In a media conference Tuesday, a day after being fired, Eakins urged Oilers fans to remain patient with the organization. He believes better times are ahead.
“My message to the people and to the fans — I can speak freely now — and like it or not, you need to be patient,” Eakins said. “With [new coach Todd Nelson] coming in, [general manager] Craig MacTavish took over this job 18-20 months ago. I understand being out of the playoffs for a long time, but the situation is the situation. It’s kind of like losing all your money. You don’t get all your money back the next day; you have to start working again and working at it.
“This organization is where it’s at and all of this past is painful for anyone that’s been through it. The fans of this organization have suffered greatly, but I’m going to tell you, you need to be patient and that’s the way it goes. And if anybody is going to find the solution, it’s going to be Craig MacTavish, and I know that for sure.”
The Oilers fired Eakins 113 games into his tenure after posting a 36-63-14 record. Edmonton is last in the NHL standings (7-19-6) and have lost 15 of their past 16 games. The Oilers play the Arizona Coyotesat Gila River Arena on Tuesday in the first of a two-game road trip.
“I have no qualms about anything that went on here,” Eakins said. “Lineup-wise, Craig and I were always in constant conversation about the lineup. We did the best we could with the players we had available. I think I got a 100 percent fair shake and I have no ill will towards anybody in management, anyone of our players. I know it’s hard to hear with the record the way it is, but I believe everybody gave everything they had.”
The Oilers hired Eakins prior to the 2013-2014 season to replace Ralph Krueger. Eakins was given a four-year contract in his first NHL head coaching job.
Eakins spent the previous four seasons as coach of the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League. He was an assistant for the Toronto Maple Leafs for two seasons starting in 2006-2007.
Eakins thanked the Oilers’ management group along with owner Daryl Katz for giving him the opportunity to coach in the NHL.
“Their passion, their leadership their character was the reason we bypassed other opportunities and chose to come here,” Eakins said. “They are great people, great leaders and they are going to find a way to climb up those standings and give these fans what they truly deserve.”
In his first year with the Oilers, Eakins posted a 29-44-9 record. Edmonton finished last in the Western Conference standings and missed the playoffs for their eighth-consecutive season.
This season, the Oilers won four of their first 13 games before an 11-game losing streak. They are currently on a four-game losing streak.
“It’s hard to explain [what went wrong],” Eakins said. “I think last year was a year of maybe getting ahead of ourselves. The thing that I take away from it is patience. When I came in here, my long-term goal and we had spoken about it, is by the time we got into the new building, we’d be prepared to win a round or two.
“But you don’t dare say that, the fans have seen the team be out of the playoffs for a number of years and you don’t want to hear me say another three years.
“As much as your goal is that, you’re coaching the team to speed it up. I don’t want to be out of the playoff for two to three years, I wanted to get going and we probably got ahead of ourselves system-wise and we should have probably went harder after the fundamentals of the game and that’s one thing I take out of it for myself. This group is growing and it’s going to mature. Unfortunately growing and maturity is going to take some time.”
Eakins has over two and-a-half years left on his contract. He intends to remain in Edmonton until the next coaching opportunity presents itself.
“In the 18 months here, I feel like I’ve gotten about 10 years of experience of some of the stuff that we’ve had to deal with here internally, system-wise, fundamentally wise, the passion of the market, all those things,” Eakins said. “I’m going to look back at this, and as painful as it is to lose your job, I actually think I’m going to benefit greatly from this.”