The San Diego Gulls were officially eliminated from the Calder Cup Playoffs on Monday night, falling 3-1 to the Chicago Wolves in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final. For the Gulls, that marks the end of an objectively successful season, punctuated by a deep playoff run but underscored by more than a few Gulls getting meaningful minutes with the parent club, the Anaheim Ducks. Gull’s head coach Dallas Eakins might be the latest member of the farm team to take that leap, and it could happen in very short order.
Ducks’ general manager Bob Murray fired former head coach Randy Carlyle back on February 10th, and decided to insert himself as an interim bench boss to finish out what had become a death spiral. Murray got the opportunity to assess his club up close, making him uniquely qualified to know what type of leader could come in as the next official head coach.
The heir apparent has long been thought to be Eakins, and with reason. Not only does Eakins possess some NHL head coaching experience from his Edmonton days, but he’s also been at the forefront of developing Anaheim’s next wave of talent down in San Diego. With the likes of Troy Terry, Sam Steel, Max Comtois, and Max Jones all set to start the season with the big club next year, it would only make sense that Eakins would be the man to continue to usher them along to success. On the outside looking in, the Ducks seemingly already have their man.
So what’s taking so long, then? One would think that the Ducks’ front office would be intent on filling the void behind the bench, especially as the draft approaches and they pivot into a transitional period of franchise history. A clear-cut leadership group would send a strong message of direction to an anxious fan base. Perhaps out of respect for the Gulls and their playoff run, Murray has withheld making any type of announcement. Such restraint would make sense, allowing Eakins to concentrate on the task at hand. That time has now passed. If that was truly the case, and that the former Oilers coach is next in line, then an announcement feels like it should be imminent. New reporting seems to conflict with that.
With Dave Tippett being named Oilers' coach tomorrow, that leaves the Ducks as the only team without a head coach...— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) May 28, 2019
Stories swirling that Ownership favours Dallas Eakins for the job, while GM Bob Murray wants to look at all his options.
Sportsnet’s John Shannon is as plugged-in as anyone. If he is saying Murray is looking at all of his options, then there has to be something there, all seemingly corroborated by earlier reporting from The Athletic that Lane Lambert will interview for the position, as well as murmurs from Elliotte Friedman on the 31 Thoughts Podcast that Pascal Vincent and Todd Nelson could be considered as well. Ducks’ ownership has put supreme faith in Murray — as evidenced by his recent extension — but if they know they want Eakins, how long can this search carry on? Rocky Thompson, another popular name right now as a future NHL head coach, just led the Wolves team that knocked out Eakins’ Gulls. Could he be in the mix as well?
Yes, Murray was just extended, but as someone who has now fired two head coaches during his tenure, he must realize he may not have many more cracks at getting this right. Even beyond his own career arc, prudence can be justified from an organizational viewpoint. Anaheim, a team long stocked with veterans aiming at playoff success, is entering a phase in which it will lean much more on younger players as they make their way back to contention. Finding the right man for this specific job carries an immense importance.
Eakins has already made his case. Short of an interview focused solely around how he would handle the Ducks’ roster next season, Murray has had every opportunity to know what he has in him. Perhaps he may even be sold on Eakins, but given the gravity of the decision, he feels compelled to do his due diligence. Again, a very defensible course of action, given that as great as Eakins is, there are many eminently qualified young coaches out there ready to take the next step in their careers. But with ownership reportedly showing its hand, the world should have an answer soon about how much due diligence Murray really wants to perform.