There's a new (bench) boss in town.
Led by General Manager Craig MacTavish Monday at Rexall Place, the Oilers introduced Dallas Eakins as the club's new head coach. Replacing Ralph Krueger, who was relieved of his duties over the weekend, Eakins, 46, becomes the 12th in Oilers history.
"I coached against him two years ago when I was the head coach of the Chicago Wolves," MacTavish said. "I was impressed by his team and how well the team competed. They were ready to go right at the opening faceoff. I haven't seen a team that well prepared in a long time.
"He has all the great qualities you look for in a coach. He has great perspective and is unflappable under pressure. I'm extremely confident in this man's ability."
In four seasons as the head coach of the AHL's Toronto Marlies, Eakins strung together an impressive 157-114-41 record. In each of the past two seasons, the Baby Leafs advanced deep into he post-season and came oh-so close to winning it all in 2012.
"Winning is the bottom line," Eakins, who arrived in Edmonton early Monday morning with his wife, Ingrid and daughters, Cameron and Emerson, said in his opening address to local reporters. "From this moment forward, everything we do will have the final product in mind. We're going to put a plan in place to develop our young players to maximize their full potential. We will put a foundation in place to develop our future.
"This isn't about winning one game or one season. We're going to bring this organization back so that we're in the mix to win every single year. To do that, we're going to be committed to character, committed to a high fitness level and committed to the details of tactical hockey.
"But the No. 1 thing we're going to be committed to is competition. If you're going to play for the Edmonton Oilers, you're going to compete. That's how you win games in the NHL and that's how you get your organization better."
When it comes to the future of assistant coaches Kelly Buchberger and Steve Smith, Eakins said he wants to "get to know them" before making any decisions. Still, he expects to add at least one more body to help round out the staff.
"I've got to assess what's going on here," he said. "Kelly and Steve might be the best assistants in the NHL, but I don't know that. I've got to sit down with them and see how things go."
Before assuming the lead role behind the bench with the Marlies, Eakins was an assistant coach with the NHL's Maple Leafs from 2006 to 2008. Following the 2007-08 campaign, he spent one year as the Leafs' director of player development.
Eakins, a product of Dade City, Florida, spent 17 seasons as a player. Split between professional leagues, he played a total of 120 games in the National Hockey League, posting nine assists and 208 penalty minutes.
He retired after the 2003-04 season as captain of the AHL's Manitoba Moose.
Eakins, a defenceman, was drafted in the 10th round (208th overall) by the Washington Capitals in 1985
By all reports and with coaching vacancies in Vancouver, New York and Dallas, he had options across the League.
But, given the opportunity and tremendous wealth of young talent at his disposable, Eakins decided Edmonton was the best place to be. In helping Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner and more than a half dozen others graduate and become impact players with the Maple Leafs, he's hoping to do the same with the up-and-coming Oilers.
"When it came about, we looked at what would work for the family, but this was a hockey decision," Eakins said. "The pieces that are currently in place with this team excite me. We have the potential to do some special things. I kept right in with the other interviews because I wasn't sure what was going to happen, but it was a comfort level with the people and a real family atmosphere with this organization.
"My heart, my gut and my family told me that this was the right spot."
(Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club)