Randy Carlyle wasn’t the answer for the Anaheim Ducks, but not everything he did was awful. Can Dallas Eakins learn from him and improve on his work?
Dallas Eakins is the third coaching hire that the Anaheim Ducks will have made under General Manager Bob Murray‘s stewardship over the past decade. Bruce Boudreau, when hired, was a darling of the analytics community after his relative success with the Washington Capitals. After a near-unprecedented run of success, he was let go by the Ducks and replaced by former Ducks and Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle.
Following Carlyle’s first season at the helm, in which the team reached the conference finals, disaster struck in the form of injury and the Ducks spiraled downwards over the two following seasons. Letting Carlyle go during last season, Bob Murray determined that he would not hire a caretaker coach for the remaining games last season, and instead took to the bench himself. This ensured that whoever would be the next head coach would have a full offseason to put their stamp on the game.
That next head coach, after a lengthy search, happened to be Dallas Eakins. Eakins is, of course, famed for his “swarm” defense, a defensive stratagem he attempted to implement in Edmonton, while with the Oilers. It didn’t work out at the time, and the coach moved on from the failed strategy relatively rapidly. So too did the Oilers move on from the coach.
Despite moving on from one faulty stratagem, the Oilers didn’t truly improve under Eakins and were actually far worse under him than the coaches who preceded him, and who replaced him. Since being let go by the Oilers, Eakins has been plying his trade with the Anaheim Ducks AHL affiliate, and by all accounts, doing so with some success. However, questions remain.
Whereas other head coaches may have taken their licks and worked as assistants for a time under various coaches, before clawing their way back to head coaching ranks (see Boston’s Bruce Cassidy), Eakins essentially jumped straight back into a head coaching role. While certainly a positive resume move, it also negated a potentially positive scenario of him being able to learn new skills and ideas under another coach.
Perhaps more importantly, he may have missed an opportunity in learning the communication skills required to be a head coach. An important consideration, given the rumor of the locker room discontent in Edmonton during his tenure there.
This, however, seems to be a consideration of both Eakins and the Anaheim Ducks. While Eakins was obviously hired because Bob Murray wanted him to implement his vision for play, Darryl Sutter was brought in as a coaching “mentor” of sorts. While not a typical arrangement in the NHL, this style of coaching has been implemented in other sports to varying degrees of success.
Without delving too far down that rabbit hole, in most cases, the strategy is designed and implemented by the head coach, while the delivery and the nuances of play may be assisted by the overseeing older mentor. It should be stated, however, that typically this arrangement would be an assistant coach, moving into a head coaching role, and the head coach moving into a mentor role. Similar to an apprenticeship.
So while Sutter may help Eakins with the art of coaching, what can Eakins learn from his predecessors? What worked and what didn’t? More importantly, why?
Pundits would pan everything former head coach Randy Carlyle did, however, that wouldn’t necessarily be fair, nor true. Too many players have succeeded under Carlyle for him to have no value. Even should it be the case that everything Carlyle did was terrible, there are learning opportunities in failure. For an incoming coach, who’s prior stint in the NHL was notable for being one of the worst coaching displays in recent history, opportunities to learn, improve and adapt should be taken with both hands. What then would be worthy of consideration?