Dallas Eakins: Three (Maybe) More Years

The Toronto Maple Leafs announced on their official website today that Dallas Eakins, the head coach of the Toronto Marlies, has signed a three-year extension with the team.

Interestingly, despite the three-year term the contract only guarantees that Eakins will remain with Toronto’s AHL affiliate for one more season. From TSN:

The extension allows Eakins the flexibility to seek an NHL head coaching job after next season.

Eakins has been persistently mentioned as one of the top candidates for various vacant NHL head coaching positions around the league; many feared that with the hiring of Randy Carlyle as Ron Wilson’s replacement with the Maple Leafs he would leave the organization.

The obvious read is that Carlyle has a year with the Leafs to try and get things turned around, and that if they continue to struggle than the club will give Eakins an opportunity. Whether that is in fact the case or not, it does keep a quality coach in the organization for at least one more year, guaranteeing that he won’t jump ship anytime during 2012-13. At the very least, it gives the Leafs the option of going to Eakins if they feel a chance is needed.

Prior to taking over behind the Marlies’ bench, Eakins worked as an assistant coach under Paul Maurice with both the Marlies and the Maple Leafs. His track record with the Leafs’ farm team has been mixed; the club struggled initially but has made substantial gains in the years since. They’re currently trailing the Norfolk Admirals by a two games to none margin in the AHL Finals.

I profiled Eakins back in March, and was struck by how highly his players spoke of him – if nothing else, his way of dealing with players is far different than that employed by Wilson or Carlyle. Here is what I concluded at the time:

There’s a reason Eakins name keeps cropping up in coaching discussions: because he’s got a pretty solid-looking resume. The lack of offense that the Marlies have demonstrated under his watch is a little worrisome – like most coaches, Eakins would seem to emphasize defense first. Communication would seem to be a real strength, and the Marlies are doing a very good job of keeping the puck out of their own end of the ice. He’s knocking on the door.

The three year term is good news, but the real upside is that the Leafs get to keep Eakins in the organization for at least one more year.