The Edmonton Oilers on Monday fired coach Dallas Eakins. And with that, the clock should begin loudly ticking on the tenure of general manager Craig MacTavish and virtually everyone else who has been involved in the construction of hockey's most dysfunctional franchise.
It's fitting that it will be MacTavish who steps behind the bench on an interim basis to replace Eakins, if only because it will force him to take a deep whiff of the lineup with which he'd saddled his former coach. Say what you will about Eakins—given his record (36-63-14 in less than a season-and-a-half with the Oilers), you'll be hard-pressed to find anyone who is saying that he deserved more time behind Edmonton's bench—but the guy could only work with what he was given. Ask Red Wings coach Mike Babcock to win with one legitimate center, a blueline that's missing a legitimate top pair, and two career backup goalies and the results would be only marginally different.
Or maybe not. Even Babcock would have been hard pressed to squeeze anything more out of Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth and their combined .885 save percentage. Or a defense that relies on a top-four of Andrew Ference, Jeff Petry, Keith Aulie and Mark Fayne. And then there's a center corps that features rookie Leon Draisaitl and minor league journeyman Mark Arcobello (73 NHL games) behind Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
At his press conference today, MacTavish noted that "there's blood all over my hands in this as well." One look at that roster and you know just what he means.
But it wasn't just the sorry lot on the ice that failed Eakins who, it should be noted, was a MacTavish hire and in his first NHL head coaching job. He was also stuck with the same group of assistant coaches, including long-time MacTavish cronies Kelly Buchberger and Steve Smith, that failed his predecessor, Ralph Krueger. It shows just how much pull the rookie coach had from the start, and highlights the level of accountability that has put the Oilers where they are: 7-19-5 for the 2014-15 campaign and headed for another year of wearing the title of NHL's Worst Team.
Dumping Eakins, though, was inevitable. Edmonton's season is over but there are still 51 games to play and a lot of tickets to sell. Trotting out the same product and the same excuses and the same promises of patience weren't going to cut it from a business perspective. Eakins was the easiest change to make ... which was obvious to everyone but the Edmonton braintrust back on Dec. 5 when MacTavish held a press conference in which he praised Eakins' potential as a coach and lauded the promising steps he'd taken.
Apparently a week in which the Oilers went 1-4, including a 2-0 loss to the Rangers on Sunday night, was enough to change his mind.
MacTavish has apparently made one savvy move here: promoting Oklahoma City head coach Todd Nelson to join him on the bench. Edmonton assistant Wayne Fleming will head down south to take over as the new man for the AHL club and Nelson is expected take over as interim coach after a transition period with MacTavish. A fresh voice with a focus on player development can only help the cause, but that's one finger in a dike with many, many holes.
The pressure is on now to fill as many of them as possible so that the Oilers can create a sense of being competitive without costing themselves one of the top picks in next June's epic NHL Draft. That means a trade of some significance involving one of their core young players. Even a lateral move can be a win if it creates a change in chemistry, but something has to happen.
Rearranging the deck chairs won't be enough to soothe one of the smartest, and most put-upon, fan bases in the league. And if he can't follow this move up with something truly substantial, it shouldn't be enough to save MacTavish's own job for much longer.