From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.
Is Dallas Eakins the right guy in Edmonton? Of all the coaching hires prior to the 2013-14 season, there was probably none that compared to the fanfare for Dallas Eakins. He’s now only 47 years old. He appeared ready to step up from the American Hockey League and the Toronto Marlies. He said a lot of the right things, especially when he was hired in June of 2013, vowing that his team was going to compete.
If he didn’t say the right thing, at least he was quotable.
But for all the hype surrounding his hire in Edmonton, and with the Oilers out of the playoffs for seven straight seasons following the 2013 campaign, the team was a disaster. It finished at the bottom of the Western Conference standings – by 10 points.
And you could certainly question his ability to get the best out of his players. The fans in Edmonton grew increasingly frustrated with the team’s performance. There was an incident in which a fan, so disgusted, threw their Oilers jersey onto the ice after a loss, prompting Eakins to publicly call that fan a “quitter.”
Nail Yakupov, Edmonton’s first overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, struggled drastically under Eakins in their first year together.
He scored only 11 times, down from 17 the season before. And there seemed to be a running misunderstanding between the two. Another Edmonton player, Anton Belov, bolted for the KHL in the spring, after the Oilers were left out of the playoffs, because he reportedly didn’t want to play for Eakins.
The sophomore NHL bench boss appears ready to tone down his lengthy dialogue with the media.
“Listen, we’re in a passionate market. And I truly love it. For people who work in a non-traditional hockey market, I just feel like they’re missing out on a lot,” Eakins told the Edmonton Sun in September.
“With the passion, people care what you do every day. When there’s tough times, there’s going to be some negativity and people pushing you along.
“I don’t ever want to turn into a coach who says ‘work hard and give 100%.’ I think our fans deserve more than that. But I did find out about how people can shorten your quote or message and turn it into something else. So maybe I learned not to speak so much.”
That’s great. Maybe not for media types.
But the important question really is: Can he get the best out of his players?
Didn’t happen last season.
And even though he received a vote of confidence from management this past spring, what would it mean for his job security if the Oilers are either slow out of the gate or begin to falter to the bottom of the standings at some point in the season?
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM YAKUPOV IN YEAR THREE?
We touched on this already.
Nail Yakupov endured his share of struggles last season under Eakins. Not only that, but an ankle injury and a concussion meant two different disruptions.
Not to mention the healthy scratches and trade rumours.
There’s no denying Yakupov’s talent. And he’s just 20 years old, so there’s still plenty of potential for him and his career.
But that talent didn’t translate into much offence last season. His 11 goals in 63 games was a sharp decrease from the 17 he had as a rookie in the lockout-shortened campaign.
The Oilers are loaded with young forwards. They’ve got Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and another good prospect in the mix, Leon Draisaitl, the third overall pick from June’s draft.
The Oilers are still in the process of teaching the defensive side of the game to Yakupov. And that’s where some of the issues may have stemmed from last season. But it also sounds like the young Russian will get a chance to play with some of the top players on the team, including Hall and Nugent-Hopkins.
At least the coach sounds confident.
“He’s come such a long way. there were times last year where there was maybe a misunderstanding of where he should be in the D zone,” Eakins told the Edmonton Sun.
“But I have no qualms about him in our defensive zone this year. He’s learned a ton. He continues to ask questions. His relationship with our staff is amazing.”
OILERS GOT THEIR VETERANS, CAN THEY DEFEND?
The Oilers went out this summer and signed Mark Fayne. They acquired and signed Nikita Nikitin. They already have Andrew Ference.
So, they’ve added some veterans to the blue line. Eakins was after some veterans, more experienced players in the off-season.
The next concern: Can this team defend?
It’s pre-season, but certainly the example in the photo on the left – snapped seconds before Nick Bonino, left wide open in front of the net, scored for Vancouver – is how NOT to defend.
Four guys fixated on the puck while a guy coming off a 22-goal season roams free.
This came with the Oilers on the power play when these two teams met on Thursday.
And here’s the the play shook down:
Last season, the Oilers, with a more inexperienced group of defensemen, gave up a league-worst 3.26 goals against. Meanwhile, the top teams in the Pacific Division, the L.A. Kings, San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks, finished in the top 10 in the league in this category.
“You start putting your lineup on the board and these are established NHL players that give you some comfort,” Eakins told NHL.com this summer.
“There’s not an unknown so much with them. For us, especially on our back end, I thought our biggest problem last year was breaking the puck out. That led to us spending a lot of time in our own zone. With the additions of those players, and then with all of our other guys getting another year of experience, it’s a step in the right direction.”
They have yet to take a step in the regular season. We”ll find out more beginning next week.