For playoff-desperate Oilers, Eakins was a risk worth taking

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Dallas Eakins has never been a head coach in the NHL. That’s the risk the Edmonton Oilers took when they hired him in June to replace Ralph Krueger.

At least, that’s one of the risks. Every hiring comes with its share of potential pitfalls. But that’s the one that got the most attention — especially since Krueger had never been a head coach in the NHL when he was given the job the previous summer.

Eakins, a former NHL player who spent most of his pro career in the minors, was most recently the bench boss of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, Originally, it was reported he was interviewing with the Oilers for a job as an associate coach on Krueger’s staff. However, upon meeting, Edmonton general manager Craig MacTavish felt Eakins would be “better served in a primary role.” So out went Krueger, who failed to get the Oilers into the playoffs in 2013, marking the seventh straight missed postseason for the club.

Known as a stickler for fitness, as Nazem Kadri found out in Toronto, Eakins provided a warning of sorts at his introductory press conference in Edmonton.

“I think there may be some big adjustments for the players, with me coming in here,” Eakins said.

“I want players to be so fit that a forward, if I ask him to play 26 minutes that night, he’s going to play 26 minutes at a high level. If we’re in a Stanley Cup playoff game and we’re in quadruple overtime, he will still be firing on all cylinders.

“That is something that I’m passionate about that will be probably a bit of a challenge on the buy-in. But it’s non-negotiable, and there will be buy-in.”

But Eakins isn’t some old-school drill sergeant; on the contrary, his views on how to motivate players are decidedly new school.

“The way you coach players now is you get them one on one,” he said. “You’ve got to know them inside out.”

According to Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock, Eakins is about a lot more than just fitness.

“He’ll talk your ear off about conditioning but it’s a smokescreen,” Hitchcock said. “He’s going to demand things of the Oiler players they’ve never done before and they’re going to find it quite difficult. Quite frankly some of the players are out of the barn but he’ll gather them all back in. He’s going to say things that make the players squeamish but he’s going to be one of the best things you’ve had there. He’s tough.”

The Oilers — stocked with three first overall draft picks and other top, young prospects, plus a handful of offseason acquisitions — are desperate to end their playoff drought. And for a rookie head coach, that sort of pressure could prove a challenge.

On that note, MacTavish was particularly impressed with Eakins’ composure during the interview process.

“Those are great qualities for a coach, unflappable and great perspective,” MacTavish said.

Of course, we’ll see if Eakins is still unflappable if the Oilers don’t get off to the start they want, or if the players don’t immediately buy in to his tough approach. Until then, the dice are still tumbling on Edmonton’s coaching gamble.

More Oilers day on PHT:

They said Nugent-Hopkins would get hurt — and so far, they’ve sort of been right

MacTavish made moves, but was he ‘bold’ enough?

Coyotes agree to terms with first-round pick Keller on entry level deal

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The Arizona Coyotes have agreed to terms with Clayton Keller, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft, the team announced on Sunday.

Keller is one of two first-round picks the Coyotes had in 2016, along with defenseman Jakob Chychrun who has been with the team all season.

The plan for Keller at this point is to join the Coyotes and spend the remainder of the season with the club. Since the team only has seven games remaining on the schedule his presence with the team the rest of the way will not burn one of the years off of his entry level deal (since he is under the age of 19, he would need to play in nine games to lose one year of his entry level contract).

“We are extremely pleased to sign Clayton to an entry level contract,” general manager John Chayka said in a statement released by the team. “Clayton is a highly skilled, dynamic forward. He is a strong skater who has a powerful shot and great hockey sense. We are excited to have him join our team and finish the regular season with the Coyotes.”

After spending the previous two years playing for the U.S. National Development Team, Keller joined Boston University for the 2016-17 season and put together a huge season for the Terriers, leading the team in goals (21) and total points (45) even though he only played in 31 games.

The Coyotes’ next game is in St. Louis on Monday night.

Keller was born in Swansea, Illinois which is less than 20 miles from St. Louis, so the timing for his debut would be pretty perfect.

Along with Chychrun, Dylan Strome and Max Domi, Keller is going to be one of the talented young players that is going to be key to the Coyotes’ rebuild.

WATCH LIVE: Minnesota Wild at Detroit Red Wings

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The Minnesota Wild are looking to snap out of their recent slump that has seen them stumble down the stretch run of the regular season.

After getting embarrassed on home ice on Saturday afternoon against the Vancouver Canucks they are back in action on Sunday afternoon in Detroit against the Red Wings. It is their last ever visit to Joe Louis Arena before the building closes at the end of this season.

All of the action begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

Follow all of the action there, or via our Live Stream.

Click here for the Live Stream

Preview: Wild look to bounce back from embarrassing loss

 

Crosby on criticism from Sens owner Melnyk: ‘He likes to hear himself talk, so let’s just leave it’

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One day after Ottawa Senators defenseman Marc Methot had the tip of his finger busted apart by a Sidney Crosby slash, team owner Eugene Melnyk made an appearance on Ottawa radio and sounded off on Crosby. Along with calling for a lengthy suspension for the Penguins’ captain, Melnyk referred to Crosby as a “whiner beyond belief.”

It was all part of a pretty eventful for week for Crosby that saw him not only extend his lead in the NHL goal scoring race, but also be involved in a couple of stick incidents (the slash on Methot, a spearing incident involving Ryan O'Reilly) that should have been penalized.

On Sunday, Crosby was finally asked about Melnyk’s criticism and he did not really seem to have much interest in addressing it.

“I’m just going to leave it,” Crosby said following the team’s morning skate. “He likes to hear himself talk, so let’s just leave it. It was four days ago.”

As bad as the result was (and it was terrible for Methot), the NHL was never going to suspend somebody for that type of slash.

The department of player safety has only suspended two players for slashing since it came into existence (it has also never suspended a player for spearing).

The bigger issue is that slashes like that are, unfortunately, accepted as part of the game and get overlooked so consistently during games.

NHL analyst Mike Johnson put together a pretty lengthy compilation over the weekend of Senators players (including Methot) being guilty of the same type of slashing incidents. They should be penalized, including this one. But the unfortunate result of this particular one was never going to escalate it to any sort of supplemental discipline. Keep in mind that earlier this season Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau had his hand broken in a game after he was on the receiving end of no fewer than 15 slashes from the Minnesota Wild, resulting in no discipline from the league (and only one penalty during the game).

This is not the first time Melnyk has gone off regarding an incident with the Penguins.

A few years back he launched a “forensic investigation” into determining whether or not Matt Cooke intentionally sliced Erik Karlsson‘s achilles tendon with his skate blade during the 2012-13 season. He continued to seek out ways to have Cooke punished for the incident following it.

It sure would be something if these two teams ended up meeting in the playoffs this season.

NHL on NBCSN: Penguins host Flyers as chase for top spot in Metropolitan continues

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The second game on the NBC networks on Sunday will feature Keystone state rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers.

Puck drop is at 7 p.m. ET, and you can catch all of the action on NBCSN or on our Live Stream.

The Penguins, currently in a three-team race (along with the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets) for the Metropolitan Division crown, are still dealing with a mountain of injuries that has them playing without Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Jake Guentzel, Carl Hagelin, Trevor Daley, Olli Maatta, and Ron Hainsey. Even with that injured list they are still finding a way to collect points in the standings and enter Sunday’s game with an 8-1-3 record over their past 12 games.

They enter the day three points back of the Capitals for the top spot in the division and the entire league.

They have dropped two consecutive games in a shootout and are looking to avoid what would be their first three-game losing streak since January (it is also their only three-game losing streak of the season).

Given that they have been without their second best player, pretty much an entire top-four on defense (including their No. 1 defenseman), and a couple of other key forwards this has been an incredible run over the past few weeks. It speaks not only to the depth of the organization, but also to the way the top players, specifically Sidney Crosby, have been able to carry the team through the injuries in recent weeks.

Crosby has eight goals and 12 points over the past eight games alone as he tries to secure his second goal scoring crown and keep pace with Connor McDavid in the Art Ross race.

On Sunday evening the Penguins will wrap up their season series with the Flyers and are looking to win it. The Penguins won the first two meetings of the season, including a 4-2 win in the Stadium Series at Heinz Field back in February. The Flyers however won the last meeting, shutting out the Penguins 4-0 in Philadelphia earlier this month.

While the Penguins are competing for the top spot in the NHL, the Flyers are simply looking to salvage something from a season that has turned into a pretty big disappointment after appearing to be trending in the right direction back in December when they put together a 10-game winning streak. Since that winning streak however the Flyers have gone just 15-22-5 and are going to miss the playoffs for the second time in three years and the third time in the past five.

The one bright spot for the Flyers this season has been the play of power forward Wayne Simmonds who is just one goal away from recording his second straight 30-goal season.