Dallas Eakins is a rising star in the coaching world, one who isn't just on the cusp of being able to coach in the NHL, but one who could command an NHL gig at the present time. Instead of heading for the bright lights of the NHL he elected to ink a three-year contract extension with the Toronto Marlies on Monday. With the stipulation that he won't be permitted to consider any NHL head coaching opportunities until the 2013-14 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs have retained an asset integral to their future success.
Eakins' contributions may not be noticeable at first glance, but rest assured his fingerprints are all over the success the Marlies have enjoyed this season. Under his tutelage, prospects such as Nazem Kadri, Korbinian Holzer and Joe Colborne have become more complete players, and as a result, more NHL-ready. Kadri's development is especially key, as he will be a factor in any success, or lack thereof, the Leafs experience in the coming years. Stuart Percy and Jesse Blacker (a current Marlies rookie) will surely benefit from playing under Eakins' watchful eye next season as well.
Beyond the obvious duty of an AHL coach to prep an organization's top prospects for the NHL, Eakins has been instrumental in developing players that are able to adequately stand-in with the big club when the injury bug bites. Whether that means mentoring Matt Frattin in order to help him regain his confidence in order to be effective at the NHL-level, or providing the parent club with depth options, Eakins has performed admirably.
The true value of Eakins and his contributions will be witnessed in a few short years, when many of the players he's coached, barring any trades, should be ready to play regularly for the Leafs. Players such as the aforementioned Percy and Blacker, as well as Marcel Mueller and Greg McKegg (who will arrive in the AHL next season) are unlikely to turn into stars, but organizational depth is key to any NHL team's success. Without in-house development, an organization becomes devoid of affordable, young talent essential for success in the salary-cap era.
The fact that organizations such as the Detroit Red Wings have achieved success by developing their own talent is evidence that a shared vision at all levels within the organizational hierarchy is needed. An organization needs to run on a vertical integration model of sorts, if you will. With Brian Burke and new head coach Randy Carlyle stressing work ethic and accountability; Eakins has made every effort to instill that organizational mantra deep within the minds of his players.
The players, and the Leafs organization as a whole will be better for it. The only way to build in today's NHL is from the ground up, and while Brian Burke has eschewed that rebuilding method thus far in Toronto, Eakins is providing the organization with a stable foundation as he mentors the club's heralded and unheralded prospects alike.