You might remember last summer, the Edmonton Oilers were not initially on a head coaching search. The idea was to bolster Ralph Krueger's bench with extra brainpower, an associate coach or an experienced assistant. Then, Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish met Dallas Eakins and made an abrupt change.
Impressed with Eakins' philosophy and knowing he was being pursued for lead jobs in other open markets, the organization launched a pre-emptive strike. It did a 180 and promoted Eakins from the AHL Toronto Marlies.
Eakins is getting hammered from everywhere as the Oilers struggle through a hugely disappointing season. Recently, there has been a trade (Ladislav Smid) and a free-agent signing (Ilya Bryzgalov). Maybe it is time for a coaching move, too. But not the one you're thinking of.
It's not like Eakins became a dummy overnight. There are too many good hockey people who thought then - and still believe now - he was ready for this chance. The sense I get is the Oilers are committed to Eakins and will work to help him fix this. They've had five head coaches in six years. It's enough. Change can come beside him.
After hiring Eakins, the Oilers added Keith Acton, an NHL assistant since 1994, to join returnees Kelly Buchberger and Steve Smith. The team interviewed at least two others for that associate coach position. One was Rick Bowness, who went to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The other was Paul Maurice.
Maurice is working for TSN, no doubt burning to get back to the bench in a meaningful way. I can't help but wonder if his experience would help Eakins and the Oilers. The two men have great respect for each other and worked together in Toronto.
When you're a wealthy franchise, and Edmonton is by NHL revenue standards, this is the advantage you have. There's the salary cap, yes. But nothing stops you from adding off the ice, if necessary.
If MacTavish doesn't want to, he doesn't need to let go of anyone. He can add Maurice's experience and figure out responsibilities along the way. You don't have to trade cornerstone players or take on a ridiculous salary.
But you can still make yourself better. That's what Edmonton's desperate to do.
1. As the NHL GMs discussed extending overtime to reduce the shootout's impact, Lou Lamoriello of the New Jersey Devils suggested making teams have the "long change" during the extra period. It's not an exact comparison, but college hockey went this route in 2010-11. Steve Piotrowski, rules editor for the NCAA men's and women's ice hockey rules committee, kindly passed along some data indicating how games were affected. For all games (men and women, Divisions I-III), the percentage decided in overtime increased from 35.5 to 37.3. At the Division I men's level, it went from 34.4 per cent to 35.4.
2. What really stands out, though, is that among Division I men's games, the year-by-year breakdown in three seasons of long-change overtime went from 35.8 (2010-11) to 37.3 (2011-12) to 32.9 (2012-13). Maybe those evil coaches figured out a way to slow things down.
3. A scouting report on Bryzgalov from a non-Oiler who saw him play twice last weekend. In Game 1: "You could tell he had not played a game in quite some time, his timing was off and he was fighting the puck a little throughout the night. Overall, he didn't have much help on the goals ... most of the chances he had against him were good chances." In Game 2: "He looked like an NHL goalie, made everything look easy, very poised and confident ... his puck play still seems to be an adventure every time he is out behind the net, though."
4. I wonder if Edmonton, still looking at long-term upgrade options in goal, would have been interested in Eddie Lack. Lack, who just signed a two-year extension with the Vancouver Canucks, would have been a Group VI free agent (25 years old, three pro seasons, less than 28 games for a goalie) this summer. It might've been a nice fit.
5. An obviously frustrated MacTavish said last week he is willing to trade Edmonton's 2014 first-round draft pick. Undoubtedly, he'll be looking for a big centre or a game-changing defenceman. But there are a couple of things to keep an eye on here. First, is the better play to wait until after the draft lottery to see the true value of that selection? Second, Edmonton considered a similar move last June, only to keep the seventh-overall pick and draft Darnell Nurse, who is an exciting prospect for the organization.
6. The top of next year's draft has a chance to be the best game show since "Press Your Luck" -- with MacTavish, Dale Tallon of the Florida Panthers and the next GM of the Buffalo Sabres playing the role(s) of host. It's all going to come down to how much they value their spot. But at some point, those franchises know they've got to add. Look at the Bobby Ryan deal - at how the Ottawa Senators had the youthful assets the Anaheim Ducks wanted. These GMs will be in a similar position and they will be looking to make similar moves.
7. It's believed the Oilers had interest in Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman Nikita Nikitin, who spent six games as a healthy scratch. It makes sense since Oilers senior vice-president Scott Howson brought him to Columbus when he was GM there. The Blue Jackets are looking to add speed to their lineup, which Edmonton certainly has. But it doesn't sound like trade talks between the two went very far.
8. It was mentioned on Hotstove Tonight that Columbus had three people watching Edmonton's game last Sunday in Chicago. But it was pointed out that two of them -- assistant GM Bill Zito and newly retired scout Blake Geoffrion -- live there. It's an easy trip for Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen, too.
9. Asked about the struggles of Sabres defenceman Tyler Myers, Pat LaFontaine brought up how the New York Islanders gave up on Zdeno Chara too early. "The thing that encourages me is that [Myers has] already proven what he can do. We need to create the environment so that he has everything he needs to go back where he was ... If it's something where we've tried everything to give him that environment [yet fails], then maybe a change is what is needed." That said, Lafontaine stressed Myers will be given time under the new regime.
10. More Buffalo stuff. LaFontaine will officially begin his GM search this week, though he said the Sabres will not avoid making moves before a new hire if another team approaches him with a legit proposal for, say, Ryan Miller. Assistant GM Kevin Devine remains and LaFontaine believes the rebuilding plan already in place gives them enough intel to get things done.
11. Lafontaine's decision is going to be interesting. Do not underestimate how good this job can be. In Terry Pegula, you have an owner willing to spend money on players and scouting, and smart enough to stay out of the way and let a manager work. All of the draft picks give the new GM a blank canvas to paint as he wishes. The one caveat for some candidates might be if LaFontaine sees himself as the eventual GM. And if so, when? That might be a better fit for Rick Dudley.
12. The four reported candidates - Jim Benning, Jason Botterill, Dudley and Paul Fenton - have excellent reputations for talent evaluation, drafting and development. All have been through lengthy building periods. The first three have Buffalo connections. Dudley's passion for the Sabres was unmatched when he played for, coached and managed them. Botterill worked with team president Ted Black and consultant Ken Sawyer in Pittsburgh. LaFontaine listened to several people who recommended Fenton because of his work as assistant GM with the Nashville Predators.
13. The big question to them might be, "How long do you think this rebuild needs to take?" Like former GM Darcy Regier, LaFontaine believes the next two drafts will be essential for Buffalo. But I'm not sure be thinks the timetable needs to be as lengthy as Regier did.
14. I'd love to hear Benning's answer to this question. His playing career was hurt when Toronto Maple Leafs rushed him (with Fred Boimistruck and Bob McGill) in 1981. He is probably the least known of the candidates. But it was a huge loss (and Boston's gain) when he left during the Tom Golisano era. Benning has some very big fans in the scouting community. "Do not sleep on his chances," one source said.
15. LaFontaine called interim head coach Ted Nolan's situation an "incredible opportunity" to get himself back into the NHL. But he also said the next GM will have authority to choose the permanent head coach.
16. A tremendous celebration last Saturday for Manchester Monarchs head coach Mark Morris, who has done a superb job developing prospects for the Los Angeles Kings - a major reason the team won the Stanley Cup in 2012. Morris won 300 games at NCAA Clarkson before a fallout with the school and was at Northwood Prep in Lake Placid, N.Y., when Ron Hextall's son, Brett, matriculated. When Hextall, then Kings assistant GM, offered him a chance in Manchester, Morris said, "Do you want me to start walking now?" He's got 300 AHL wins since that great line.
17. Here's a photo of Morris drinking from the Stanley Cup with Kings defenceman Willie Mitchell holding on. Morris coached Mitchell at Clarkson and, asked to name one of the players he's most proud of for how far they came, chose the 12-year NHL veteran. "We did a drill where a smaller guy upended him in the corner and Mitchell went after him," Morris said. "I told Willie, '[The smaller guy] did what I wanted him to do. What happens in a game if a guy does that? Are you going to hurt us with a bad penalty?' He was so strong willed. But so determined to get better."
18. Morris is a big believer in former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz's philosophy, which goes like this: "I ask our players to follow three basic rules. Do what is right. Do your very best. Treat others like you'd like to be treated. Those rules answer the three basic questions we ask of every player and every player asks of us. The questions are: Can I trust you? Are you committed? Do you care about me? People might think this is corny. But I don't care. This is what I believe."
19. Morris had one brief big-league stay, as a strength coach in Vancouver under Marc Crawford. He reminds me of another former Manchester coach who waited a long time for his shot: Bruce Boudreau. You figure a team with a lot of young players who need to learn would find room for him, especially since there's another wave coming (Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli, Linden Vey). "I'm not holding my breath" waiting for them to come back, Morris said.
20. An executive with another NHL team provided a good explanation for why Florida chose to retain half of forward Kris Versteeg's salary for the next two seasons upon trading him to the Chicago Blackhawks. It was clear both player and team needed a divorce. So the Panthers had a choice, either to eat the money in a trade or buy him out after the season. By doing it this way, it costs Florida a little less than $6.5 million. A buyout costs around $6.3 million until 2018. Better to do it and move on.
21. There was some question if eating Versteeg's salary would make it harder for Florida to do likewise with defenceman Brian Campbell since the team has a tight budget. But word is the Panthers are not interested in trading him since a young team does need excellent pros to show the proper way.
22. There haven't been any talks about an extension for underrated Marcel Goc. But it sounds like there will soon be discussions to see if there is mutual will. Panthers interim head coach Peter Horachek knows Goc from Nashville and the centre is another positive influence the Panthers feel they need. Horachek is also very familiar with forward Scottie Upshall, who was given an associate captaincy last week.
23. I do believe the Vancouver Canucks are interested in centre Shawn Matthias, who has had a rough season after a very strong 2012-13. I thought Philadelphia was too, only to be told this was "bad info."
24. In doing some research on Dylan Olsen, acquired by Florida in the Versteeg trade, I heard an interesting story, although its accuracy is in question. The story goes that, a couple of years ago, the Blackhawks and New York Islanders discussed a deal involving Olsen and Frans Nielsen, only to have it fall apart over the inclusion of draft picks. Both teams claim the story is "a total fabrication" and normally I wouldn't include it. But I decided to only because I got to thinking, could you imagine Chicago with Nielsen on the roster, too? Yikes.
25. When David Clarkson left New Jersey for Toronto, people who really like him in the organization - and there were many - warned him that his toughest challenge would be blocking out criticism during tough times. You can see how much his early struggles wear on him and the increased spotlight makes it harder. He really tries to please everyone and that's almost impossible in a market like Toronto.
26. Some advice for Clarkson on how to maximize his effectiveness from people who've played with and against him: Make sure he's not the only physical presence on his line. Clarkson has an effective shot, both in transition and coming out of the corner. So if someone can draw attention away from him, he will get extra space to unleash it.
27. Cam Talbot's first NHL win (3-2 in OT at Detroit) and first NHL shutout (1-0 at Montreal) were both within driving distance for his parents. But they weren't in attendance. Why not Detroit? There was a family wedding. Why not Montreal? "I think they're waiting for my first game at Madison Square Garden," the New York Rangers goalie laughed. I wouldn't let them come. Watching on television is good luck for him.
28. Talbot is a great story. He committed to NCAA Alabama-Huntsville, then honoured his word with the smaller program after bigger schools noticed him. In his final college game, his play nearly engineered a massive upset with UAH dropping a 2-1 decision to No. 1 Miami of Ohio in the championship tournament. One hour after that game, he was presented with NHL offers. He chose the Rangers over Philadelphia because of goaltending coach Benoit Allaire.
29. When he called his mother, Talbot said, "Are you ready to be a Ranger fan?" She said, "Why?" His family is full of Leafs fans.
30. An update from last week: Craig Ramsay, who was one of the assistants let go by Florida, said he's not necessarily going to retire from coaching. He can afford to be patient and wait for the right opportunity, especially since this time off gives him the chance to spend time with his grandchildren. But if the "right offer" comes along, he will consider it.
Follow Elliotte Friedman on Twitter @FriedgeHNIC
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