Thoughts on the Oilers: Managing coaches and coaching managers

pimg003Soon after MacTavish became GM, there appeared to a philosophical shift when it came to coaching and roster management. Not only was MacTavish revamping the entire roster, trading away Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky and Devan Dubnyk in his first year, but he appeared to be committed to having a strong coaching staff that could support long-term player development.

Bringing in Eakins was an excellent move. Eakins performed well at the AHL level. He was an outside voice. And most importantly, it was who MacTavish wanted. The four year deal given to Eakins signified the importance of stable coaching as well as MacTavish’s level of accountability.

And even after the Oilers’ horrific start last season, MacTavish stressed the importance of coaching continuity and stood behind the hiring of Eakins.

And I would say, absolutely, yeah. I love the coach. To me, he’s done a lot. There’s been a lot of heavy lifting for him. We’re going to have continuity of coaching going forward, which is going to make a big difference going into next year. It’s the same coaching staff, the same messaging. You know how disruptive it is to change coaches. We’re going to have this continuity of coaching. For me, this guy has got the right balance of supporting the players and holding them accountable. There’s an accountability that like. Source: Cult of Hockey (January 2014)

At the end of 2013-2014 season, Taylor Hall talked about the benefits of coming back next season to the same coaching staff.

I think that it’s huge. I know for myself personally I’m really looking forward to going into a year where you don’t have that awkward first handshake at training camp. You know what the coach is going to be like, you understand each other and most of all you understand the system that he’s going to employ. We’re going to have the majority of our team back and to have the same coach is going to be great. And I think that you saw this year with the start that we had, it wasn’t Dallas’ fault by any means, but getting used to a new coach is always a little bit tough. Source: OilersNation (April 2014)

Over the summer, Craig Ramsay and Rocky Thompson were brought in as assistants to replace Steve Smith and Kelly Buchberger, both of whom appeared to be there for transition purposes. The coaching staff now had a long-time coach in Ramsay, and a player-development type of coach in Thompson. A good sign for Eakins and coaching continuity.

But after another horrific start, MacTavish held a press conference where he emphasized that coaching was under scrutiny and that the team had made improvements by bringing in new assistant coaches. Eakins still appeard to be safe, especially with Taylor Hall voicing his support for the coach just a week prior.

Regardless of the talk, Dallas Eakins was let go this week. It’s been blatantly obvious that he didn’t have a complete NHL roster this season and now it’ll  be up to another coach to somehow fix the club. Unless the Oilers improve their player evaluation strategy and allow every player to develop at the right pace (see Red Wings, Detroit), we’ll likely see the coaching carousel continue.

Speaking of Detroit and coaching, there’s a great article on Mike Babcock that has to be read by someone with the Oilers. Quick excerpt:

To be an assistant on Babcock’s staff you have to do one specific thing.

“I want you to have a new idea every day, and I want you to fight for your idea,” Babcock said. “I try to hire people that are going to bring change. I’ve got that right in their job description.”

It’s all part of Babcock’s R&D philosophy, something he’s famous for among his assistants.

Not only is the Oilers on-ice product miles away from the elite teams in the NHL, but so to are the overall management strategies. While the Oilers search for yet another head coach, other teams have long-term coaches tied in to the player development process who are also finding ways of developing assistant coaches.

Here’s hoping MacTavish can develop and commit to a long term plan that involves aligning a strong coaching staff with a roster development strategy. He had the right idea when he hired Eakins. He just needs that same approach to  enhance the scouting and player development. Sometime soon would be a bonus.

Recommended Links

Sing me back home – Lowetide

Bloody Fingerprints – Hockeybuzz

10 Lessons Everyone Can Learn from the Oilers’ Misery – Grantland

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