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?

Habs sign Mark Streit — is he Markov’s replacement?

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The Montreal Canadiens have signed 39-year-old defenseman Mark Streit to a one-year contract worth a reported $700,000.

This will actually be Streit’s second stint with the Habs. He started his NHL career in Montreal, all the way back in 2005.

Streit split last season between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In the playoffs, he only appeared in three games for the Penguins, all of them in the Eastern Conference Final against Ottawa when Justin Schultz was hurt.

What the Streit signing means for Andrei Markov remains to be seen. Streit, like Markov, can run a power play, so it’s tempting to conclude that Streit is Markov’s replacement.

That being said, almost all of Streit’s contract could be buried in the AHL if necessary, so that conclusion may be premature. This could even be a move by GM Marc Bergevin to gain leverage and convince Markov to sign.

Markov, 38, remains an unrestricted free agent. The Canadiens want him back, but only at a certain price.

Devils give Mirco Mueller two-year extension

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The New Jersey Devils have signed defenseman Mirco Mueller to a two-year contract extension with a cap hit of $850,000.

Mueller, a first-round draft pick of the Sharks in 2013, has only played 54 NHL games, scoring two goals with four assists. In June, after spending most of 2016-17 in the AHL, San Jose traded the 22-year-old to the Devils.

In New Jersey, Mueller should get a good chance to crack a rebuilding roster.

“Mirco is adding another piece to what we’re trying to build here,” Devils coach John Hynes said, per NJ.com. “He’s a young player, he can play with pace. He’s a very good skater. He’s got size, which is something we need on the back end. He makes a good first pass. He allows you to get out of your own zone because he can break out, he can end plays defensively, get possession, make the pass to be able to transition yourself out of defensive situations.”

The Devils have also re-signed goalie Scott Wedgewood and forward Joseph Blandisi.

Rangers lock up Zibanejad for next five years

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The New York Rangers have locked up a key piece of their future, signing center Mika Zibanejad to a five-year deal with a cap hit of $5.35 million.

Zibanejad had an arbitration hearing scheduled for today, but that won’t be required anymore.

The 24-year-old had 14 goals and 23 assists in 56 games last season. It was his first year in New York after getting traded from Ottawa for Derick Brassard.

With Derek Stepan in Arizona now, Zibanejad is arguably the Rangers’ No. 1 center. Kevin Hayes is in that conversation as well, and perhaps Lias Andersson will be soon.

But getting Zibanejad signed long term was a top priority for GM Jeff Gorton this offseason. Hayes can become a restricted free agent next summer, but that’s a bridge to cross at a later date.

Related: Andersson to get ‘every opportunity’ to make Rangers next season

Avalanche reportedly settle with Nieto, avoiding arbitration

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Matt Nieto won’t need his arbitration hearing on Monday.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Nieto has agreed to a one-year, $1 million contract with the Colorado Avalanche.

Nieto split last season between San Jose and Colorado, which claimed him off waivers in January.

In 43 games for the Avalanche, the 24-year-old forward scored seven goals with four assists.

Nieto was the only Colorado player on this summer’s arbitration list. However, the Avs still have a restricted free agent in Nikita Zadorov, who could be off to the KHL next season.