The Myth of Dallas Eakins

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When Dallas Eakins was hired in June of 2013, many people thought he was the perfect coach to develop the young group of talent in Edmonton and lead them towards the ultimate goal of re-creating the success the franchise saw in the 1980s. Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Justin Shultz and Nail Yakupov formed a foundation that Eakins could grow with and build a perennial powerhouse in the Western Conference. The optimism in Edmonton was so high that the Oilers were picked as pre-season favorites to finish first in the West during the 2013-14 season by Sports Illustrated (although in fairness that was by an analyst that has recently been fired from covering the NHL).

During the summer of 2013, coming off back-to-back playoff appearances as head coach of the Toronto Marlies, Eakins was the most sought after coaching prospect in hockey. The Rangers interviewed him, the Stars touched base, the Vancouver Canucks even offered him their head coaching job before Eakins decided that the Oilers were a better fit. You can also add to all this a large amount of anger in Toronto that Eakins was passed over by his own organization when Ron Wilson was fired the season earlier. The question that comes to my mind is, what exactly has Dallas Eakins done to warrant the type of hype that surrounded him (and to some degree still does)? What make people think Dallas Eakins is a lock to have success coaching at the NHL level?

A year after retiring from a playing career that amounted to mostly AHL journeyman status, Eakins was hired in Toronto as an assistant coach for the Marlies, a year later he found himself behind the Leafs bench as a third assistant who many believed was installed by the management as opposed to the head coach. The Leafs front office had identified Eakins as a coaching prospect worth grooming. Two years later the was hired as the head coach of the Marlies and  was seen by many as the future head coach of the Maple Leafs. Ironically this was about the same time Luke Schenn was being hailed as a stud blueline prospect and the team’s future captain.

After missing the playoffs for his first two seasons as head coach, Eakins finally led the Marlies to the playoffs and all the way to the Calder Cup finals in 2012. Had Eakins finally developed the young Leaf prospects into a high-end AHL team? Hardly. The 2011-12 Toronto Marlies were a team led by veteran AHL all-stars in Ryan Hamilton and Mike Zigomanis, as well as current NHLers Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner, Joe Colborne, and Ben Scrivens. All of which were relatively new to the organization and had very little time developing under Eakins.  Add to that, former NHLers like Jeff Finger, Joey Crabb, and Darryl Boyce and you had a Marlies team that was expected to contend and not one that exceeded expectations thanks to a high end coach. In fact the Marlies followed it up with a disappointing second round exit from the playoffs the next season. This didn’t stop the hype train as Eakins was looking to cash in and finally make his jump to the NHL. With two offers on the table Eakins chose the Oilers over the Canucks because of a foundation of young talent that looked unrivaled. Boy was Eakins probably kicking himself about this one 18 months later.

Dallas Eakins has a a record of one game above .500 as an AHL head coach, an impressively low .320 winning percentage as an NHL head coach and is a guy who has a history of throwing his players under the bus from time to time (who remembers when he bashed Nazem Kadri for coming to training camp out of shape?). But because he’s a great sound bite and political when it comes to the media you will be hard pressed to find many detractors. When he was fired yesterday, to a man NHL insiders all speculated he would definitely get another shot as a head coach at hockey’s highest level. But take a long look at his track record, is it really deserved?

 

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