Former Canucks Employee Makes Swift Management Decision

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The news broke over the weekend that Edmonton Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish was poised to fire Ralph Krueger and replace him with Marlies bench boss Dallas Eakins – the brighest, shiniest thing on the coaching market this June. Krueger was fired over Skype this past weekend and at some point later today Eakins will officially take over as the twelfth headcoach in the history of the Oilers as an NHL franchise, and the team’s fourth coach in the past five years.

This was disappointing news for some Canucks fans, who understandably wanted the Canucks to bring in the highly-touted, high-cheekboned, young Marlies coach. Maybe they got their hopes up a bit too high when Dallas Eakins had a second interview with the Canucks late last week.

Ultimately while Mike Gillis hemmed, hawed and preferred to wait to interview the likes of John Stevens, his former minor league headcoach Craig MacTavish struck quickly, and almost impulsively, in choosing Dallas Eakins as "his guy."

We’ll look at the Dallas Eakins hiring through the prism of Vancouver’s own search for a new headcoach after the jump.

We’ll know more about how this process unfolded later today when Eakins and MacTavish meet the press, but for now it certainly seems like the Oilers rather rapidly changed course following a series of "intense" meetings with Dallas Eakins this month.

MacTavish even gave now deposed bench boss Ralph Krueger something of a vote of confidence when he first took over the reigns as Oilers General Manager a couple of months back. Heck, the team originally interviewed Eakins for a position as an "associate coach," a job opening that was created at Ralph Krueger’s specific requestCBC’s Glenn Healy reported this weekend that the Oilers even offered that associate coaching job to recent Canucks assistant Rick Bowness, so we’re left to wonder how things might have been different had Bowness inexplicably preferred northern Alberta to Florida. Certainly it’s rare to see a club bring on an associate coach before they hire a new head guy…

There’s nothing wrong with an impulsive decision making process necessarily, especially when it comes to identifying a strong candidate for a top job in your organization and promptly doing everything necessary to secure that candidate’s services. Dallas Eakins has always struck me as intelligent and impressive, and he seems like a uniquely good fit for a young, talented and too often rudderless Oilers organization.

But there’s a stark contrast between the way MacTavish changed course, and didn’t hesitate firing Ralph Krueger and hiring Dallas Eakins, and the way that Vancouver’s own coaching change has unfolded. Put it this way, in making the decision to fire his head coach and also replace him, MacTavish has accomplished a full coaching change in a single weekend. Mike Gillis meanwhile is on week six of his coaching change, and as of yet has only accomplished half of it – the firing of Vigneault, and not the naming of his replacement.

There’s more to this than just divergent decision making processes. MacTavish obviously identified Dallas Eakins as "his guy,"  a teacher and player development ace who was a perfect fit for a young, supposedly up-and-coming team. For the Canucks, meanwhile, there were reportedly lingering concerns about Eakins’s lack of NHL experience. So it made good sense for the Oilers to pounce on Eakins and it’s equally reasonable for the Canucks to prefer to wait on the likes of John Stevens or a pipe-dream candidate like Tippett or Bylsma.

Still, we’re left to wonder if perhaps the Canucks are dealing with a hint of organizational analysis paralysis. This is a club, after all, who will head into the NHL draft later this month with any leverage in a potential Roberto Luongo trade destroyed by their having waited nearly fifteen months(*) to consumate a deal. 

(*) Practically this is an unfair charge since the team was forbidden from completing any player transactions for five months during the 2012-13 NHL lockout. But still.

Making this examination more interesting, you might recall that Craig MacTavish – the former Canucks employee who beat the club to the punch on hiring Dallas Eakins – explicitly critiqued Mike Gillis’s progressive approach as going too far so as to be "counter-productive" earlier this year. Previously MacTavish has critiqued Mike Gillis’s occassionally "counter-productive" receptiveness to "new age" ideas, and this past weekend he may have taken advantage of that to land Dallas Eakins.

It’s clear that the Oilers are happy with the man they hired. Meanwhile the Canucks have good options remaining on the table and it’s very possible that coaches like Stevens, or Tippett and Bylsma – should either become available, will prove to have been well worth waiting for.

Time will tell if the Oilers were too hasty, or if the Canucks were too dithering, in their respective pursuits of Dallas Eakins. Going forward, however, I think Canucks management needs to seriously consider whether their preternaturally patient approach to pretty much everything is borne of prudence, or of indecision. 

    • Good point.

      Too many people are operating on the assumption that the best coaching prospect is the best fit for the Canucks.

      I think the team would benefit from a veteran coach, so it may be best to see who else is fired by year’s end.

  • If Stevens really is management’s first choice (aside from longshot options such as Bylsma or Tippett), I’m not really sure what else they could have done here.

    For all we know, management was never going to hand the keys to a veteran franchise to a rookie coach. But it never hurts to interview people and get information on their background, thought process etc. It may be valuable information down the road…

    Kudos to MacTavish, though. He may very well have acted quickly on Eakins after his second interview with Vancouver.

    ” I think Canucks management needs to seriously consider whether their preternaturally patient approach to pretty much everything is borne of prudence, or of indecision.”

    Couldn’t have said it better.

  • BrudnySeaby

    I think the Oilers did very well in hiring Eakins. He’s proven to be good with young players. So yes, if I were him I also would have opted for the Oilers rather than the Canucks.

    We’ll see what Gillis’ approach brings us. Perhaps he lucks out with Bylsma.

  • BrudnySeaby

    Based on all the information we have in front of us, we would have to say that Dallas Eakins is a better fit for the Oilers than the Canucks. He has proven to be a great development coach for young players although he lacks NHL experience (Oilers need to develop their highly talented youngsters). Six weeks is not a long time to look for a key person in any organization. There is nothing wrong with the Canucks search process.

  • Muji

    I’m an Oilers fan. Taking the time to assess the situation from all angles before acting is very important. Steve Tambellini was a master of this so…

    ..oh yea.