Former Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins joined Bob Mackowycz on TSN Radio, touching on the Leafs rebuild, the market’s treatment of Phaneuf, and the futures of Rielly, Gardiner and Kadri.
Have we lost sight of how good Phaneuf could be?
I think it happens. It’s an easy thing to happen. When you get into a negative environment and there’s lots of losses, it’s very easy to pile on individuals. I’ve really kept an eye on Toronto since I’ve been gone. It’s an organization close to my heart because I was here for so long. I think a lot of the criticism of Dion and some of the others is unwarranted. The guy came into a situation where there was no captain and very little leadership. He was thrust into a role. I think he’s done the absolute best he can do there.
Advice to Brendan Shanahan, Leafs management? The fans in terms of managing expectations?
I’m not going to give any advice to Brendan [Shanahan] or Dave Nonis. Dave Nonis has a tonne of experience in the league and he’s an excellent manager. They’re going to find their way through this the best way possible. I’d just say to the fans that it’s been a difficult bunch of years. The team is in a difficult spot. If it’s going to be a rebuild, then you have to get behind it. I’m not sure what your options are. I think it’s always important to understand where your team is today. I know it’s been a very long run without a Stanley Cup. It’s something that pains me as a long time Maple Leaf fan growing up in Peterborough, Ontario. You have to understand where your team is today, get over what’s happened in the past and start looking forward. I’m very hopeful for the Leafs that they can get a plan in place and get the team to where it needs to be.
Among the young players you’ve coached and watch grow up in the Leaf organization, who is the last guy the Leafs should part with?
It’s a tough one to answer. My answer would be viewed a number of different ways – if you picked one guy, why didn’t you pick the other? The one thing I have learned is that if you say something positive about one person it means you’re saying something negative about the other. I got to watch Morgan Rielly play a game, I was just in Toronto recently — he played just an excellent game and his game continues to evolve. I still think Naz and Jake are still growing as players. Both guys, they’re very different players; I know Naz is an extremely competitive guy, and a guy I really enjoyed coaching because he’s a gamer. He’s a gamer. He’s always in a verbal war with the other team. A guy who will go out of his way to take a shot at a guy if our team isn’t doing well. That’s what you want on your teams –highly competitive people who aren’t going to fold the tent up. With Jake, Toronto is a very tough place for a defenceman to get his feet underneath him. I think he came in with a lot of fan fare. What happens there – when fans are fed a lot of grandeur, you expect huge things. I think Jake came in there with a lot of grandeur., and he is just now settling in and figuring out what kind of defenceman he’ll be. [He’s] A guy who is competitive in a different way than Naz is, but a guy that has got a skillset and a mindset you can’t ignore. It takes time with these defenceman — it will take until 4 or 5 years sometimes to get a really good read on a defenceman. Unfortunately, there’s really no other way around that.