Good Coach Hunting

We are still within the first few days of the post Carlyle
era and damn it still feels so good. I mean, he was awful. Historically bad
possession numbers, historical game seven collapse, and he successfully ran
MacArthur, Grabovski, and Kulemin out of town without receiving a return on any
of those players. Thankfully he was shown the door before Kadri, Gardiner, and
Reimer suffered a similar fate to those previously mentioned players.

There is a correct notion out there that you can’t really do
any worse than Carlyle, but attached to that there is also the sentiment that
the Leafs should fill their coaching vacancy now and boldly move forward in a
lackluster attempt at making the playoffs. While I appreciate the feeling that
this team has been directionless long enough and need to take on a new (sigh)
identity under a new coach, it seems irresponsible to make one of the most
important organizational decisions at a time when the job candidate pool is at
its most limited. Even NHL assistants, AHL, CHL, NCAA, and European coaches who
would jump at the opportunity to get a gig in the NHL cannot at this time, so
reasonable non-Babcock options like Brad Shaw, Don Hay, Guy Boucher, and of
course, Davis Payne are off limits. Instead you’re picking from Dallas Eakins,
Dan Byslma, and Pete DeBoer, and a handful of others, who albeit might not be
bad options, but in many cases were equally good options when they were passed
over for the job at the time of Randy Carlyle’s extension.

There is also the issue of the patchwork approach to the
Leafs. This is a favourite point of Bryan Hayes on Leafs Lunch, and I think
he’s right to point it out as frequently as possible. The Leafs had a coach who
didn’t pick his assistants, a coach who was extended by the GM, but was hired
by the previous one, a president who didn’t pick his GM and is now going to be
reporting to a CEO who didn’t hire him, and an ownership group that essentially
hates each other and has little interest in the team outside of the revenue it

All along these transitions the Leafs have also attempted to bring
in players to fit Brian Burke’s, Ron Wilson’s, and Randy Carlyle’s philosophy
and have been left with a roster that isn’t best equipped for any particular
system of play. So with that in mind, should the Leafs address what to do with
Dave Nonis before moving forward first in an attempt to finally get some
synergy between the President, GM, and Coach? Does Brendan Shanahan take
complete ownership of coach hiring and feel comfortable replacing the GM after
the fact? Or is Dave Nonis in fact, Shanahan’s guy moving forward? 

This would
be nice to know sooner rather than later, and hopefully roster changes will
halt until some of that direction is set, or at the very least roster changes
be limited to shedding cap space and acquiring futures. Moving Kessel or
Phaneuf in a time of uncertainty could be doing a future coach a great
disservice, but the time has never been better for moving out Lupul, Bozak, and
possibly van Riemsdyk or Komarov for improved returns. Expendable UFAs like
Santorelli and Winnik should be no brainers as well.

One of the things that irked me in the previous Leafs
coaching replacements was that they brought in coaches to fix an existing
probably. Defence sucks, Carlyle is a defensive coach (by defensive coach I
assume it is meant his team is permanently trapped in their own end), and he’ll
fix Ron Wilson’s broken penalty kill. I will admit to some initial excitement
with Carlyle when defencemen were finally allowed to have just one hand on the stick
and for a brief moment fronting disappeared. Rather than count cup rings and
see who is best to fix the problems the Leafs are currently facing, it might be
best to look at which coach brings with him the tools for actually implementing
successful systems with players that the Leafs can reasonably acquire. Or
perhaps bring in a coach that can explain in the interview process how he can
make the most of the current rosters skill set without asking each player for a
complete overhaul of their game.

Looking at timelines for the Leafs, you’d hope that a
decision on Nonis is made somewhere between now and ideally before the trade
deadline. If Nonis isn’t the GM when the season ends, I’d hope for a permanent
incumbent to be in place by the end of May, this is largely because you need
your free agent and draft ducks in a row, but also so a coaching search can
also be completed prior to those events and there can be some awareness of the
kind of players the coach would like to have on their roster. A coaching search
is best suited for a May to mid June window. Junior and European leagues have
wrapped up, and the coaches who missed the playoffs or suffered early playoff
exits have been fired. The worthwhile candidates you’d be waiting on in
mid-June are Assistant Coaches on Stanley Cup finalists and would be the only
acceptable reason for pushing recruitment later.

As long as the Leafs avoid rush decisions, don’t go for the
patchwork approach of having a coach not selected by their 2015-16 GM, make the
hire purely off of addressing deficiencies in the Carlyle era, or remained
handcuffed by cap and stuck with most of their current roster they should be
fine. A lot of this is easier said than done, especially in a market still
focused on a run to the playoffs this season and hell-bent on seeing the other
shoe drop as soon as possible . A step back would be nice. Brendan Shanahan
seems to be applying a thoughtful approach to assessing this team, not the
retoolings we’ve become accustom to, but really firing Randy Carlyle was the
easiest part. Finding a coach for a market that has Pat Burns and Pat Quinn as
the standard will be a challenge, and candidates like Pete DeBoer or Dallas
Eakins won’t meet expectations.

Thankfully for whoever the new bench boss is they’ll have
William Nylander on their team next season and he’s going to fix everything.

More of TLN’s Cray Carlyle Coverage:

Jeff has a
list of 5 possible permanent bench bosses

wants to know who the TLN community supports as the next fearless

Dom’s got the numbers on why this had to happen

Ryan’s started the Nonis death clock

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  • You guys are clueless and are missing the bigger issues.

    What is the point of management extending an incompetent coach like Carlyle just to waste of year of the players prime and fans patience so we can be patient while they find a new coach.

    Terrible terrible terrible analysis.

    Fire Shannahan. Fire Nonis. Fire Leiweke.
    That would be a good start.

    • CMpuck

      I tend to agree.

      Carlyle was from a sound Maple Leaf period. Played with lots of great Leafs and also won a Norris. He cannot be completely to blame. Leafs have almost the highest goals against.

      Whom ever is in charge of recruiting/HR seems to be the issue imo. The GM and management is failing the team in this regard imo. To only make the semis twice in almost 50 years is pretty sad. I sorely miss the Leafs of the 70’s. They had character, values, and other reasons for following them.

      Seems as though the more corporate the Leafs went the more troubles they have had. ie. ACC for one…not really as much family oriented imo.

  • STAN

    What a scatter-brained, pointless piece.

    Shanahan is an absolute rookie – no experience as a coach at any level, no management experience, even as an assistant GM, and certainly no experience being the top dog of an NHL team.

    So you are confusing his alleged patience with cluelessness. He literally doesn’t know what to do.

    He has presided over the firing of assistant coaches and assistant GMs and adding a handful of nerdy bloggers. If that’s an example of stellar leadership, pity the next few years in Leafs Land.

  • STAN

    There’s certainly an advantage to firing Nonis –maybe to be replaced by Hunter–before the trade deadline but I’m thinking if that was the plan it could have been easily done at the same time as Carlyle.

    We don’t know Shanahan’s plan or how much of the plan ownership will support–whether he’s been given full rein or not. We don’t even know if ownership had anything to do with Carlyle and Nonis keeping their jobs over the summer. Many of the hires suggest there is at least some support (and money available) for his ideas. Pridham, Dubas, Hunter… are very smart moves in my opinion.

    I like Horachuk far better than Carlyle or Wilson and would be quite happy if he’s left in place for the remainder of the season.

  • Jeremy Ian

    This is a mish mash. Firing Carlyle was just a first step in undoing it.

    Focus now on the roster — you have an analytics dept and some leadership on player development. Use them; that’s what they were hired for. Do a full analysis of assets and liabilities. Assess how the players respond to change. Which teams are willing to make what kinds of deals before the trade deadline? Nothing Nonis does will move forward without Shanahan’s approval anyway. But I would not pass on an opportunity to rebuild parts of the roster for the right return.

    Then deal with the GM and coach.

    Then confront May-June and be ready for the offseason.

    All these decisions must be part of a strategy. And to have a good strategy, you need a vision. That starts at the top; it’s where leadership begins. Vision-strategy-decisions; not the other way around. You can’t build and sustain success by improvising. If you are improvising, you are already losing the war.

    What we are seeing now is that the medium-termism under Burke could not compensate for mess he inherited in 2008. Burke’s cupboard was bare; he could not replicate what he did with the Canucks.

    This cycle starts better than 2008 since there are prospects and there is talented youth on the team. At the same time, the CBA is more punishing, so you have to be much smarter with your contracts and player development.

  • Benjamin

    Shanahan may not know enough but he is surrounding himself with people who do.. For one example: Pridham not only understands the rules and workings of the cap, he helped write it.

    The cap situation was good when Burke left. Loiselle not only frittered it away, he over-spent which resulted in even more cap money lost in penalties.

    The organization has been a mess for many years. Mistakes won’t -CAN’T- be fixed in a few short months. There are a lot of decisions to make and more moves yet to come.

  • Benjamin

    Shannahan sold you guys on a one year tank for the chance at a coach (Babcock). And there is no guarantee Babcock will be available or come.

    And he might not be available and Shanny squandered the opportunity to make the playoffs this year by finding a better coach as well as wasting another year of prime years of our players.

    At least if he tanked he would have gotten a decent draft pick. Management is clueless or are managing on the fly as they are as competent as Carlyle was at coaching

  • CMpuck

    If the Leafs are that desperate for Babcock, in such need of an elite coach shouldn’t that speak volumes about the roster.

    Nah, let’s crush on Nazem Kadri instead. He’s the solution? Pfft…

    • TGT23

      Oh, no, you’re right. Instead we should just hate on him and run him out of down. Have a guy like Bozak play top line for the next 5 years and just roll in the lottery picks. I mean, seriously, who needs a good offensive C like Nazem in today’s NHL, anyway?

  • CMpuck

    If the Leafs are that desperate for Babcock, in such need of an elite coach shouldn’t that speak volumes about the roster.

    Nah, let’s crush on Nazem Kadri instead. He’s the solution? Pfft…

  • CMpuck

    Hey since I got nothing going on in my life that I need to comment on a sports team on some blog about a team I don’t follow and hate. Makes sense right?

    I think Shany is way smarter than most of us, I know, I know, it’s hard to hear and you are mad to hear that, but it’s true. He has expertise in this field as per definition of the word. Not firing the coach was smart; make your internal moves in management, add where there were deficits on the roster and see where you’re at. After about 40 games, your “stats dept” will have enough of a sample size to project the team’s outcome for the near future.

    Since this team was trending downwards which you can see proof on any Leafs blogs, the most logical sense is to fire the coach so now you can play players in different roles, combinations, whatever so you can weed out the players that don’t fit your system. Patience is more than just a virtue.