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Oilers fire Eakins; Nelson eventually to take over

by Derek Van Diest

EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Oilers have made another coaching change, firing Dallas Eakins on Monday after 113 games in parts of two seasons.

General manager Craig MacTavish will take over as interim coach as a transition for Todd Nelson, who has been promoted from Edmonton's American Hockey League affiliate in Oklahoma City. Nelson eventually will take over on an interim basis until the end of the season.

MacTavish said the rest of the coaching staff remains intact for the time being.

"I really feel the same way now as I did when I hired [Eakins]," MacTavish said. "He's an excellent coach. I was happy with a lot of things. I had no real good reason to do this outside of performance. That's really the bottom line that we're all judged by, is the performance level of the hockey club and certainly the record. I would point to those things solely as the reason for this change."

The Oilers (7-19-5) are last in the NHL standings and have lost 15 of their past 16 games. A 2-0 loss to the New York Rangers on Sunday left the Oilers 29th in the League in scoring at 2.10 goals per game, and 29th in goals-against at 3.32 goals allowed per game.

Eakins leaves with a 36-63-14 record in Edmonton. He had been hired in summer of 2013 after a successful four-season stint as coach of the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League.

Since MacTavish was fired after the 2008-09 season, Nelson will become the sixth coach, following Pat Quinn, Tom Renney, Ralph Krueger, Eakins and MacTavish.

"There is blood all over my hands in this too as well, because I put the lineup together and the roster," MacTavish said. "I'm not here to absolve myself of accountability for the situation that we're in. Nor am I here to solely blame Dallas for the job that he did, because in my mind he did a lot of good things for our group.

"This group had a long way to go. I think he brought them a significant distance as the bulk and the core of this group matures and gets their game to a level of maturity that would allow us to have more success than we've had now. But it's just the compounding of the losses that led me to this decision."

Nelson, 45, was in his fifth season with Oklahoma City. He will join the Oilers in time for the game Tuesday at the Arizona Coyotes.

"He will join me as I transition the team and the responsibilities of the team over to Todd," MacTavish said. "I know the personnel well so I want to help Todd in that transition. I want to be clear in my messaging to the players. I want to get into the trenches. I think I have a very good idea and understanding of what the dynamic is there, but I want to get my hands on it for a short period of time and then I will transition back over to Todd. Todd will remain as interim coach for the remainder of the year."

Nelson guided the Barons to a 15-6-2 record this season. He made the AHL playoffs in all four of his full seasons in Oklahoma City.

MacTavish did not give a timeline for when he would step aside and turn over the coaching duties exclusively to Nelson. MacTavish said he is confident Nelson will be able to handle an NHL coaching job despite not having previous experience as a head coach in the League. He previous spent two seasons (2008-10) as an assistant coach with the Atlanta Thrashers.

"I think he can, otherwise we wouldn't be making this move right now," MacTavish said. "We understand the concerns and we want to leave the door open and the flexibility of making a decision at the end of the year. That philosophy and strategy is fairly clear in my mind."

Outside of coaching, MacTavish said the entire organization will continue to undergo evaluation. The Oilers have not been to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since losing Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final to the Carolina Hurricanes.

"My superiors continue to evaluate me, we'll evaluate our scouting staff," MacTavish said. "We've got to make changes. To think that this is just a coaching issue is naive; it's rooted deeper than that and we have to get to the core of it. And we will."

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