Scratch one of the top coaching candidates on the open market off the list.
The Edmonton Oilers made a bit of a shocking move this past weekend, announcing the firing of first-year coach Ralph Krueger in an oddly-timed Saturday press conference. The sudden move to fire Krueger, who had just 48 games as the Oilers coach, led to instant speculation that a replacement had already been found. Less than an hour before the press conference, that replacement became known: Toronto Marlies coach Dallas Eakins.
The expected hiring of Eakins is something of a coup for the Oilers, as he had been considered to not only be a frontrunner for the job in Vancouver but also one of the top options for the vacancy with the Dallas Stars. Jim Nill had reportedly been meeting with Eakins this weekend -- which would have apparently been the second or so talk the two have had -- while Eakins had been in Vancouver several times to take to Mike Gillis and the Canucks management.
One "intense" talk between Oilers GM Craig MacTavish and Eakins apparently led an instant connection where both realized they were right for each other. In a crazy turn of fate, it seems the Oilers were talking to Eakins at the behest of Krueger -- who had apparently asked for more experienced help from an assistant coach.
What this means is that one of the top three coaching candidates out there is suddenly gone, and yet the same number of teams are still looking for a head coach. The Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers remain as the highest-profile teams without a coach, while the Dallas Stars are also fighting over essentially the same pool of coaches to hire from.
It's going to be interesting to see who the Canucks go after now that the Dallas Eakins rug has been swept from out beneath their feet. Eakins was obviously their top choice -- and he had a lot of ties to Vancouver -- and the only other coach that the team has shown significant interest in seems to be Glen Gulutzan. True, the Canucks could go after John Tortorella -- but it seems that Tortorella could be ready for a market without such a crazed hockey media that is found in places like New York of Vancouver.
That's all speculation, though.
Which is the problem is trying to nail down a coaching search and who is the leading candidate for which team. We get some spy-type reports of coaches in airports, but other than that not much else. General managers -- and Jim Nill as well -- are not willing to announce the list of coaches they're interviewing and talking to. Even the best hockey insiders had no clue that the Oilers were close to hiring Dallas Eakins until the moment the press conference to fire Krueger was about to begin.
As for the Dallas Stars coaching search, Alain Vigneault seems to continue to be the leading candidate for the job. Clues suggest that Nill has had more than one meeting with Vigneault, although we saw how that worked out for the Canucks with Dallas Eakins. Logically, Vigneault also makes the most sense for the Stars job -- a tactical coach who isn't exactly a "player's coach" but also isn't a maniacal dictator, who could potentially be with the franchise for a long time.
The problem is that we don't know exactly what Jim Nill is searching for in a coach. We're guessing that the Stars want an experienced coach for the job after what happened with Glen Gulutzan, but there's a very good chance that a coach like Jeff Blashill -- who coaches the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL -- could get a very serious look from the Stars.
John Tortorella could also get significant interest from the Stars, as could Lindy Ruff. One assumes that Nill has already had discussions with both, as it's clear he's focused on doing his due diligence before making a decision.
The question, of course, is just when such a decision is going to be made. Last week, at the jersey reveal event, Nill stated that he was getting closer to a decision and that he'd like to have a coach in place before the draft. While the draft is still a few weeks away, and there's nothing that says a coach has to be hired by that point, the hiring of Dallas Eakins by the Oilers could speed up the process across the board not just for the Stars but other teams involved as well.
This is what is so intriguing about this game being played. Make a decision too quickly and a better option comes available later on; wait too long to make a decision and the best options are already gone. The New York Rangers would almost certainly be interested in Dan Bylsma as their next coach, but there's no guarantee he's even going to be fired. Wait too long on hiring a new coach and suddenly Mark Messier is behind the bench in October -- which some people seem to think would be a good idea.
Suddenly, the race is speeding up. Will Nill feel pressure to make a decision now, when he may still be waiting to talk to Blashill in Grand Rapids? Is there a close race between teams with open coaching jobs with the Stars fighting for the top spot? These are only some of the issues that Nill must address in this coach search.
A new Dallas Stars head coach could be announced this week, or we continue to see the Canucks, Stars and Rangers take their time in finding the right coach for each opening. The surprise hiring of Dallas Eakins, however, throws a wrench into the proceedings that almost no one saw coming and could have thrown off the timeline that Nill had in place.