaguely familiar to this whole scenario. Is it possible that there’s not a woman involved in this particular breach of professional conduct anywhere? Hmm…maybe the whole world is being turned on it’s ear. Someone should take a pill, or two, or maybe it’s just time for a pedicure.

  • toprightcorner

    Matt, an excellent article. I agree that the msm covering the oilers is nearly incompetent.

    To be fair and unbiased, you could have mentioned the childish tweet wars that Dellow participated in, and cited examples.

    On the whole, I give you 4 kernels out of 5. Keep up the good work, but remember to remain unbiased in your articles and tweets.

    • I absolutely could have but I actually wanted to avoid embarrassing people further. There are tweet wars, articles published and taken back down, numerous radio hits, and terrible questions asked in interviews that I could have cited.

      For me, it’s sufficient to say there absolutely was an adversarial relationship between a great many sports journalists and Dellow. I might have added the “great many” part in the original article but I have a smaller list of those NOT engaged in some form of petty battle with him than a list of those who were.

    • camdog

      3 stories about an unknown reporter whom may or may not have called Dellows a prick, 2 stories offended by the comment, however no articles denying that Dellows is not a prick…

      I don’t see it as a logical leap…

  • camdog

    Interesting thing to me is bloggers are often pegged as clueless. I think a lot of MSM are fairly lazy, just basing articles off of one quote, or a couple of post game quotes. Outside of player grades, nobody in the MSM tries to impartially grade games. It’s always, Hall said they need to be better in all areas of the ice, blah blah blah.

    Guys like Young Willis are using stats to grade games. Ie keeping track of how many times a player does a good or a bad. It’s not witchcraft, and it’s not even particularily nerdy. I don’t get the fear of stats, except from the lazy reporters who eat popcorn and drink all game then ask for a few quotes.

    Most MSM guys know almost nothing about their own teams thinking, and nothing about how other teams are playing. OV was 1st allstar at 2 positions for christ sakes.

  • pkam

    “Sold a bill of goods” is an idiotic comment. Every time a player or coach joins a new team it’s because the organization convinced them that winning was right around the corner. Why? Because every team enters the year filled with optimism. 14 teams don’t make the playoffs. Does that mean all their offseason acquisitions were essentially lied to? Come on. No gm trying to court a new coach says “love to have you on board but if next year doesn’t go well we’ll both be out the door” no. I do t think the prick comment is necessarily unprofessional. I’d have to know whether or not the two were friends. It is quite possible they’d met many times and shared a few beers in which case it’s really no big deal. The reason I think that you see a backlash against Analytics is because it’s proponents view it as infallible. If the results match the numbers then voila. We’re right. If the results don’t match the numbers then suddenly it’s goaltending or bad luck that have sabotaged the validity of the precious new age statistics. Voila. Right again. If anyone questions how valuable these stats are? They’re dinosaurs who need to learn to embrace the future. A future of stat geeks who will never admit that hockey isn’t baseball. “But it’s more information!!!” Yep. My new microwave came with an instruction manual. Did I read it? No. Why? Because sometimes more information is really really boring.

  • Joy S. Lee

    Hard to believe that a FapStats ™ nerd who got in flame wars with every commenter who dared to criticize his genius would be getting into flame wars with long-standing members of the hockey media who are weary of covering The World’s Worst Sports Franchise.