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Dallas Eakins and Special Teams

Last season under Ralph Kreuger's watch the Oilers were horrific in 5v5 situations but performed very well 5v4 and 4v5. In the two seasons prior, under the rule of Tom Renney, the Oilers were bad in pretty much every situation and completed those seasons 30th overall in almost every relevant category.

The 2012-13 season saw a drastic improvement in both the power play and penalty kill. Both special teams were well over the league average at 20.1% and 83.4% respectively. It would seem that with a shortened 48 game season combined with a first line that played together for most of the lockout in the AHL, the Oilers seemed to be improving. In reality it was probably more likely that a small sample size gave the illusion of improvement (see Toronto Maple Leafs).

Fast forward to June 10, 2013 when Dallas Eakins was named head coach of the Edmonton Oilers. Since his appointment to head coach there have been mixed reviews. His bench management and coaching tactics have been critiqued by many bloggers and MSM types for different reasons but the two things both sides can agree on are the Oilers horrendous penalty kill and extremely flat power play. In his short time as head coach Dallas Eakins' Edmonton Oilers have regressed to 2010-11 levels and are currently sitting at 12.2% on the PP and 72.7% on the PK after 12 games. Granted this is a very small sample size but these numbers are interesting because of Dallas Eakins' previous track record with special teams.

Dallas Eakins took over the head coaching duties of the Toronto Marlies in the 2009-2010 season. Below is a table of the Marlies' special teams and their overall AHL rankings.

Power Play
Season Total PP GF GA PP% Rank
2009-10 382 50 14 13.1 28/29
2010-11 361 54 14 15.0 25/30
2011-12 336 49 4 14.6 27/30
2012-13 373 61 8 16.4 19/30
Penalty Kill
Season Total PK GA GF PK% Rank
2009-10 398 73 11 81.7 19/29
2010-11 337 47 6 86.1 1/30
2011-12 310 37 10 88.1 1/30
2012-13 319 54 9 83.1 15/30

Granted the AHL is a few steps below the NHL these numbers are still interesting. The Toronto Marlies were never a good power play team. Even last season when Eakins had the benefit of players like Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly the Marlies couldn't even crack the top half of the AHL's power player rankings. The penalty kill on the other hand improved by 4.4% within one year of Dallas Eakins arrival and remained at the top of the league for two consecutive years. Even when the PK regressed the Marlies were able to maintain a 83.1% PK percentage and stay within the top 50% of the AHL.

Those are promising PK numbers especially when you take into consideration that the Marlies won the Calder Cup in 2012 despite an abysmal regular season power play percentage and only 11.9% power play throughout the playoffs. During their Calder Cup run the Marlies maintained a 93.9% PK percentage only allowing 5 goals on 82 attempts.

The thing that is missing here and would allow for more insight is a rolling PK percentage. I would like to know how the PK improved over that first year under Dallas Eakins, did the season start poorly and improve throughout the season or did the Marlies hover around 81.7% on the PK all season. If the former is the case which I am inclined to believe, based on the PK numbers for the following season, and if these numbers hold up the Oilers should improve.

The other story here is what these numbers don't tell us, the Marlies were a very good team 5v5. From 2009 - 2013 their even strength goals for were 132, 168, 158 and 167. In his first two seasons as head coach Eakins' Marlies failed to make the playoffs but for 3 out those 4 seasons the Marlies were on the positive side of 5v5 GF posting -42 (2009-10), +10 (2010-11), +24 (2011-12) and +30 (2012-13). With special teams added to those numbers the Marlies were -68 (2009-10), +9 (2010-11), +42 (2011-12) and +38 (2012-13). Even with a weak power play the team was +89 from seasons 2010 - 2013 due to a very strong PK. The adjustment season of 2009-10 was just that, an adjustment season, it took almost an entire season for the Marlies to adjust to Eakins' style but once the adjustment period ended they became a very good team 5v5 and an AHL powerhouse on the PK.

I know the last thing Oilers' fans want to hear are the words "wait" or "be patient" but based on past data this could be the first time in many, many years that those words are not spoken in vein. Only time will tell but one can hope.

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