Columnist: Next Leafs coach should come from within

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Damien Cox of the Toronto Star knows where Brian Burke should look for his next head coach:

Toronto!

(And yes, we’re all now working on the assumption Ron Wilson is a dead man walking.)

The Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, is currently guided by a highly-regarded coaching candidate in Dallas Eakins.

Eakins, 45, has coached the Marlies for the last three seasons and impressed many by grooming several current Leafs (James Remier, Tyler Bozak, Jake Gardiner, Joey Crabb) and implementing a rigorous fitness regime, which you can read about here.

As such, Cox thinks the Leafs should give Eakins a shot at the NHL level, rather than bring in a veteran coaching retread.

If you know Eakins at all, you know he was a journeyman player who bounced around the league, and one who took copious notes along the way. That’s helped him put together a first-place Marlie team, a team with an excellent defensive record despite so-so goaltending, a team with a chance of a playoff run this spring.

If he’d done this in Rochester or Norfolk, you might wonder how it would translate to Toronto. But he’s done it in Toronto, obviously not with the scrutiny that comes with coaching the Leafs, but in the same media and hockey market.

Again, Burke may not wish to go with a rookie, and Randy Carlyle is another name that will come up, although it’s worth noting that Carlyle won a Cup with Burke in Anaheim in his first NHL coaching job.

Moreover, surely Wilson himself has disproved the notion that only a seasoned hand can deal with coaching in Toronto. It’s hard, over four years, to imagine a coach with less competitive success who has generated a more negative image.

Cox also makes an interesting point: In 1994, the Leafs had both Marc Crawford and Joel Quenneville working for their AHL affiliate in St. John’s. But with Pat Burns entrenched at the NHL level, both Crow and Q left the organization…and both went on to become Stanley Cup-winning coaches.

There is something to be said from promoting from within — the Penguins (Dan Bylsma) and Canucks (Alain Vigneault) have enjoyed great success while others like Colorado (Joe Sacco), Dallas (Glen Gulutzan) and Minnesota (Mike Yeo) have seen positive signs as well.

Of course, Burke has never been one to promote from within. He hired Paul Holmgren (ex-Flyers coach) in Hartford, Crawford (ex-Avalanche coach) in Vancouver, Randy Carlyle (who coached Vancouver’s AHL affiliate when Burke was the Canucks GM) in Anaheim and Wilson (ex-Sharks coach) in Toronto.

(Photo courtesy Toronto Marlies)