Puck Paddy is, unfortunately, a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, and has been since 2011. Every once in a while, he needs to vent.
Leafs Coach Randy Carlyle Canned
Leafs fans and media alike have lit up Twitter within the last 90 minutes as Toronto have fired Randy Carlyle after a turbulent three seasons in charge. Carlyle took over from Ron Wilson at the end of a mid-season collapse in 2012, and was at the helm for the infamous play-off first round implosion in Game 7 against Boston in the shortened season of 2012/13.
While there appears to be much joy in Leaf-land right now, to me they are are over-blowing what is at best a small step on what is destined to be a long and painful journey for this much-tortured hockey franchise. The reality is that the core of the Toronto Maple Leafs has been rotten for a long time, and it will take a generational coach to take this team to anything beyond it’s absolute maximum ceiling of a second-round playoff berth (and that is VERY wishful thinking at this stage).
I don’t think many in the hockey media were surprised to see Randy Carlyle go, and although there appears to by sympathy towards him, it’s hard to argue that this is not one of the moves the Leafs had to make, whether it be sooner or later. But the fact remains that this is a team that did not practice what Carlyle wanted to preach. It’s been argued for the longest time that Carlyle chose his lines incorrectly, leaning on the Kessel/Bozak/Van Reimsdyk line excessively and not blooding any of the young Marlies who had shown potential in the AHL, but the reality is that was not his remit. Carlyle knew that when Brendan Shanahan came in as President in the Summer of 2014 and subsequently fired his assistant coaches that he was next in line. It wasn’t within Randy’s best interests to blood youth and try to build something for this franchise long-term because he knew he needed results, and he needed them fast.
Considered one of the “old school” of hockey coaches, he didn’t seem to role with the Leafs management clear move towards advanced analytics when putting together his lines, and most saw it as a matter of time before the inevitable occurred. The Leafs puck possession stats continued to plummet, and as soon as they left the Air Canada Center for their extended road trip, this team were quickly found out. Couple all of this with the fact that there is a all-world draft class in 2015, as well as some big name coaches potentially on the market at seasons end and you have yourself the perfect storm.
So what next for TML? Dave Nonis, as nice a chap as he seems to be, must know that now he’s the next in line. He offered the huge deals to Kessel, Phaneuf and Clarkson (all of which are beginning to look a little worrying) and was involved in several other key deals that has formed this core of players which just look unable to make any significant progress. He’s been a part of the organization since the Brian Burke era prior, so whether he likes it or not, he has to wear a lot of the blame for this debacle of a team. He is, however, a good soldier, and appears happy to let Brendan Shanahan take the reigns as defacto General Manager. There may be a place for him still in the organization, but his decision-making powers need to be removed if they haven’t been already.
The main problem is the players, and the difficulty there will be in moving them. Starting at the top, Dion Phaneuf has just not worked out as captain of this team. He has been miscast as a number one defenseman, shows no aptitude towards leadership, and has a very difficult contract to offload. He is a good hockey player and a useful piece on a good team, but he is not someone you can build around. Not here. Not now.
David Clarkson was just a terrible evaluation by Leafs management, and will be a noose around the neck of this franchise for six more years. 5.25 million per in cap space is wasted on a third or fourth line winger who is a black-hole of offense. This is the most egregious decision of the Nonis tenure and will be put forth as Exhibit A by anyone who wants him out of the organisation. It would be a miracle if he was traded for anything more than a bag of pucks, and I’m sure Shanahan would bite your hand off for that if they could offload him now as a salary dump.
The Kessel/Bozak/Van Reimsdyk axis of evil appears to have lost a lot of it’s goodwill it had accrued over the past two seasons after about ten shoddy performances. The trio are unquestionably talent going forward, but their clear lack of desire to back check or fight for the puck is case and point of what is wrong with this team right now. They’re an all-killer line but not willing to do what it takes to do what needs to be done to help your team win. Of those three, JVR is the most tradeable asset with a reasonable salary and cap hit, propensity for goals, young and not too much term. Bozak is one a lot of the Leafs fans would be happy to see go, but it’s hard to imagine that happening as the rest of the league don’t seem to rate him like the Leafs do. And then there’s Phil.
I have been a Phil Kessel lover for a long time. The guy is electric on the ice. He produces goals, he generates goals around him for his line mates, he’s excellent on the power play, and he does not miss games. Ever. He might even be able to handle the scrutiny of the most intense hockey media in the world pretty well too in that he just does not care. But recently the guy has been a terrible influence on this team. His lack of work ethic, his selfishness in defense and his lack of willingness to lead the team by example off the ice is what exemplifies the problem in Toronto.
For me, the issue is the core of players that have been selected by the previous management regime. This team has had three years to figure it out, and they haven’t. They’ve showed they’re not able to deal with the pressure when the going gets tough. Kessel, Bozak, Lupul, Phaneuf, Franson, JVR, Clarkson, they have all been miscast as key cogs on a team building towards a championship. Independently they are all really good players that would probably perform well if they went their seperate ways (with the exception of Clarkson, that dude is terrible). Together, they can’t get it done. It’s sad, but it’s true.
Here is a core the Leafs need to evaluate, and quickly. Kadri, Reilly, Bernier and Gardner. Can you supplement them with a couple of the guys aforementioned? Lupul and JVR, perhaps? I don’t have a problem with keeping a couple of those guys around. But Dion has to leave, as the figure-head of this 5 year malaise. Bozak has to go if you want to spark some life in to Kessel. Maybe even Kessel has to go if you don’t think your young players are going to learn what it takes to be a top professional with him as the star player. But the reality is that this team needs a fresh start, and I’m not one to throw that kind of conjecture around very often. They’ve been through too many meltdowns now. They can’t do it.