As confirmed news arrived today that Dallas Eakins is headed to Edmonton to become the new coach of the NHL’s Oilers, lets reflect back at the last year of his coaching career with the Marlies…one that defines his impact in the Toronto organization.
Almost a year to the date, in fact, the Marlies had completed what was a historical run for their franchise, as challengers to the Calder Cup in 2012. It was not only the deepest playoff run for Toronto’s AHL team, but it marked the first time ever a Toronto hockey team had played into the month of June. While the Marlies fell short of their goal of becoming AHL Champions, it was a pivotal experience for the players under Dallas Eakins regime. Locker cleanout occurred on June 11th, 2012 and while there would be a few players ending their tenure with the Marlies/Leafs franchises, it was the start of a bright beginning for many more.
In a year with a late NHL start, challenges would arrive for Dallas Eakins and company. One would be to balance the lineup between new faces added for depth, returning faces with recent rich playoff experience and younger faces aiming at life in the pros for the first time. When the AHL season opener arrived on October 19th there were 20 players from the Calder Cup finalist team available to Eakins for game 1 of 2012-2013 and 15 of them dressed in a 3-1 win over Rochester. His club would produce 22 wins before the NHL resumed and when it did, the likes of Kadri, Kostka, Komarov and Scrivens would make the jump to the NHL and dress in opening night for the Maple Leafs.
Eleven players total from the Marlies would find homes with the Leafs during this shortened season. That number does not include Keith Aucoin, who was claimed off waivers by the New York Islanders. Those moves drastically changed both clubs. At the NHL level, the graduating players achieved success both individually and as a team, helping to guide the Maple Leafs to their first playoff appearance in 9 years. At the AHL level, a challenge once again was the lineup iced and managed by Dallas Eakins, in order to sustain development in a winning environment.
After the NHL began, the club appeared to play through 2 different stages from January 19th to the end of the playoffs. Attributing to these stages was the fact that 37 different players laced them up for the Marlies for at least one game, during that time frame and many will be in Marlies blue and white next season. Through these stages of extreme transition, arrived new opportunities and new responsibilities moving forward for many players. Failing to drive away from the game plan that lead to success earlier in the year and one expected to be maintained for development of players, Eakins staff rode out 10 losses in the first 14 games played after the lockout, as stage 1. Stage 2 would arrive in late February and the club would once again find its winning ways and provide a finish to the regular season that any organization could be proud of.
A testment to their development path this year can be found in the results. After 76 games, the Marlies would finish as they did one year prior: 1st in the North division/2nd in the Western Conference/ 96 points on the year. They would, however, better the home record set by a team that would eventually end up in the Calder Cup finals, earning 2 more wins and finishing with 26 during the regular season. While the attempt to return to the Calder Cup finals fell short, this was a very different Marlies team that had been through one crazy/unique year of AHL hockey. The results produced as a team and in development of individuals, should be commended.
Often it is phrased that legacy is what you leave behind.
Dallas Eakins was more than the all time winningest coach in Toronto’s AHL history. He was more than just a coach on the ice; rather, he has been instrumental in his players growing off the ice since day one. He has left the NHL parent club with names like Kadri, Gardiner, Frattin and others who developed in Toronto to become key pieces of the Maple Leafs. He has left prospects in the AHL with the Marlies who are ready to become the next wave of Maple Leafs.
It is time to congratulate Dallas Eakins for his achievements in Toronto and to wish him and his family the best in their future endeavours.
He may be moving up, but he has left a lot behind. Marlies and Leafs fans should be very excited about that.