After going on a dismal 1-11-4 slide, the Edmonton Oilers have fired head coach Dallas Eakins. The team confirmed Eakins’ dismissal on Monday afternoon following Sunday’s 2-0 defeat to the visiting New York Rangers at Rexall Place.
The #Oilers have relieved Dallas Eakins of his head coaching duties. GM Craig MacTavish will address the media at 11:45am MT.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) December 15, 2014
Edmonton has begun the season with a league-worst 7-19-5 record. Their -39 goal differential ranks dead last. No team has conceded more goals than Edmonton’s 104 goals against. In short, the Oilers are a disaster franchise that has become the butt of internet jokes and the target of viral memes.
Log on to Twitter and search the hashtag: #HereComeTheOilers. You’ll soon see images of dumpster fires, a man’s failed attempt to dive into a lake and a runner tripping repeatedly over hurdles. This is what people associate the Oilers with these days. No longer do images of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Jari Kurri parading Lord Stanley around the streets of Edmonton immediately spring to mind.
— Paul Wheeler (@fourthlinewing) December 15, 2014
The news of Eakins’ firing comes less than two weeks after Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish appeared to back Eakins by praising his growth.
“He’s evolving,” MacTavish said of Eakins on a Dec. 5 news conference.
On Monday, MacTavish admitted his role in the Oilers’ downfall. He will take over head coaching duties on an interim basis.
“There’s blood all over my hands too,” MacTavish said during Monday’s press conference. “I’m not here to absolve myself of responsibility for the situation we’re in.”
MacTavish will eventually hand over the head coaching reins to Oklahoma City Barons head coach Todd Nelson. Since becoming the Barons’ first head coach in 2010, Nelson has made the playoffs in four out of four seasons and has twice reached the Conference Finals. Oklahoma City is currently first-place in the West Division of the AHL’s Western Conference.
The Oilers haven’t made the playoffs since MacTavish presided behind the bench and took the Oilers to the seventh game of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final. Upon his arrival, Eakins was Edmonton’s fourth coach in five season.
When Eakins was hired by MacTavish in the summer of 2013, he was one of hockey’s brightest up-and-coming young coaches. He had enjoyed a tremendous run of success as head coach of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, guiding Toronto to the 2012 Calder Cup Final. Eakins had established a reputation of being an analytically-minded coach with an ability to relate to young players.
Back in 2013, Eakins was a hot commodity. He interviewed at least once for the open Vancouver Canucks job that summer. Such was the demand for Eakins that he cancelled interviews with the Rangers and Dallas Stars, opting to take the Oilers gig.
“He had too much polish and pedigree not to land one of the NHL jobs available,” MacTavish said following the hiring of Eakins on June 10, 2013.
MacTavish maintained that his opinion of Eakins’ coaching ability hasn’t changed after Eakins went 36-63-14 in less than two seasons behind the Oilers’ bench.
“I really feel now the same way as when I hired him, that he’s an excellent coach,” MacTavish said on Monday.
Yet, Eakins was the one who paid the price. Meanwhile, MacTavish has failed to assemble any kind of center depth behind top-line pivot Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. There has been plenty of roster turnover but little results during MacTavish’s two years as Edmonton GM. The Oilers are without a legitimate, no. 1 franchise goalie. Neither of Ben Scrivens or Viktor Fasth could be described as anything greater than substandard.
This past summer, MacTavish overvalued free agents Benoit Pouliot and Mark Fayne. Pouliot was handed a five-year, $20 million contract. Fayne received a four-year, $14.5 million deal. Additionally, MacTavish acquired defenseman Nikita Nikitin from the Columbus Blue Jackets and immediately signed him to a two-year, $9 million deal. The high-priced trio has only produced a collective 18 points through 31 games and are a combined minus-12.
Eakins will get another NHL head coaching gig. He might have to spend a few years as an NHL assistant or minor-league head coach, but it’s clear that he is an NHL caliber head coach. Eakins was the latest victim in the Oilers’ pin the blame on the coach, merry-go-round environment.
One can only hope that the Oilers will give Nelson the proper time to implement his philosophies in an attempt to turn around one of the NHL’s most fallen and dysfunctional franchises.