If Ralph Krueger and Dallas Eakins have proven anything over the past month, it’s that there is life after the Edmonton Oilers. Clearly, failing amid that kind of dysfunction should not be a millstone someone wears around his neck for the rest of his career.
Krueger had to go across the ocean and run a football team for five years and Eakins had to go back to the AHL for four, but there was enough distance and enough time passed for them to get that stink off themselves. Things can only get better from here for Eakins, who was named the Ducks’ 10th coach in franchise history Monday.
But it’s not going to be easy for Eakins, who inherits a team in transition, one that is smack dab in the middle of what could be a very painful and prolonged rebuild. The roster overhaul, which will likely include the removal of Corey Perry from it, is in full swing. Once an annual guarantee to make the playoffs, the Ducks are no longer considered an elite team. This is going to take some time and patience, something the Ducks have much more a capacity for than the Oilers did when Eakins was there.
(Hot take: If the Toronto Maple Leafs do decide to trade Nazem Kadri, expect the Ducks to be front-and-center among the suitors. Before making the NHL, Kadri and Eakins butted heads for parts of two seasons when Eakins coach the Toronto Marlies in the AHL. It was a Titanic struggle at times, but Eakins came out the winner and was an instrumental factor in turning Kadri into an NHL player.)
Luckily for the Ducks, they have a coach who knows the team’s AHL prospects like the back of his coaching manual. He compiled a record of 154-95-23 with the San Diego Gulls in four seasons, including this season when he helped lead the Gulls to the Western Conference final, which they lost in six games. One of the losses was in overtime, another in double overtime. More importantly, he worked with the likes of Sam Steel, Max Jones, Troy Terry and Kiefer Sherwood, who all project to be players pivotal to the Ducks’ rebuilding efforts. Prior to that, Eakins oversaw the starts of pro careers for the likes of Brandon Montour, Shea Theodore and Nick Ritchie.
This makes a ton of sense. GM Bob Murray has gone on the record as saying that he is determined to give the Ducks a makeover, which includes making them younger, faster and more skilled. They scored a league-low 199 goals this past season and found themselves behind the curve when it came to where the league is trending. (Of course, then the St. Louis Blues went out and won the Stanley Cup, which kind of turned that whole notion on its ear. Which is a good reminder to GMs to stop chasing copycat trends because by the time you finish building your roster to get with the times, they may very well have changed.)
Who better to usher that project than a guy who has spent the past four years grooming players for the NHL and who has an intimate knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of the up to half-dozen players who will be integrated into the Ducks’ roster next season?
Speaking of trends, here’s one that might actually end up being one that sticks. Look at some of the truly elite teams around the NHL. They’ve been built from within with someone at the minor pro level who taught them how to be NHL players, then made the move up to the NHL along with them. Jon Cooper in Tampa Bay and Jeff Blashill in Detroit immediately come to mind. But the Washington Capitals have been successful in making their farm team a carbon copy of the NHL organization so that when prospects do finally make the jump to the big team, there’s nothing there to surprise them.
Aside from the fact that he’s a darn good coach who works very hard at his craft, that’s what makes Eakins the natural choice to take over the program in Anaheim starting in 2019-20. The advancements may very well be small and incremental, but tangible progress is on the horizon.
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