TORONTO - Dallas Eakins wants to make his mark in the NHL in Toronto — at the price of a few years of patience.
The coach of the farm team Marlies, who might yet emerge this month with the first Maple Leaf-affiliated title since the 1960s, has signed for three more years, the first of which he has agreed not to take another job in the NHL. But the landscape could look a lot different two or three years down the road.
“In my gut, this didn’t seem like the right time to pursue something else,” Eakins said after the new deal was announced Monday. “You can climb the ladder very quickly in coaching, but you can also miss out on some important things, as far as learning opportunities.
“I’m interested in becoming a head coach in the NHL, absolutely. But right now, I’m allowed to sit in on the draft meetings, our scouting meetings, free agent meetings. I can voice an opinion and that opinion is listened to. All that will make me a better coach, but I might also get into player development or become a GM.”
Twice this season Leafs management seemed to squeeze Eakins by extending Ron Wilson and then choosing veteran Randy Carlyle to replace Wilson with a three-year deal. But the Leafs also know Eakins stamp will be all over the team in coming seasons.
“There is the window for him to leave, but at this point he is committed to stay,” senior vice-president Dave Nonis said. “We would never hold someone back, but it helps that he’s already in a major market, he has played a significant role here for seven years (one as player development director) and he’s in a very good spot to move up. He will make an excellent NHL coach some day.”
As for the notion of joining Randy Carlyle as an assistant, the Leafs will be bringing back the two assistants hired at the start of 2011-12, Scott Gordon and Greg Cronin, with Carlyle’s hand-picked man Dave Farrish.
The more Eakins shows his chops, the more NHL-ready players he sends from Ricoh to the ACC and the further the Marlies have gone in the Calder Cup playoffs, the less the Leafs want to lose him to a rival.
Eakins has admitted the Carlyle hiring stung him, but in retrospect he couldn’t have done much to rescue the Leafs season if rushed into the role. The Marlies, meanwhile, went on to win 44 games, get second seed in the Western Conference and win three playoff rounds.
Contracts talks between Eakins and the organization, began in late April, a deal was agreed to in May and lawyered the past few days.
“Dallas did an excellent job not only this year, but in the years when the team wasn’t strong and he laid a foundation,” Nonis said. “It’s the way he approaches the game, being demanding yet compassionate.
“Not only do the Marlies have an excellent record in areas such as special teams, he’s taught them a lot away from the rink. He demands professionalism in how they train, he takes care of minute details such as how you act in front of your fans. It all translates to the ice.”
Will Acton was an unknown forward who walked on to the Leafs’ summer prospect camp roster Eakins helped him become a Marlies regular.
“He’s really good at understanding where players are coming from,” Acton said, “how they’re feeling, whether it’s in a game dealing with fatigue or when we need a day off. It’s great for a new player like me, because I don’t have to worry about those factors. He takes care of those elements.
“If we’re playing badly, he’ll yell at us and get us going. When we need encouragement, he does that. He’s always good in the moment. I’ve never really had a coach do that.”
Eakins is also comfortable with his staff — Gord Dineen and Derek King were also extended on Monday — and didn’t wish to disturb the career of his actress/wife Ingrid Kavelaars or disrupt life in Toronto for their two young daughters.”
The only thing Eakins would like to change is the Marlies increasingly perilous playoff position. The Norfolk Admirals lead the Calder Cup 2-0 with Game 3 here on Thursday and no sign of the many regulars still hurt.
“Mike Zigomanis was out there today to get his feet going, but we still have no Nazem Kadri, Matt Frattin or Jesse Blacker,” Eakins said. “We just have a lot of bumps and bruises and need these next few days off.”