Oh what an impact 2 weeks can have on an NHL team. No I am not talking about Detroit leapfrogging Washington, Columbus and Toronto. I am talking about how the Toronto Maple Leafs went from 2nd in the Atlantic Division to 10th in the Eastern Conference as a result of a 6 game losing streak. 4 out of 6 games were close but their poor play has made people question where this team went wrong, is it the coach? Management? The players? Look I am not an advanced stats wiz so I don’t have charts, fancy stats and video to back up my argument, the reason being that I did not have the time to do it (university stuff).
What is apparent with this team is that they lack the confidence to have a strong start to the game and control the pace of the game, it has been the same story all season long. They refuse to use their speed, and have no bite to their physical play. Damien Cox said on Prime Time Sports that he believes that the team’s identity from last season is lost and it has hurt this team in the worst way.
An argument can be made that losing players like Komarov, Grabovski, MacArthur, and Frattin had a major impact on this team, especially when you look at the teams inconsistent play. Other than Komarov, the other players were not considered “Randy Carlyle players” and they were not happy while playing for him.
How much does Carlyle’s relationship with these players have to do with their departure from the team?
It is no secret that Carlyle’s style does not suit every player in the NHL but he does have a track record when it comes to relationship problems in the dressing room. Upon his arrival in Toronto the media questioned Joffrey Lupul on his differences with Carlyle in Anaheim. Greg Wyshynski wrote an article about the critique that Lupul had of Carlyle when he was hired by the Leafs. Here are some snippets of the article that should be noted. Here is what Lupul had to say about his time with Carlyle in Anaheim.
[“In my conversation with Randy, he said he didn’t think I had the skill to play left in wing in this league being on my off side,” Lupul said. “So he wasn’t going to give me that opportunity here. And I’m not going to knock Corey Perry or Teemu Selanne off their right wing spot. So pretty much after that conversation, I realized that I probably wasn’t in their plans here.”].
Carlyle did agree with those comments and he has made it his mission to keep Lupul in the top 6 group on the left wing and for the most part it has worked out. Here is the link to the article. (http://ca.sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nhl-puck-daddy/maple-leafs-coach-randy-carlyle-accepts-joffrey-lupul-155538837.html)
Carlyle has mentioned that his temper has gotten the better of him in the past and that he has worked hard to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. He has not called out his players this season for their play but he has not supported them either.
Here are references to the MacArthur and Grabovski situations and how they felt mistreated by Carlyle. MacArthur (http://www.thestar.com/sports/leafs/2013/10/05/exleaf_macarthur_sounds_off_on_carlyle.html) Grabovski (http://www.tsn.ca/toronto/blogs/jonas_siegel/?id=426967).
Here were two players that were great 2nd line players for the Leafs but failed to be more than that under Carlyle, however they have both found success elsewhere. More so in MacArthur’s case who has played great for the Senators with 22 goals and 49 points in 69 games. How different would this team be with MacArthur instead of David Clarkson (who the Leafs signed because he was more of a Carlyle player).
So are the Leafs making a mistake keeping Carlyle as coach and should he return as coach next season? I will list reasons below to explain why he should stay and why he shouldn’t.
Why should he stay as coach?
1. He is the best option available at the moment. If the Leafs did fire him who are they going to bring that can do a better job?
2. It is hard to get the most out of a lineup with a lot of younger players especially on the blueline. Carlyle has had to put his trust in Gardiner and Rielly on defence and not many coaches would choose to do that.
3. Phil Kessel has become a better player and keeps on getting better. Carlyle has made Phil realize that he can’t be one dimensional all the time and you see Kessel try to use his speed to put pressure on the other teams forwards.
4. The penalty kill was a major improvement last year. Can’t say the same this year but last year the penalty kill was a major contributor to the Leafs success and if it was better this year, the Leafs would be in a better position.
5. Last year the Leafs were supposed to be have a top 5 pick in the NHL draft, instead they earned their first playoff berth in 8 years.
6. Turned around Cody Franson’s game. Franson was a healthy scratch under Ron Wilson but Carlyle put Franson in a position to succeed last season and he was very good in the playoffs last year. Carlyle made Franson try to use his size more and his decision to put him on the powerplay showed his ability to get the puck on net through a screen.
7. He lost Tyler Bozak, Dave Bolland, and Nazem Kadri at times this season and it is not easy for a coach to lose those types of players and still manage to stay in the playoff hunt (look at Detroit now).
8. He has kept the players in check and what I mean by that is that none of the players have shown frustration during this tough stretch. It seems as if Randy has kept a positive vibe in the room and part of the reason is because he hasn’t called out his team. During 24/7 we did hear him yell at the team but when it comes to the media scrums he only gave light criticism for his team.
Why he shouldn’t stay as coach?
1. This years defence is one of the worst in the league. For a coach that has the reputation for wanting his team to commit on defence this team has not done that. The amount of shots they have given up is one thing, but the amount of time they spend in their own zone is the more concerning part. So is it the players? Or is it the coach?
In the offseason something will be fixed but do the Leafs want to take a chance on trading a player like Jake Gardiner if that is not the solution?
2. The way he has handled the goalie situation has not been ideal. When you have a 1A, 1B system you cannot let one goalie lose his confidence because if one goalie goes down you need the other one to step up. James Reimer should have been given more of a chance to reclaim his job however Bernier did make that decision harder. What Carlyle should have done was play Reimer when Bernier had a bad outing because the message you send the team is that this is our guy and this is who you have to play your best every night for.
The Leafs have not played their best in front of Reimer and it is surprising given the fact other teams rally around their back up goalie because of the limited opportunities they get. Also they are doing management a disservice by playing bad when Reimer starts because his value drops. Carlyle should have tried to get this team to realize that but I am not sure if he has done that at any point and the “just ok” comments he made did not help the situation whatsoever.
3. I am not sure how many coaches give there 3rd line center more than 20 minutes a game. I am not sure how many teams will keep an enforcer in the lineup and play him only 2 minutes while younger players are busting their butts to crack the NHL. A lot of fans and media personnel have criticized Randy Carlyle for the management of his players and rightfully so. David Clarkson has had a mediocre season yet Randy has played him on the 2nd line at a time where depth scoring has been a problem. Carlyle has not rewarded the players who have demonstrated better play because he is still in favour of having more veterans on this team. Well Randy this team is one of the youngest in the league and you are going to have to get used to that.
4. He plays Jay McClement after the Leafs score a goal and grab momentum……should I say more…….ok he also played McClement when the Leafs were down by a goal. What message does that send to the players who should be out their.
5. Randy has used Phaneuf and Franson as the d-pairing when the Leafs need a goal in the last minute down by one goal instead of Rielly and Gardiner. Again this is Carlyle trusting his veteran players rather than the more creative players who can skate faster than Phaneuf and Franson and frankly Phaneuf and Franson lack the intensity when it comes to trying to get that final goal.
6. Read this Steve Simmons article after the Leafs signed Clarkson and it will make you wonder if Carlyle’s demands were not right. http://www.torontosun.com/2013/07/05/make-no-mistake-these-are-randy-carlyles-maple-leafs
Wait until the end of the season and see if they can get through this ordeal because if this team had not gone on this losing streak we wouldn’t be having this discussion. On the other hand the team was getting by with these issues and the coaching staff refused to do anything about it until it was too late. They better be ready to take the blame because saying “we don’t want to criticize a win” is not a justified argument. How do I know? I go to university and I know that when you are just getting by it will come back to haunt you unless you identify the problem and fix it. Either Carlyle cannot find the problem or they refuse to take charge in finding a solution.
See how it goes but it won;t surprise me if Nonis pulls the plug on Carlyle. Now let me just say that if they do consider trading Gardiner and Kadri just remember. Will this team be better with them or without them and what do you expect to get back for them? I highly doubt what you get back Gardiner will be worth it especially because he has been one of the best defencemen in the last few weeks. So if I’m Nonis, I am thinking about the future of the team and not satisfying the coach’s desire for more veterans unless those veterans provide more than Gardiner can.