The Maple Leafs don't want to lose Dallas Eakins just yet.
Anticipating that Eakins will receive attention from NHL teams looking to fill head coaching positions in the next year, the Leafs signed their highly regarded farm team mentor for three more years on June 4, stipulating he stay put until at least the summer of 2013.
Though the Leafs just changed head coaches in the spring, firing Ron Wilson and giving a three-year contract to Randy Carlyle, it's Eakins who has done the best work with younger players the last few years. The AHL Marlies became the first Toronto-affiliated team to play into June this year when they took on the Norfolk Admirals in the Calder Cup final, trailing 3-0 heading to Game 4 on June 9.
"There is the window for him to leave, but at this point he is committed to stay," Leafs senior vice president Dave Nonis said.
"Dallas did an excellent job, not only this year, but in the years when the (farm) team wasn't strong and he laid a foundation. 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 (the best penalty killing in the AHL), 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."
Often touted as a future coach of the Leafs, Eakins was distressed when the club did not call on him to replace Wilson. But he has often said "my career will take care of itself" and that despite being parked in the minors, he's still in a better position than many farm team coaches elsewhere in the NHL.
"In my gut, this didn't seem the right time to pursue something else," Eakins said. "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 and 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."
Assistant coaches Gord Dineen and Derek King also received similar extensions.
The Leafs opened the schedule with five games at home and built a record of 4-0-1, including wins against division rivals Montreal and Ottawa. But then, after Jonas Gustavsson played net in the first loss in Boston, James Reimer was bidding for his fifth win in a game against Montreal when Canadiens' Brian Gionta accidentally kneed him in the head. Reimer missed the next month.
At the Feb. 27 trade deadline, despite a three-week slump, the Leafs sat still, making only one minor deal. GM Brian Burke said he could have made deals for up to four first-round draft choices but judged that fans didn't want to see more prospects. At the same time, he said he didn't want to mortgage the farm for what would likely be a first-round elimination.
The players sensed the white flag was coming out and played some of their worst hockey afterward -- one win in eight games -- to ensure they would not make the playoffs, and coach Ron Wilson was fired March 3.
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