Is there a right time to fire a coach?

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.

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  • Jeremy Ian

    Yeah, we are going to need some humor to get through what’s coming.

    I would not fire Carlyle without a strategy. The lesson from the Wilson firing was the Carlyle hiring — that is, to fill the gap with someone with a ring on his finger just to stanch the critics.

    Instead, they produced a mismatch of a new sort.

    Shanahan has to pull back, evaluate his assets, and develop a plan.

    If Carlyle goes, definately ride with Horachek and track some trade options.

    But the coach should go eventually; the organization owes him zilch. He’ll get his money no matter what.

    Regroup, don’t react.

  • Jeremy Ian

    Then Ron Wilson empathizing with Randy Carlyle and complaining that the ACC is a morgue. Well, these are the most expensive tickets in professional hockey, who does management think is going to afford them if not the guys on their iPhones with trophy wives on their arms (not to get too stereotypical here)?

    Blaming the fans for what’s happening on the ice?


    “But you can’t lose sight of the fact it was one game, we have to move forward, you can’t dwell on it forever.”

    Enough. Nonis, you are a fool. It’s not just one game; it’s a past. It’s not the loss we can’t forgive, it’s the history he manufactured that we can’t forget — why? because it’s endless! I used to respect Nonis. But if he talks to us like we’re cluless then he deserves to watch the jerseys fly over the glass and look at vacant seats when the team is losing.

  • BubbaLou

    I’m sick of hearing about “compete level” from the coach after bad games. Nine times out of ten that’s really just saying a team “doesn’t have enough talent”. The odd time, it means the coach didn’t prepare his team properly.

    Accountability is a thing, though. The accountability for the state of the team doesn’t just lie with Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel and their ‘work ethic’. It lies with the management mindset that mismanaged their talent and assets in previous years, it lies with a stubborn refusal to grow and evolve with the changing NHL (although that, presumably, has changed going forward with Shanahan in place and his hirings over the summer), and it lies with a coach who doesn’t seem able to get the best out of his players. Not because they are not motivated, but because he isn’t putting systems in place to make the best use of their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.

    Last year the team doubled down on grit, presumably at Randy’s request. We got Orr AND McLaren, we got a shiny new Clarkson to fit in his system. Guess what – the year was a tire fire. The only mitigating factor was, because the team squeaked out slim wins and was buoyed by all-star goaltending, to the people willing to overlook that the team was being outplayed nightly we seemed “okay”. Until taking 40 shots a night started burning the goalies, it seemed we could turtle to victory because we converted most breakaways. Then reality caught the team.

    Enough of the “I don’t understand how it happened” act from Carlyle. If the coach can’t figure out what is going wrong with his team enough to fix it, or at least improve it, the accountability lies with him and the people who hired him. Not with a player who doesn’t like talking to the media but is one of the most productive forwards in the league, constantly playing with the team’s second-best center.

    • CMpuck

      Let’s all blame Carlyle and let management and players off the hook. No on calls ever Phaneuf on the crap about how he doesn’t know why they started off slow again or how they have to play better. And Leiweke, Nonis, Shanny and Dubas are unwilling to make moves on coaching and personnel to improve the team but let’s give them a free pass with all their empty promises of how culture changes, gritty character players analytics will save the team.

      The whole lot of them are incompetent. Just a bunch of buzz words that really mean the team lacks elite talent.

      • Jeremy Ian

        Missing the point. No one is letting the players off the hook.

        What’s a coach supposed to do if not COACH?

        Good coaches get the best out of what she/he has, not whine about what they don’t have (grit, compete, sandpaper, whatever). Coaching means learning by observing and adjusting. After all we’ve been through, to staple Kadri’s butt to the bench for much of the second period of a blow out to Nashville? Really?

        Every player who had a mic stuck in their face took on the blame. Does the coach?

      • BubbaLou

        The problem is what do you even have in the players? I can’t even tell you for sure, because the Coach does stupid things like bench Kadri for large portions of yesterday. Plays the 4th line after a goal, when their last shift was 7 seconds long, after losing the faceoff that turned into the opening goal.

        His idea of accountability is a joke – if things go wrong, Kadri sits. What about Bozak’s “No skating” backcheck ability now 2 games old and 4-goals-stale? How about Phaneuf getting outmuscled? How about Polak failing coverages? Oh it’s totally cool – he just benches/scratches young players who make young player mistakes. Kadri’s – at worst – top 5 on the team right now, and Randy Carlyle buries him at +1 in a 9-2 loss. To borrow from Jeremy Ian – Randy deserves to be fired if for no other reason than he’s just mismanaged the players that management believes are the team’s best prospects since he got here.

        Leiweke isn’t even here right now, so WTF mate?

        And here you go again on the assistants to the GM for somehow causing the mess. I will do this as long as you keep parroting it:

        THE LAST TRADE IN THE OFFSEASON was –JULY 1ST–, when the leafs acquired Polak and signed Leo. The Analytics team WAS HIRED —MID AUGUST—. Given that the GM made -NO Further Moves- with Dubas and his assistants in place, HOW IS THE ROSTER THEN AN INDICTMENT OF THAT ASSISTANT TEAM? Get a god damn calendar and explain where it was Dubas’ fault for the things his boss did BEFORE DUBAS WAS HIRED!

        Why not point the finger at Nonis for trying to sign Bolland long term (0G 0A this year in 4 games – LTIR: Leg. Surprise), and extending Randy Carlyle after he proved he can steer a team off a cliff and lose a playoff series – making dumb decisions all the way?

        At any rate, change HAS to start with the coach. The team looks completely lost again and his response is still “we didn’t compete”, and “how does that happen?” Lame – At least see what players do under a different system, perhaps Horachek as interim coach, before pointing the finger at the players. Hey, 3 years ago we were ROASTING Wilson, not the players because the team kept giving up early goals – at least have some consistency when pointing the finger.

        • Jeremy Ian

          Agreed. And while we are piling on, a good early line was Komarov-Santo-Clarkson. What’s the coach’s response? Move Clarkson — his type of player — to the 2nd line with Kadri so neither one of them can look good, which means the team relies even more on L1 for goals, which is downright crippled in the Leaf end.

          It goes on and on.

          Talk about self-defeating.

          Management has indulged this coach for several years now and the toll now shows in the team’s cap management (I repeat: that Grabo buy-out is brutal).

          The coach’s self-proclaimed goal was to reduce shots and goals against. The team now sits (last I checked) at 27th in league by both measures. (not very fancy stats). So, what are we going to use as a metric for success if not the coach’s own?

  • CMpuck

    As much as I am for a change in coaching. I do not think this is the right time. We should give the guy a greater chance. We need to make a trade with a big player because at the end of the day – to win in the NHL is not easy. We need to make a hard move, we need to move a player that doesn’t help us but rather is detrimental to our growth. What is the first thing that every one (most people) do when they play NHL gm mode? Trade dion. Maybe we should trade dion, maybe we make another trade. We need to show the team, that no one is safe, and that you need to fight for your job. It is sad to say but, how often does a star player get traded from the leafs? Rarely ever..

    I just don’t see it fitting to fire the guy for the team not coming up to show.

  • Kanuunankuula

    I love it how the Randy fans just won’t let it go. Always, blame someone else, blame Phaneuf (who was good under different coaches), blame Reimer (also a good goalie let down by terrible D strategies), blame Kessel (because, without him, we would be Buf terrible), blame Kadri (because stop playing good, Randy does not want you to).

    He’s terrible, outdated, out of time. Assett mismanagement, lines always revert to original regardless of results, defense system is a trainwreck.