To a certain section of Leafs fans, Randy
Carlyle has become a video game boss you just can’t get around. You can break
down the roster a million ways, complain about cap hits, project line
combinations, even cut management some slack from time to time, but then you remember
Carlyle’s the guy in charge and you just want to quit.
I used to write more. Usually the off-season, even in
the slow times, was when I came up with the most ideas for articles. Recently I
started wondering why I couldn’t think of anything to write. I mean, I’m still
interested in the Leafs, and to be honest it’s easy to talk about a terrible
team, as painful as it is. Then I realized it’s Carlyle. He’s like the David Clarkson for writing creativity, just bringing everything in to a lull. He is
I can’t count how many discussions, whether in person or
through social media, about how the Leafs can improve, go on for a while to
eventually end with “Yeah, but until Carlyle gets fired…”
It seriously makes
covering the team difficult.
Most of us assured ourselves that Carlyle would be fired
after the Leafs’ unbelievable (but totally believable) collapse this past
season. And that was before Shanahan showed up. With Shanahan, someone who seemed
to say all the right things upon hire, it felt even more certain that the head
coach was getting canned. But somehow Carlyle managed to convince management
that the collapse was on the players and their refusal to try hard at hockey. This
is the franchise we’ve been dealt.
What makes this all the more bizarre at this point in the off-season is that the Leafs
essentially cleared out everyone around Carlyle, recently brought in some new
assistants, and didn’t mention much about acquiring a “Randy Carlyle
type of player” this summer. Nonis even completed moves that should force
his coach away from using a facepunchers line, and decided to let Carlyle’s
secret weapon, Jay McClement, walk to the Hurricanes. Some nights it felt like
McClement played the entire second and third periods while Carlyle employed his
“strategy” for defending a lead.
So why on earth would you keep this
guy around when what you’ve done around him points to how terrible he’s
been at his job?
I’ve talked about it a few times over beers in the backyard.
One theory is that the Leafs simply want to eliminate the image they’ve gained
as being too trigger happy when it comes to making changes. The team has long
been ridiculed for giving up on prospects and picks, buying out players, buckling
under the pressure of the city, and just making garbage moves trying to win as
soon as possible. It hasn’t worked, neither in the short or long term. I can
somewhat buy this explanation (not that I agree with this approach in the slightest),
especially since Carlyle seems to have established a good relationship with the
Toronto media after what felt like Ron Wilson being at war with them two
years. Carlyle hasn’t received nearly as much criticism as his predecessors, as
the attacks are usually deflected to his star players like Kessel and Phaneuf.
This seems like an absolutely insane reason to keep a coach around, but you know,
Leafs and all.
Another theory, which sort of ties in to the previous one,
is that Carlyle will now have minimal control over tactics or systems, and
newly minted assistants Horachek and Spott will do the heavy lifting in this
regard, basically as a working audition for the main job. Carlyle will act as a leader and motivator, which perhaps is something
he’s good at. I don’t know.
Nonis said nothing had been decided as far as responsibilities for new assistants, but said Carlyle would have larger role in special teams.
— Jonas Siegel (@jonasTSN1050) July 11, 2014
Hiring guys when you haven’t figured out what their jobs
will entail seems like a poor idea, but who am I to question an NHL general
manager right? Either way, pushing Carlyle to special teams signifies that the
Leafs know they got absolutely murdered at even strength last season. Usually
assistants are more heavily involved in the powerplay and penalty-kill, but
based on the comments by Nonis, you can probably expect Horachek and Spott to
be more involved in 5-on-5 systems than the guys they’re replacing. They’ll
obviously have a lot of work to do in establishing something better.
If I had to speculate (and I will, because who’s really
going to stop me?) I’d say Shanahan and Nonis chatted with Carlyle and let him
know that heads need to roll. Randy completely threw the players under the bus for not “buying in”, Nonis believed it for some reason, and they
decided to bring in new assistants to “change the atmosphere” since
that’s the most Leafs thing ever. Again, it seems like an attempt to let everyone know they’re not panicking. In the backwards world of the Leafs, they panic when there’s no need, then stand pat when they should be blowing some things up. And you wonder why they’ve got three playoff wins in over a decade.
Whatever happened, Carlyle managed to buy himself more
time. But if the Leafs are trash to start and look as over-coached as they have
the past couple years, Carlyle will have to go, since he’s the only constant
with a team whose talent level isn’t poor enough to be dominated the way they
have been for two full years. I’m assuming this can’t go on much longer, but
then again, here we are.