From Oilersnation a few months ago:
Rishaug: What’s your coaching philosophy on the role of the, not necessarily the nuclear heavy weight, but the aggressive player who can play, but also look out for the skill on the ice, and how do you employ those types of players?
Eakins: I still think that hockey is a game of fear, and before we even get to that part, I want other teams to fear our skills, fear our speed, and fear our physicality. Is there going to be fighting in hockey in the future? I believe that there will be. It’s a high contact sport, these guys are in each other’s faces. There’s a lot of testosterone out there and that is just going to lead to a fight.
I think that it’s important, especially with a young group, to have a certain level of toughness that these kids can continue to develop in a place of no fear. So I do have a place for it. I think that it’s an important part of the game, not the most important, but certainly I never ever want our team to be nervous or in fear and that’s something that we’ve got to go through as we add pieces to this.
Is it necessary to get a guy who just fights? Well maybe it isn’t. But maybe we can have some guys who are good checkers, who are good players, who can back it up as well. It will all depend on the roster spots, and what’s available and how we see the team makeup going forward.
I’ve always been a believer in looking at what people do rather than what they say. People say all sorts of things and people who have to talk to the media probably learn pretty quickly to say things from which the listener can hear whatever they want to hear. Eakins answer here sort of strikes me as a kind of cotton candy answer – there are a lot of words that can be taken a lot of different ways. Fighting will be part of hockey! Maybe it’s not necessary to get a guy who just fights! Maybe we have guys who can back it up!
There were some more mixed messages yesterday. TSN’s Bob McKenzie tweeted this: “Expect EDM to be on lookout for a heavyweight fighter. Currently without that element but GM MacTavish and HC Eakins believe it’s required.” A little while later, Joanne Ireland tweeted this: “#Oilers Dallas Eakins wants toughness but not convinced his team needs a “gunslinger.” He’d also want enforcer who can play, not just fight.” Heavyweight needed! MacT and Eakins say it’s necessary! Eakins not convinced his team needs a gunslinger!
I have to first take issue with Eakins’ point about testosterone. I should just re-print these graphs once a year. This is 2010-11 regular season data:
If Eakins is right, and there’s a lot of testosterone out there that leads to fights, it is spectacularly curious that it only leads to fights during relatively low leverage times of the game. About one fight for every four periods of tied first period hockey that you watched in 2010-11 and one fight for every 70 periods of tied third period hockey that you watched in 2010-11. It’s as if fighting isn’t really about testosterone that just leads to fights but it’s a thing that some teams do during relatively low leverage parts of the game.
Fortunately, Eakins has a track record we can look at. In his first year as head coach of the Marlies, they were third in the AHL with 95 fights. Look at the AHL team numbers for the next three years though – I’ve put them in the table at left. His team evolved into what that didn’t fight very often relative to the league norms. This, despite a pretty pro-fighting culture above him in Toronto.
My suspicion is that, whatever he and the Oilers say, that track record tells us more about how often Eakins’ Oilers will fight than anything else and, in particular, whether they’re going to dress a designated heavyweight type guy. My guess would be that they won’t (although I’ll admit that I find it odd that they’re talking about it if it’s not an issue for them).
An early tell on this might be which player, if any, out of Ben Eager and Mike Brown makes the Oilers this year. A quick Twitter poll suggested an overwhelming consensus that Eager’s a better player, something that I agree with. Brown’s probably a more willing fighter though. The choice between those two guys will probably tell us something about how much room there is for guys who can’t do anything other than throw punches.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org