Washington Capitals General Manager George Mcphee has a vacant spot in the head coaching department that has sat empty for nearly a month since Dale Hunter left. Mcphee seems to be taking his time with this selection, and nobody can seem to blame him. This position is going to require a coach with the type of discipline with young egos and ability to bring some of these players into the system of ‘buying in’. Will Alexander Semin be back in the fold next season with the Capitals as he enters unrestricted free agency status this summer? He is one of those players that requires a strong coach in the dressing room.
I think the coach that is best suited for this job might be on some interview lists around the NHL but can’t put my finger on whether or not he wants to make the jump. He is more than capable and in my opinion ready to be the next Jack Adams candidate in the making. I am talking about Mike Eaves, current bench boss of the University of Wisconsin Badgers.
Mike Eaves a former Badger and NCAA Championship winner when he was a young player still holds the scoring record for the University. He has become the leader of an absolute hockey factory in Wisconsin that since 2003 made the Frozen Four twice and won the NCAA Championship in 2006. In a competitive recruiting era that sees Boston College, Bowling Green and Harvard all vying for competitive young NCAA players Eaves has managed to put some strong teams together over the years. College coaching prepares a bench boss to understand the management of all aspects of recruiting, development and most importantly; getting all that you can out of a player that has only a short duration with you as they seek an education.
Here is a list of players that have gone through the University of Wisconsin Hockey Program under the guidance of Mike Eaves. (Teams with original player rights)
- Brian Elliot (OTT)
- Joe Pavelski (SJ)
- Jack Skille (CHI)
- Adam Burish (CHI) captained the team to the NCAA Final
- Robbie Earl (TOR)
- Tom Gilbert (EDM)
- Blake Geoffrion (NAS)
- Jake Dowell (CHI)
- Zach Bearson (FLA) – Expect Bearson to crack the line-up this year for the Panthers.
- Kyle Turris (PHO)
- Jamie Mcbain (CAR)
- Ryan McDonagh (MTL)
- Brendan Smith (DET)
- Derek Stepan (NYR)
- Jake Gardiner (ANA)
- Justin Schultz (ANA) Currently “De-registred” from UW making him an eligible FA if Anaheim doesn’t sign him before July 1st.
This list just scrapes the top of the barrel for such a great hockey program, the amount of players that are under the current watchful eye of Eaves along with those playing with NHL potential in the AHL or Europe is extensive as well. The Chicago Blackhawks used the UW hockey program as a personal draft machine as the list proves the talent was there for the taking. As the United States NCAA hockey program becomes a breeding ground for future stars, there is not a doubt that coaches like Mike Eaves are not going un-noticed by NHL executives looking for scouts or coaches.
This year Andy Murray turned a few heads after he went the other way. Andy Murray after being discharged of his NHL coaching position joined the NCAA Western Michigan University hockey program. “College hockey” as it is called by most in the business hasn’t been taken as seriously as it should up until the last few years. All new rules regarding player poaching and the NCAA starting to set up proper guidelines for eligibility have created the Hockey Factory that the Canadian Junior Hockey League once held superior bragging rights for.
The Eaves Hockey Farm
As a player Mike Eaves was injury prone and his career ended early due to a concussion that he received from a hit by Quebec Nordiques defenseman Pat Price. He was no slouch on a forward line creating chances and scoring 83 goals in his short NHL career spanning just eight years. The Eaves family is a thoroughbred of hockey development; Mike Eaves was raised by his father Cecil who was a former University of Denver Football and Hockey Player. Cecil went on to become a professor and hockey coach at Ohio University and then the University of Windsor. Cecil produced two sons who got a scratch at the NHL. His other son, Murray Eaves who played 57 games in the NHL is now behind the bench for both hockey and lacrosse at St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minnesota.
Mike Eaves then produced a son that jettisoned into the NHL from the college ranks; Patrick Eaves. Drafted by the Senators in 2003 out of Boston College, Patrick currently plays with the Detroit Red Wings. Oddly enough Patrick now the same age his father was when he suffered a massive career ending concussion now fights the same battle at 28 years old. Just ten games into this season Patrick took a slap shot in the face that broke his jaw and forced him to miss all of this season fighting concussion symptoms.
A case for Mike Eaves
One of my favorite stories around Mike Eaves was his ability to come off the bench as an assistant coach of the Calgary Flames and actually play in the 1986 Stanley Cup. When Mike had his career end short in Calgary with a concussion in 1985, the Flames knew they had a coach in the making and put him to work behind the bench. With an injury to Carey Wilson of the Flames, Mike put the skates back on and played eight more games during the Flames run to the Stanley Cup that ended with them losing in the finals. That was the last time Mike Eaves laced up the skates professionally.
His ability to understand the ongoing concussion situation in the NHL in my eyes makes him a great candidate to help young players in the NHL. With Mike leaving the NHL prematurely in a time when a hit to the head meant you might miss a shift, would make him a sensitive broker in dealing with the injury in the current environment. That might make him less attractive to some executives in the NHL as they seem to take the “you look great, you feel good enough to play?” attitude towards head injuries.
There is no doubt that Mike can produce players in the NCAA ranks, there is not a sliver of doubt that he has had the experience over the years playing in the NHL and can win big games. What is keeping him from making the jump to the NHL?
Mike Eaves had a rough start to his career behind the bench in Wisconsin that led to a player and himself in a physical confrontation back in 2002. Mike was reprimanded early for the incident and the player settled a lawsuit out of court that led the student having his tuition paid in full. That player in question if anyone is wondering was Alex Leavitt, the type of player that never got drafted and has been bounced around 11 teams in as many years. Make those 11 teams and 8 leagues in ten years, not the type of player that evokes a ton of interest from anyone in the NHL. Mike has been coaching the Badgers since that incident ten years ago, so that dark moment can be erased from the Eaves record without a doubt.
Mike Eaves is the coach in the current NCAA system that should be ready to make the step back onto the NHL bench as a head coach. His experience is widespread and his ability to coach a young NHL team would come natural as his years in the NCAA have provided him the experience.
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