a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Monday, 15 December 2014

12/16/14 What We Can Learn From A Coaching Change

At least it's something.

I've argued in favor of firing Dallas Eakins because of how he has deployed his defense, for his poor special teams, for insisting on using Brad Hunt in the NHL, for the swarm, for scratching Petry, for not having his roster picked coming out of camp, and for his overall record. He's not all that's wrong with this team, but his removal is a step in the right direction.

The trouble with hiring a head coach with no NHL experience is that we have no track record to use as a control. We don't know how good Eakins could have been with a properly constructed roster, though given the evidence we do have I suspect that he'd still have been in over his head. If a guy like, say, Mike Babcock were to come in here and fall flat on his face, there would be no doubt in anyone's mind how badly the team was built. Eakins' lack of experience provides a little bit of camouflage.

That wouldn't be the case if Craig MacTavish were to coach his team for the rest of the season, impractical as that may be. We know what MacTavish has done over his coaching career, and the amount of success he has managed to pull out of some mediocre groups. We can probably expect a surge from the players after Eakins' firing, which may make both MacTavish and his team look a lot better than they are. Whatever. That doesn't change the holes in this team, and if MacTavish were to coach them until year's end he'd probably be happy to resign.

Eakins was fired because of his 36-63-14 record in his time here, but MacTavish owns that record just as much. Dallas Eakins was MacTavish's hire, and all the teams that Eakins deployed were built by MacTavish as well. That's why the general manager needs to be next in line for the firing squad.

But Eakins was the first in a line of coaches that probably deserved to be fired because of his results. From Ralph Krueger all the way back to MacTavish himself, the last decade of bench bosses in Edmonton have been saddled with the unenviable task of trying to squeeze blood from a stone. Eakins' roster definitely has a ton of holes in it too, but even the first overall picks aren't scoring. And for all his talk of accountability, the only currency that Eakins had as a coach - ice time - was one that he often badly mismanaged.

We'll see now if Todd Nelson has the chops to be a head coach. This is an ideal situation for the organization in some ways. Hopefully they don't want to just hand the job over to another inexperienced guy, but they also don't want to alienate Nelson by passing him over again. It's a win-win. If he's terrible the team can move on with a clean conscience, and if he's great they can give him the job.

But what happens if he's average? And that's what we should expect. Any time there's a coaching change, there's always this spirit of optimism, but an extremely flawed roster can suck the life right out of that. Unless Nelson is other-worldly, we should still be hoping for an exhaustive search for a coach in the off season.

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