Hockey·In Depth

Dallas Eakins hiring continues NHL trend

Dallas Eakins is the latest AHL head coach to trade long bus trips for charter jets as the Edmonton Oilers welcomed the former Toronto Marlies bench boss to the organization Monday. Time will tell if he's the next Dan Bylsma or John MacLean.

Oilers go AHL route for head coach

New Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins, who leaves Toronto after posting a regular-season record of 157-114-41 in four seasons with the Marlies, is the latest AHL bench boss to earn a promotion to the NHL. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Newly hired Edmonton Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins has at least one reason to look forward to NHL realignment next season.

For the first time since the 1997-98 campaign, each NHL team will visit every other club at least once, and that means a chance at payback for Eakins.

It was during the 2012 American Hockey League (Calder Cup) finals that Eakins’s Toronto Marlies were swept by the Norfolk Admirals and head coach Jon Cooper, who next to Eakins is the newest AHL graduate to step behind an NHL bench.

Cooper was named head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning in late March and won five of his first 16 games after taking over from another former AHL bench boss in Guy Boucher. This past season, Cooper guided the Lightning’s new AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, to the best record in the league at 39-18-8.

But it’s a series-clinching 6-1 loss at the hands of Norfolk on June 9, 2012 that probably still stings for Eakins, who leaves Toronto after posting a record of 157-114-41 in four seasons as Marlies head coach. He missed the playoffs in his first two years but won the North Division each of the past two seasons.

Hiring AHL coaches has occurred with more regularity since the Washington Capitals promoted Bruce Boudreau from their farm team in Hershey, Pa., on Nov. 22, 2007 and watched him guide the squad from last place in the NHL to the Southeast Division title, capping the season with coach of the year honours.

Strong communication skills

It’s believed the work and preparation needed to succeed as a coach in the AHL is the ideal foundation for the same post in the NHL. Strong communication skills are a must with young prospects and Eakins demonstrated his strength in that regard with the Marlies as well as his attention to detail and emphasis on strong defensive play.

Forwards Nazem Kadri, Matt Frattin and defenceman Jake Gardiner flourished under his guidance before making an impact with the parent Maple Leafs this past season.

Another AHL-to-NHL coaching success story came out of Pittsburgh, where general manager Ray Shero gave former NHL defenceman Dan Bylsma a chance to coach in February 2009 after he oversaw the team’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Pa.

All he did was take a Penguins outfit that stood 10th in the Eastern Conference and rack up 18 wins and 40 points over the final 25 regular-season games on the way to becoming only the second coach in history to lead his team to the Cup as a midseason replacement.

Bylsma’s Penguins won no fewer than 47 games in each of the following 82-game regular seasons before going 36-12-0 in the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign, only to be swept in four games by Boston in the East finals.

In Florida, Kevin Dineen has had mixed results since becoming the 11th coach in Panthers history in June 2011 after six seasons guiding the AHL’s Portland Pirates. Dineen led the 38-26-18 Panthers to their first playoff berth in 11 years in 2012, only to finish last in the Southeast the next season (15-27-6).

Valuable addition

Jack Capuano has been a valuable addition in New York since the Islanders rolled the dice with the one-time coach of the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers in November 2010.

He guided a young group of Islanders, led by forwards John Tavares and Matt Moulson, to a 24-29-9 mark that season and followed it with a playoff appearance in 2013 and a trip to the East finals.

And Ron Rolston did his best to put smiles back on the faces of Buffalo Sabres fans in 2013 after the firing of Lindy Ruff. A man with a reputation for excellence in player development with the AHL’s Rochester Americans, Rolston led a young Sabres team to a 15-11-5 record as interim head coach. Buffalo lifted the interim tag on May 7.

Several others have traded in long bus trips for charter jets since Boudreau and experienced varying levels of success including the Islanders’ Scott Gordon (Providence), Colorado’s Joe Sacco (Lake Erie), Ottawa’s Cory Clouston (Binghamton), Minnesota’s Mike Yeo (Houston), St. Louis’ Davis Payne (Peoria) Atlanta’s John Anderson (Chicago) and Dallas’ Glen Gulutzan (Texas).

Listed below are AHL-turned NHL head coaches from recent years and how they fared in the regular season.

NameTeamYears coachedRecord
Ron RolstonBuffalo2013 - present15-11-5
Jon CooperTampa Bay2013 - present5-8-3
Glen GulutzanDallas2011 - present64-57-9
Kevin DineenFlorida2012 - present53-53-24
Mike YeoMinnesota2012 - present61-55-14
Guy BoucherTampa Bay2011 - 201397-79-20
John MacLeanNew Jersey2010 - 2011  9-22-2
Jack CapuanoNY Islanders2010 - present84-83-28
Joe SaccoColorado2010 - 2013130-134-30
Cory CloustonOttawa2009 - 201195-83-20
Dan BylsmaPittsburgh2009 - present201-92-25
Davis PayneSt. Louis2010 - 201267-55-15
Scott GordonNY Islanders2009 - 201164-94-23
Bruce BoudreauAnaheim2011 - present57-35-14
Bruce BoudreauWashington2007 - 2011201-88-40


Doug Harrison has covered the professional and amateur scene as a senior writer for CBC Sports since 2003. Previously, the Burlington, Ont., native covered the NHL and other leagues for Follow the award-winning journalist @harrisoncbc