Welcome to The THN Hot Seat, THN.com’s new midseason NHL column series. In this article, we’ll name one player in every NHL market that’s facing huge pressure ahead of the 2022-23 regular season. It could be a player, a coach, or even a team owner.
However, we’ll start the series in alphabetical order, looking at the Anaheim Ducks.
DALLAS EAKINS, HEAD COACH
WHY: It’s unfair to attribute Anaheim’s standings problems solely to Eakins, who has been the head coach of the Ducks for three years. The 55-year-old can’t teach offense, which is the team’s biggest problem since taking over from then-interim bench chief and general manager Bob Murray. Clearly, the Ducks have been a transitional franchise for some time, and the retirement of captain and longtime center Ryan Getzlaf last spring marked the end of an era, as did the appointment of new CEO Pat Verbeck.
To solve Anaheim’s problems, Verbeek enlisted the full support of the owners to spend money on new acquisitions. Consequently, veteran forwards Ryan Strom, Frank Vatrano and defenseman John Klingberg were added to the roster with a combined annual salary cap of $15.65 million. All three players will contribute to the offense, but make no mistake – the Ducks’ luck will continue to depend on the performance of young promising players, including forwards Maxime Comtua, Trevor Zegras, Troy Terry, Mason McTavish and Isak Lundestrom, as well as D- man Jamie Drysdale.
Eakins has built a reputation as an amazing teacher of young players, so the Ducks’ trajectory is right in his wheelhouse. Anaheim also did well by adding a draft pick — they have three second-round picks and two fourth-round picks in the 2023 draft — which speaks to the patience this group still needs.
However, Eakins is in a hot spot primarily because Verbeek didn’t hire him. As we’ve seen this offseason, the NHL coaching carousel is spinning faster than ever, and there’s no shortage of candidates who will be fully prepared to step in if Verbeck decides a new vote is needed. For example, former Ducks coach Mike Babcock could fit in there. Babcock has been biding his time since being fired from Toronto in November 2019, and his familiarity with the Anaheim market and his Stanley Cup-winning pedigree could be an attractive combination for Ducks fans and the media.
This is, of course, a bit ahead of the curve. Eakins can take this new roster and force him to compete for a playoff spot in a weak Pacific division. If that turns out to be the case, Eakins will likely get a contract extension sooner rather than later. But Eakins also needs a season of recovery from starting goaltender John Gibson, who posted a disappointing 3.19 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage in 56 games last year. The 29-year-old Gibson is under a long-term contract, and even if he gets into trouble again and Verbeck finds a way to trade him, he will likely have to settle for an onerous contract in return.
Verbeck still has more than $18.8 million of free space, but it’s unlikely he’ll go all-in to turn the Ducks into a real threat to the Cup this season. Rather, he will take his bumps, bring in more young players, and aim for a bigger season in a year or two.
At this point, Eakins will likely leave and be replaced by Verbeck’s first head coach. This may not be fair to Eakins, but as we all should know by now, fairness and the NHL coaching world don’t always go hand in hand.