Tuesday, December 16, 2014

MacTavish's transactions set Eakins up to fail

Oil gonna Oil...

News broke Monday that Edmonton had fired head coach Dallas Eakins, ending a tenure that saw the Oilers go 36-63-14 -- a winning percentage of .381 -- and currently find themselves sitting at the bottom of the NHL standings.

After a horrid start to the 2014-15 season, general manager Craig MacTavish held a press conference on December 5th saying he wouldn't make any knee-jerk moves and that the players "would be held accountable". 10 days later, Eakins is gone. 

"I had no reason to do this outside of performance," MacTavish said in a press conference to announce the move Monday afternoon. "There's blood all over my hands, too. I'm not here to absolve myself of responsibility for the situation we're in." 

It's gotten to that point, people. We've reached that stage in a struggling franchise's path where you can officially say that it's a gongshow; no, not the kind of gongshow that can be found in minor hockey locker rooms across Canada, but the kind where every single shred of optimism has been wiped out by the harsh reality of mediocrity. The Edmonton Oilers are the cliched sitcom of the NHL, Craig MacTavish is the show's executive producer, and we're the studio audience waiting for our cue to laugh and applaud. 

"How long do we hold it?"
For Eakins, there's a level of sympathy from my perspective. He took this job knowing that the lineup (in 2013) wasn't exactly playoff bound, but had the hope that team management was in the process of building something. They signed an over-the-hill and overrated veteran in Andrew Ference and named him captain. After the first month on the job (where they went 3-9-2, capped off by a 4-0 smack down at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs), they traded their only half-decent defenseman in Ladislav Smid to their provincial rival virtually for nothing, then over the course of the season acquired Matt Hendricks, Mark Fraser, Ilya Bryzgalov, Viktor Fasth, shipped out Ales Hemsky, and went on to post a league third-worst 29-44-6 record. It may not have been Eakins inability to coach, but that the lineup he was coaching wasn't par for the course. 

Update: While putting this together, a report from Darren Dreger suggested that Taylor Hall was more or less the face of the "sagging work ethic and lack of culture" that defined the Oilers, and that he was potential trade bait for the future. Ironic, considering that in Eakins first season, Hall's 80 points was one of the lone bright spots.

30 games into the current campaign, the Oilers are dead last. Dead effing last. If you asked Eakins if he thought they would have a real shot at Connor McDavid for the 2015 NHL draft, he'd shrug you off like so many top free agents have shrugged Edmonton off as a landing spot. This wasn't supposed to happen. Three first overall picks, six coaches since MacTavish was fired in 2009. It's the literal definition of insanity. The thing is, there's one common theme through all of it...


See, even though the 56-year-old has his bloody fingerprints all over this train wreck of a team, I started to feel for the general manager. When I watched that press conference on Monday, you could see the look of emptiness that painted him. He didn't want to pull the trigger. There's not a doubt in my mind that Daryl Katz was in the ear of MacTavish, telling him that something had to be done, and that if it wasn't going to be one of the young forwards that seem almost untouchable (at least until 9:10 p.m. Monday evening), then it had to be Eakins. Despite this being a business, you sympathize to an extent. 

But MacTavish knew better. Or, maybe, he didn't, and that's the scary part. The moves he made since joining Edmonton for a third time have done nothing to help improve this club, leaving Eakins with a line up that would have to grind for a win against a top AHL or European squad. Their inability to acquire a legitimate starting goaltender, or top-four blue liners (which they have none of, apologies to Justin Schultz supporters), or find any help up front for the kids: it's no wonder why they're on pace to put aside #97 for next season.

Nikita Nikitin has been nothing short of a disappointment since signing with Edmonton

Serious question: does the Nikita Nikitin signing symbolize the Craig MacTavish 3.0 era? 2-year at $4.5 million per season is a brave move for a team that its future employee called a poor signing less than two months before he was hired. Nikitin now finds himself in the press box on any given night, either by injury or healthy scratch. Will he get the Tim Connolly treatment? 

With a franchise who's two major decision makers -- MacT and Kevin Lowe, who managed to survive Craig's first firing and still has a say in how the team is run for some godforsaken reason -- are big reasons for why they haven't done a damn thing since a come-out-of-nowhere Stanley Cup finals appearance in 2006, the Oilers are in no man's land, and there isn't a signal that can map them on where to go. 

If there's any hope for change, then so too will the personnel of this group. If not, then Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Connor McDavid will have some company down the middle in 2016

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