When Dallas Eakins went to explain to his six-year-old daughter the events of yesterday morning, he did so in a way she could understand.
“When you’ve got a six and a three-year-old, what’s it about? It’s about hey, can you share that? It’s her turn,” Eakins said. “I just sat her down and explained to her that it wasn’t my turn anymore, it’s somebody else’s turn and one of daddy’s friends gets to coach the team now.”
The Oilers announced on Monday that they had relieved Eakins of his duties as the team’s head coach. It has undoubtedly been a tough 24 hours for the 47-year-old coach, but he handled it as a consummate professional when he took to the podium on Tuesday morning to address the media.
After thanking the city and the fans for their support and treatment of him and his family, Eakins went on to thank the players, his staff, the owner and management for giving him his first opportunity to be an NHL head coach. After that opening statement, Eakins decided to directly address the fans regarding the state of the team.
“My message to the people here and to the fans is I can speak freely now, and like it or not you need to be patient,” he said.
With Eakins relieved of his post, General Manager Craig MacTavish will step behind the bench temporarily before handing the team to Interim Coach Todd Nelson, who has spent the previous four years in Oklahoma City coaching the Oilers American Hockey League affiliate. Eakins pleaded with fans to exercise patience as those two continue to try and rebuild a proud franchise.
“Craig MacTavish took over this job 18-20 months ago,” Eakins said. “I understand being out of the playoffs for a long time, but the situation is the situation. It’s kind of like losing all your money. You don’t get all your money back the next day, you have to get working again and working at it. This organization is where it’s at. It’s where it’s at. And all of this past, is it painful for everybody that’s been through it? Absolutely. The fans of this organization, you’ve suffered greatly. But I’m going to tell you that you need to be patient. That’s the way it goes. You need to be patient and if anybody is going to find the solution, it’s going to be Craig MacTavish. I know that for sure. His commitment to the organization, his pain he goes through everyday, looking and trying to make this organization better — he will get it done.”
Eakins threw his support into MacTavish’s corner saying that if another GM came to Edmonton, they would ask for the same patience.
“If a new GM came in here today, you know what he’d say to you? Five years,” Eakins said. “Five years is what they all say, that’s what I’m going to need. Craig has been here for 20 months. Everybody breathe, let him go about his business, show some patience and let him get this sorted out and let Nelly get it sorted out.”
Eakins added, “This team has been on the wrong side of so many one-goal games and I am still confident and hopeful the pieces are in place. Once this lineup gets healthy, it will turn and suddenly there will be five or six games in a row where the Oilers are on the good side of it. We’ve made some good strides in cutting down the chances, cutting down the shots and that’s a necessary step for this organization to go in. I think Nelly is going to bring in a great, fresh approach. He’s an excellent coach, he’s fully deserving of this opportunity and he’s going to get great support here with this staff.”
Over the past two seasons, Eakins went 36-63-14 in his 113 games as head coach. The Oilers, heading into their Tuesday night game against Arizona, are 30th in the standings with 19 points.
Eakins reflected on his time with the Oilers, saying that he maybe should have focused more on fundamentals in year one, rather than trying to speed up system installations and progress. He says he knew it would take more than one season to get the team to where it wanted to be. Once again, the key word for him was patience.
“When I came in here, my long-term goal, and we had spoke about it, was by the time we got in the new building we’d be prepared to win a (playoff) round or two,” Eakins said. “It was always in my head that by the time we got to the new building… You don’t dare say that out loud. The fans have been out of the playoffs for a number of years and they don’t want me to say three years. But, as much as your goal is that, you’re coaching the team to speed it up. I don’t want to be out of the playoffs for 2-3 years, I want to get it going. We probably got ahead of ourselves a little bit system wise and we should have probably went harder after the fundamentals of the game. That’s one thing that I take out of it for myself.”
He continued, “This group is growing and it’s going to mature. Unfortunately, growing and maturity takes time. I know it’s what people don’t want to hear, but I can speak freely now. I’m sorry, but it’s going to take some time.”
As Eakins exits the organization, he offers his services should the Oilers need anything. He also said that he and his family will be living in Edmonton until the next opportunity arises.
“I want nothing more than tonight, for this thing to turnaround.”