I'm not the world's biggest believer in things like destiny and fate. Leaps of faith require a certain "close your eyes and hope for the best" panache that I've long been incapable of. Still, sometimes things that go bump in the night make the hair on your neck stand up and demand the immediate attention of your senses. Such is the case with the Avalanche and their increasingly eerie transition from the old guard of constant Stanley Cup contention to the new, frustrating era of rebuilding.
In a day and age where comparisons of the new to old are common, from prospects to coaching regimes to overall team-building strategies, it's become easy to see parallels from past Avalanche glory days to the current era, one which we hope is on the precipice of replicating the previous regular season dominance experienced. Such was the case when Joe Sakic retired on Matt Duchene's rookie night, Gabe Landeskog made his debut on Peter Forsberg night, and presumably Seth Jones will don the Avalanche 'A' for the first time on the same night the Avs bid farewell to the great Adam Foote, so to are the Avalanche presented with the possibility of replicating past coaching success by plucking a young, up-and-coming coach from the minor league ranks.
As fans hope for the Avalanche to eschew their all-too-familiar nepotism in hiring positions of great importance, I urge the organization to look to a familiar place for their new head coach: the hockey mecca itself, Toronto. Prior to the 1994 season, the then-Nordiques took a chance on the hot shot coach of Toronto's AHL farm club, the St. John's Maple Leafs. The hiring of Marc Crawford paid immediate dividends as his ability to coax greatness from an array of talented youngsters sparked Quebec, and later Colorado, to its still-standing NHL record 9 consecutive division titles, with Crawford at the helm of 1 Stanley Cup winning team.
Today, the Avs vacancy would be filled beautifully with the addition of Toronto Marlies coach Dallas Eakins, whose Marlies teams have improved in all 4 years of his coaching the team while also developing several players who would go on to be instrumental pieces in the current playoff run of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Eakins, whose coaching career began as a Marlies assistant in 2005, is a very well-respected AHL coach thanks to his strong ability to communicate with his players and provide them the expectations and goals needed to excel in the pressure-filled environment of Toronto.
"He’s the glue that keeps the puzzle together. He’s the quarterback, so to speak, that gives us all the faith and confidence that we need to be successful… words can’t describe what he’s meant to me… When you have a coach like him, you just want to win so badly for him." -Nazem Kadri
He’s a great players’coach. He involves his players. He treats us with respect. He’s also a great motivator. His speeches before games and in between periods get the most out of us. He always finds the right words to fire us up. As players, you see how hard that he works every day. He lives the way he wants us to live and he sets a great example. -Korbinian Holzer
Like most coaches today, Eakins is considered more of a defensive-minded coach but profiles as much more of the classic "players" coach than the old school taskmasters so often found in the defensive-minded mold.
Players refer to him as a player’s coach. They say he’s fair — and firm when he has to be — but never holds himself up as an example in his arguments. He’s a former grinder with eight NHL teams, one of the fittest people in the hockey world, and has been tagged by some as a can’t-miss NHL coach.
The idea that Eakins is ready now for an NHL job is widely held, as current Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis actually pushed hard for the team to hire Eakins before then-GM Brian Burke ultimately gave the vacant Maple Leafs job to old friend and retread Randy Carlyle in March of 2012.
When the club was looking for a coach to replace Ron Wilson in the grim days when last season transformed itself into a lost season, NHL sources say Nonis went to bat for Dallas Eakins, then and now the coach of the AHL Marlies. Nonis and other front-office executives were of the belief that Eakins is everything a modern-era coach should be; progressive but hard-nosed, communicative with players but never friends with them.
As far as how his teams have performed statistically in the all-important special teams, the Marlies have finished in the top half of the league in PK every season under Eakins' watch, peaking at first overall last season with an 88.1% success rate, which was significantly higher than second place Oklahoma City. Offensively, the Marlies have struggled mightily, with their highest finish in the Eakins era being this season's team at 19th.
Unfortunately for the Avalanche, Eakins' success as Marlies bench boss prevents the team from making an immediate push to bring him into the fold as a clause in his contract prevents him from speaking with other teams about job openings until his current season is finished. The Marlies push for the Calder Cup continues this Friday, May 10, with Game 1 versus Grand Rapids (who just dispatched my beloved Aeros in their final game in team history. RIP Aeros <3) so should the Avalanche key in on Eakins, the wait could be a lengthy one as the team's off-season moves ahead without a coach. Hopefully the Avalanche show the proper patience in order to perform due diligence on one of the hottest coaching prospects in the league.
With a proven ability to develop both offensive and defensive talent, Eakins would be an ideal fit for the ultra-young Avalanche as they continue to search for an identity and a leader. While fans have been quick to bemoan the Avalanche's tendency to dip into their familiar bag of tricks, I'd say bringing Dallas Eakins on board represents the kind of history worth repeating as the Avs embark on their next steps into the future.