Vancouver, BC – When the Edmonton Oilers brought Craig MacTavish back to the organization in mid-April, the newly anointed general manager was quick to promise bold moves were coming.
The dismissal of head coach Ralph Krueger on Saturday and the subsequent hiring of Dallas Eakins on Monday would certainly qualify as being the first bold move of the MacTavish era.
Changing bench bosses might not seem like such a huge deal for a team that has made such a move four times in the past five seasons. However, the somewhat surprising move to let Krueger go has to be seen as a positive move for MacTavish in that it demonstrates his ability to react to an ever-changing landscape and shows he isn't afraid to make the promised bold moves even if they don't paint him in the best light.
The general consensus in the wake of the Krueger firing is that the now-former Oilers bench boss never had a real opportunity to succeed considering he was afforded only a lockout-shortened 48-game season. He faced the tough task of ending Edmonton's playoff drought, which dates to the 2006-07 season.
The method in which Krueger learned he was being let go - through Skype as opposed to having an opportunity to sit down face-to-face with MacTavish - didn't exactly scream class, either.
But at the end of the day, there are very few people suggesting the decision to bring in Eakins was not the best hockey move, and that's really all that matters as far as the Oilers are concerned.
Eakins, who spent the past four seasons with the AHL's Toronto Marlies, where he compiled an overall record of 157-114-41 while leading them to their first- ever Calder Cup Final appearance in 2012, was one of the most highly sought after coaches in what has already shown to be a very hot open market for bench bosses. Among the teams that were reportedly rumored to be interested in his services included the Vancouver Canucks, the Dallas Stars and the New York Rangers.
The composition of the Oilers, thanks to their recent string of high draft picks, likely gave them a leg up when it come to securing Eakins' services as it had been stated he preferred to work with a younger group. During his time with the Marlies, Eakins was credited for helping develop the likes of Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner into becoming impact players in the NHL.
That being said, the main reason Eakins ended up in Edmonton and not elsewhere was because MacTavish recognized the opportunity to bring in one of the hottest coaching commodities on the open market and wasn't shy to take advantage of the hesitancy of the other teams which were said to be interested in his services.
Bringing in Eakins represents a critical move for the future direction of the Oilers' franchise, but it is just the first of what is sure to be many key moves MacTavish will be forced to make this offseason.
The new general manager has already indicated that long-time veteran Ales Hemsky and current team captain Shawn Horcoff have likely played their last game with the club. He'll need to figure who he can bring in to not only offset the loss of their leadership qualities but also can help his team get over the playoff hump. It might mean putting some of the young assets the Oilers have collected over the last few seasons on the trading block.
MacTavish still has plenty more tough decisions to make in the days ahead, but if this whole situation with Krueger and Eakins has shown anything, it's that he isn't afraid to pull that trigger on a bold move.
Oilers fans can only hope that philosophy remains the same in the coming weeks.