As excited as I’m sure Toronto Maple Leaf fans were to hear Dallas Eakins got a National Hockey League coaching job, they may have also wondered if he could have had that position here. Toronto’s loss is Edmonton’s gain, however, and Leaf fans will now be left to ponder what might have been.
It was March 2012 when then General Manager Brian Burke fired Head Coach Ron Wilson and brought in Randy Carlyle. Of course you have to credit Carlyle for his work with the Leafs this season, but many felt that should have been Eakins’ job. The Leafs could have very easily let Wilson finish out the last few weeks of the season and handed the reins over to Eakins last summer.
When Eakins didn’t get the position it essentially guaranteed he wouldn’t be in the organization much longer. His efforts in the Leafs’ farm system weren’t going unnoticed and it was only a matter of time before somebody offered him a job. The Oilers were smart to pounce as the young talent they need developed is a perfect match for Eakins.
Eakins proved he could shape young players and do a lot with a little in Toronto. Nazem Kadri grew leaps and bounds under his watch and was able to become an everyday NHL player by learning a two-way game. James Reimer and Jake Gardiner also benefited from time well spent with Eakins in the AHL and saw their growth accelerated.
If Eakins showed he knew how to utilize young talent, he also got the job done despite the odds being stacked against him this season. After the lockout ended 11 Marlies players, some of whom were crucial to a Calder Cup appearance the year prior, spent time with the Leafs in the shortened campaign. Despite having much of his roster taken away, Eakins still guided the Marlies to a division title and a second round playoff appearance in 2013.
It would have been nice to secure an up-and-coming coach like Eakins as the future bench boss of the Leafs, but it was not to be. After watching many of his players leave for NHL opportunities, Eakins will now do the same. Leaf nation should wish him well, because he certainly deserves it.