Despite the Anaheim Ducks just hiring their brand new coach in Dallas Eakins, is it already time to hop back on the coaching carousel? Even though some fans might not think it, the history already being remembered from this tenure just may prove that the time for a new coach is now.
If you coach enough games with any team, you’ll eventually turn into a villain in the discerning eyes of the fandom. You the fan, have no doubt heard it before. You may have even said it once or twice yourself when you say, “Anyone could have coached that team to a cup.”
Within the esteemed coaching ranks who have passed through the Anaheim Ducks, we’ve heard it about Carlyle. In lesser terms, we heard it about Babcock and Boudreau. Thus far, current Coach Dallas Eakins still appears to be in his honeymoon stage. Let’s put that in perspective.
Mike Babcock has coached the 12th most games in the NHL history, and so far there are only two coaches that hold a greater winning percentage than himself, one of which is the great Scotty Bowman. Bruce Boudreau is 29th in overall games coached and is presently the winningest active coach. Only Bowman has coached more games than him and maintained a stronger winning percentage. The recently removed Randy Carlyle ranks 34th in games coached, and only 9 coaches who coached more games than him could beat his career winning percentage.
It could be said that coming into Carlyle’s second stint with the team, we fans knew what we were getting. That is the truth of every tenured coach. If they’ve had a previous coaching stint in the public eye, there is some truth that history will repeat itself. In Carlyle’s case, his teams typically fell away in the 3rd year of his tenure.
We knew he would use a particular mechanism into his defensive systems which would both allow high save percentages from the netminder and a springboard for faster skaters to score relatively prolifically. The flip side of course to that mechanism was that they would give up a ridiculous volume of shot attempts, and should his teams not maintain possession (or regain it following the dump in), then scoring overall would be stunted.
In essence, all those factors bore weight. John Gibson and Ryan Miller put in probably the best performances in net that they have had or will have, in their entire careers. Players like Rickard Rakell and Ondrej Kase were prominent features of the offense and scored well above their age-predicted scoring maximums. Shot metrics fell off a cliff in season 3, and for a time were at historically bad levels.
What does all that history have to do with today though? Well, while Dallas Eakins was sold in part as a “new” coach and not a tired old retread like so many others, he was, in fact, a retread coach. He had coached for longer than a season in Edmonton, and while many were free to give him a pass for the state of the Oilers franchise in general, it should have been notable that they fell away as soon as he got there and improved the instant he left.
When looking at this season with Eakins at the helm, we can see that only 20 coaches in NHL history have coached more games with a lesser winning percentage than Eakins’ own .342. In about one-third of the games he’s coached, Eakins’ team gets a standings point. I don’t know about you, but that seems less than ideal to me.
But could anyone have sat down and analyzed that previous coaching stint to predict today’s Anaheim Ducks struggles? I’d argue that they could. The past has shown that Eakins struggled to coach any kind of simple defensive structure into his teams, and he has admitted the fact before. The “Swarm” defense is an obvious example of an attempted structure gone wrong, yet overall it can be said that his teams’ defense struggled mightily.
Fast forward to today and we see a Ducks team giving up the equivalent of an extra 14 goals on the season as compared to what they were at the same time last season. That was the disastrous season in which so many fans lost hope and the coach lost his job.
There is also evidence that the young forwards under his tenure, including stars such as Eberle and Hall, had their scoring output restricted during their time with Eakins. Again we fast forward to today and see that the players aged under 24 have decreased their scoring output by an accumulated 12.3%. A decrease that is magnified out to 25.1% if we exclude the 3 games that Daniel Sprong and Isac Lundestrom have each played, given they that both seem to be out of favor.
Specifically, Max Comtois has halved his production per game. Nick Ritchie prior to his injury dropped 28.8% of his point per game total. Kase has fallen away by 35.8% on a per-game basis. Sam Steel, who in some circles was hyped as a potential Calder Trophy candidate, has seen a decline in scoring per game of 26%. Troy Terry the overhyped so-called savior of the team presents a 41.5% decline in scoring per game from last season.
It can’t be said that the players haven’t had an opportunity either. Terry has been a fixture on the top line with the Ducks best offensive catalyst. Steel has played a majority of his games with at least one of the Ducks’ current top scorers.
Given that Eakins was brought in almost entirely because he had worked before with the prospects, and that they were expected to improve under his stewardship, one wonders how long his rope will truly be. Murray must know that the majority of the players brought back from last season are struggling this season to get points on the board.
In fact, the forward group who was brought back from last season has seen an 8% dip in points per game. Again, per the prospects, this decrease in points per game dips to 15.8% when accounting only for players who have played in excess of 5 games. History repeats itself as usual.
But once again, why bring this up now? The crux of the argument is that the Ducks recently finished the tenure of Peter Laviolette in Nashville, and I think it would be a wonderful irony for them to now bring him on board to begin a brand new tenure with the Ducks themselves.
Certainly, as an old coach, there is much to unpack, and the catch cry will be that recycling old coaches never works. That, of course, is only when you remove the survivorship bias and the times it does work. Laviolette has taken three different teams to a cup final. Now while a cup finalist isn’t a cup champion, looking at even sniffing the playoffs seems a pretty tall order for a Ducks team that has 5 regulation wins (9-15-5) since the first day of November.
It’s also worth mentioning that despite his recent firing, the Predators hold the league’s sixth-best record in the league over the duration of Laviolette’s coaching tenure. There is even an argument to be made that he created the situation for his own demise by raising the expectations of a previously mediocre team steeped in league-wide apathy to becoming a cup finalist and a team genuinely in the finals conversation each season.
Perhaps he had worn out his welcome, and perhaps it was as simple as a change needing to be made. However, there’s no denying that he crafted a strong team, which despite lacking in genuine stars, continued to get the job done with even performances from a lot of very good players. This part may be the key to the Ducks as well.
Let’s be frank in saying that the Ducks are struggling for elite talent. Ryan Getzlaf isn’t getting any younger, and with the Ducks current best forwards in Adam Henrique and Jakob Silfverberg sitting at 29 years of age (and still not 60 point plus producers), there is certainly a need to get quality performances from a lot of merely good, but not elite, players. This may even be more important with the apparent decline in scoring output from former high flyer Ondrej Kase. Very few of the younger prospects have picked up the slack like so many hoped they would as well.
Laviolette might not be a magician at developing youthful players, but it’s hard to deny that Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg are quality scorers. Who had even heard of Viktor Arvidsson just a couple of years back? Roman Josi was once considered a very similar player to Cam Fowler, and yet Josi has been a near-lock for ~45 points the past few seasons. Who knows how high he reaches given he’s already passed that 45 point barrier at the halfway mark this season.
With Trevor Zegras already on the way and a bunch of hope soon to be pinned on this year’s draftee, is it not worth taking a punt on an experienced coach who has had a fair measure of success over his career and over the past few years in Nashville? The Predators have long been a bugbear of the Ducks, with their tactical nous often overcoming the Ducks in one way or another. Thus, perhaps, there might be an opening for an older experienced steward to take over a basket case team that is being led by a coach who has few peers when it comes to losing games.
I hear Ducks fans talking about how they just want to see steps forward in this rebuilding year. Perhaps, the hiring of a former successful coach will see history repeat itself in Anaheim too. If nothing else, daring to be brave would be a welcome change to the current process of attempting to play it safe.
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