It’s been a tough week for the Leafs. One minute they were being crowned a dynasty after throttling the Bruins, then tumbled about as far as any team could since. All of the worst elements of this team have come to the surface in the last three games, none more important or unsurprising than the fact that they just can’t play defence. Everything started to boil over last night when the team dropped a 9-2 decision to the Predators, suffering the worst loss of any NHL club this season.
People want change. If you’ve had a problem with Carlyle, Nonis, Bozak, Phaneuf, Kessel, anyone over the last while, a 9-2 loss will surely bring all that back up again.
Carlyle, who is finally seeing some heat from the major sports outlets, is the first on most fans’ cut-lists. But is now the right time to put him on a plane? Or, looked at another way, is it wrong to get rid of him during such a rough stretch? Some will say it isn’t fair to act after such embarrassing losses, while others who pay hundreds to sit in the ACC and throw their jerseys on the ice might feel differently. Either way, I think the hockey market in Toronto plays into this sort of decision quite heavily. Is firing Carlyle now going to be seen as a knee-jerk reaction with the whole league watching (and laughing), or does this rough patch present the perfect opportunity to make a solid long-term move and look like a hero to the public at the same time?
I’ve been in the “Fire Carlyle” camp for quite a while, so really it makes no difference to me when he’s let go. The sooner the better, I really don’t care if it’s after a win, loss, whatever. I don’t believe he’s contributing anything good to the team. However, I can see why some would view his firing now as unfair or having that panic vibe about it.
You only have to look at Carlyle’s predecessor to see a similar situation, as Wilson was let go mid-season amid boos from the ACC crowd. To let Carlyle walk in similar fashion might cause concern in an “Oh we’re doing this all over again” sort of way. I’d argue that the panic move in that situation wasn’t firing Wilson, but rather hiring Carlyle on the same day. The team was in free-fall and didn’t need that coaching question answered immediately mid-season, and it may have been a better move to tack an interim tag on someone and wait things out.
In the case of Carlyle, I think most would agree the way to see him off would be to let Horachek take things over in the interim and see where that goes. Management can see what someone like Dan Bylsma is up to in the meantime, and perhaps get that conversation going. And of course there will be Babcock rumors swirling until he makes a decision one way or another next summer.
The Leafs don’t owe Carlyle anything. They’ve paid him among tops in the league when his results have been anything but, and he still has a barrel of money left to be paid out when he goes. The thing I’m struggling with is that they can’t let him go after a 9-2 loss because that would be “unfair”. Should they wait until after a win? Is a 4-3 loss a more reasonable send-off? I just don’t see it. If anything, an embarrassment like last night just presents management the opportunity to fire Carlyle and gain some short-term popularity from a long-term move that’s well overdue.