Anaheim Ducks Require a Change in Team Culture and Identity

Anaheim Ducks head coach Dallas Eakins Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Anaheim Ducks head coach Dallas Eakins Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports /
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Anaheim Ducks
Head coach Dallas Eakins of the Anaheim Ducks (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

Is Dallas Eakins the Right Coach for the Anaheim Ducks?

In comparison, two seasons ago the Ducks pivoted from a “win now” mentality to one that was perhaps a rebuilding one if looked at in the right light. At least they moved on from the coach at the time, Randy Carlyle, and brought Dallas Eakins from their affiliate AHL team into the NHL, to continue working with the young players he had been working with all along.

Perhaps the biggest point of contention between the Eakins and Quinn or Atkinson is that Eakins had both been involved with the Ducks for the previous four seasons (coaching their affiliate) and already had an NHL track record as a head coach. Within that track record, he obviously had a disastrous record with the Edmonton Oilers, with one of the worst defensive schemes in modern history and a reputation for ripping apart a dressing room.

When adding the very short and not-very-distinguished list of 45 coaches in NHL history who have coached in at least 82 games with a lower win percentage, the Eakins hire seems odd. That isn’t to say that winning is the same as player development, and indeed they can be at very opposite ends of the spectrum.

It’s just that if this was meant to be a playoff team this season, as per commentary from some sources within the Anaheim Ducks, then perhaps hiring a coach who has a track record of success would be more prudent.

On that front, with the San Diego Gulls team, Eakins had shown some team success, yet it can also be said that very few players who moved from his AHL team into the NHL looked like they had any idea of basic structures or play.

Consider how lost Nick Ritchie looked in his first season, and how he improved each year under Carlyle, before falling away again under Eakins. Consider how he looks now with another organization. Furthermore, all of the players under 25-years old took significant steps backward last year under his stewardship.

"“This is just a natural progression for a guy who’s coached most of the guys on this team…. I said in the beginning I was going to take my time and make sure San Diego was finished playing (in the AHL postseason) before I started looking for a head coach. … There were a lot of good people I talked to. It was a good process for this organization to go through, but it just always came back to Dallas.” – Bob Murray"

That’s not to say that Eakins hasn’t had his success. Troy Terry has taken some huge steps forward this season. Max Comtois as well looks to be a promising young player. It’s inherently difficult to improve while playing in the NHL, so these are noteable to consider. However, one step back for a single step forward won’t quite be enough on either the development or the competitive front.

Nonetheless, the question should be asked whether Eakins is the right coach for the Ducks. If the Ducks believe he is a strong developmental coach and is creating the right environment, then he should remain behind the bench for the time being. Creating too much change with young players is more likely to lead to confusion and poor play than steady consistency.

With that said I would query if Eakins is the right coach. Are the improvements in play from Terry and Comtois is enough to counterbalance a somewhat poor reputation regarding team (lockerroom culture) and a far longer list of underdeveloped players? At the very least there is a big divide between the Anaheim Ducks hiring a coach they already knew well to the Rangers and Nets seeking out fresh ideas from outside-the-box hires.

It feels like the two other teams made a concerted effort to change the way they were doing things, both in terms of processes and in terms of internal culture. They brought in new faces to bring in a new culture. The Ducks seem like they had one foot in and one foot out if the idea was to change their position.

On one hand, they moved on from Randy Carlyle who was brought in to attempt to squeeze the last little bit of talent out of an aging group, and moved to a coach they believed may be able to develop their younger players because he already knew them well. Yet, with bringing on the “new” hire of Dallas Eakins, all the Ducks really did was replicate what they had previously done with Randy Carlyle. Bring back a coach they already knew well.

In this light, it’s also worth noting that upon hiring Eakins, Bob Murray made some comments about shifting from an “old-school” style of “dump and chase” hockey that was played under both Randy Carlyle and Bruce Boudreau, to a more “modern” approach under the at-the-time new Eakins. Moving forward to today, the Anaheim Ducks have now had two seasons in which they’ve dumped the puck into a greater degree than they ever have before, including on the power play.

As the saying goes, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Once again, we’re left to determine whether the Anaheim Ducks internal culture is as management and ownership want it to be. Given the distinct lack of organizational shift, we can only assume that this Ducks team is precisely where it’s meant to be in the eyes of the owners.