EDMONTON — Craig MacTavish could polish the turd no longer, firing Dallas Eakins in a move that’s been coming, literally, since the day Eakins was errantly hired to be the Edmonton Oilers 12th head coach prior to last season.
It was a sucker hire to begin with — a rookie GM schmoozed into hiring a rookie coach to work with a bunch of rookies — and made even worse by the Swiss cheese roster MacTavish handed the prodigal Eakins.
By the time it was over Eakins was beaten in submission, by day pouring through piles of analytics that would have had to be lit on fire and placed directly under the collective rear end of his team to have been of any use. By night he had become catatonic behind the bench, frozen even as a National Hockey League referee skated over to ask him — not once but twice — last Wednesday in Anaheim if he wanted to use his time out with 30 seconds left in a game Edmonton typically trailed by a 2-1 score.
It was as if the ref were saying, “Uh, Dallas. Every other coach in every other rink uses his time out here. Are you SURE you don’t want to use yours?”
Eakins decided not to decide, and Edmonton lost again.
Of course, being paralyzed and unable to make a decision is no cause for firing in Edmonton however. In fact, it qualifies one to be both general manager and owner.
Craig MacTavish, who held yet another uncomfortable press briefing Monday, waited far too long to fire Eakins. He dithered when he should have been firing his goalie coach months ago. He fiddles while his amateur scouts will likely burn through yet another crop of high draft picks again this spring, with an inexcusable rate of success. And MacTavish still employs whichever of his pro scouting team told him that Nikita Nikitin was a Top 5 NHL defenceman, or that Jesse Joensuu and Teddy Purcell play even half as big as their uniform size.
Bold moves? MacTavish will get to that, as soon as he finishes smoothing over his own mistakes as general manager.
Everyone is under the microscope now, MacTavish promised on Monday, including him. “My superiors are going to evaluate me. We’ll evaluate our scouting staff. We’ve got to make changes. To think that this is a coaching issue is naïve. It’s deeper rooted than that. We have to get to the core of it and we will.”
MacTavish, as expected, will step behind the bench to help “transition” the team to interim head coach Todd Nelson, called up from the farm. The key here is not to let any of this current Oilers front office sign anybody to any long-term coaching contracts, because four months from now owner Daryl Katz may just have summoned enough courage to replace his boyhood heroes with proven NHL executives.
As for Eakins, he was a hyped up product of the Toronto media who interviewed so well for an associate coaching position that MacTavish fired Ralph Krueger and made Eakins his head man prior to last season. A Roger Neilson disciple, Eakins strutted through the door promising improved fitness, analytics, and his innate ability to get to know each “young man” on a paternal level. Many of those young men were already in great shape and had fathers, however, and found the new coach arrogant and assuming.
Eakins acted like he had 381 NHL wins, but alas, leaves Edmonton with a .381 winning percentage and departs a team with absolutely no pulse or energy, and losers of 15 of their last 16 games. But as MacTavish points out, it is “naïve” to think Edmonton’s biggest problems stood behind the bench in a suit and tie.
They lie inside the suits in the GM’s box, at the Oilers offices behind the name plate reading “Kevin Lowe,” and in the roster of amateur and pro scouts who have simply failed to produce, and should be wholly replaced.
“There’s blood all over my hands in this too,” MacTavish said, “because I put the lineup together, the roster. I’m not here to absolve myself of accountability for the situation that we’re in.”
MacTavish has always been quick to respond negatively when asked if he would trade a core player like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. On Monday he hemmed and hawed a bit, leaving absolutely no doubt that the pressure of this stalled project has led him to rethink his tact.
“I don’t want to answer that question until I get a hands-on understanding of exactly what’s happening in (the dressing room). I want to have … eyeball to eyeball conversations with the core group … before I am wiling to do anything.”
Translation: He plans to ask his young, contract-bound building blocks if they are still in on this debacle, or if they have mentally checked out. It will be Hall’s chance to direct MacTavish to free him from the yoke of this failure, for Eberle’s eyes — if not his words — to tell the boss if he’s still in on this Oil Change or not.
If the decision were made to finally make that bold move, we’d have one piece of advice for the invisible Katz, and his new right hand man Bob Nicholson.
Find other people to make it.