The coaching carousel continues to spin in Toronto. The Maple Leafs should have rid themselves of Randy Carlyle at the end of last season. He was always going be on a short leash this season and the Leafs were always going to have a dismal stretch of games in December or January; it was inevitable. Now, the Leafs' season is a write-off and it seems all but certain that Toronto will miss the playoffs again. If that’s the case, Toronto will have missed every postseason since 2004, with the exception of the lockout-shortened season in 2013. Long-suffering Leafs’ fans are desperate for anyone who can take them to the Promised Land.
To be fair to Carlyle, he must not shoulder all of the blame. He was simply the easiest one to get rid of, though no one should feel safe in the Leafs dressing room. Leafs GM Dave Nonis admitted that, “Randy will be back in this game very soon. The coach is part of the responsibility; the coach is the easy one to let go. We all take some responsibility too, players included. But the next thing in the process is we think we can do good things, and this is a step in the right direction for us.”
This was definitely a step in the right direction, but the Leafs need to find a head coach who can instill consistent, defensive discipline in his players and can get them on his side. Carlyle could do neither.
Consistency is critical in today’s NHL and the Leafs were never going to be able to continue to win games while getting outshot by wide margins. “One of the things you’ve all heard me talk about is consistency,” Nonis said. “We need to see some level of consistency. We all agree we had some good stretches here but I can’t stand here and tell you our group’s been consistent.” The only thing that’s been consistent about the Maple Leafs is that you’ll know they’ll be out by spring.
10 Peter Horachek
Is it a sign of things to come that Peter Horachek was given the top spot over Steve Spott? Or is it simply another season of filling in as interim head coach for Horachek, who has served as Florida’s interim head coach in the past? Right off the bat, there are two pronounced and important differences between Horachek and Carlyle. Firstly, the Leafs are giving up far fewer shots with Horachek at the helm, averaging just 22 shots per game in three games. We’ll see if this trend continues. More importantly, Horachek is a much more player-friendly coach, which stands in stark contrast to the more dictatorial, my-way-or-the-highway Carlyle. “I encourage them to voice their opinion and open up because most of the players were kind of quiet and they weren’t talking a lot [previously.] And I wanted to encourage them to speak and to be heard.”
9 Dallas Eakins
Dallas Eakins couldn’t turn things around in Edmonton, but his experience as Leafs assistant coach and as the Toronto Marlies head coach is an asset that cannot be overlooked. Moreover, Eakins was simply not given a fair shot in Edmonton. He was only given the coaching reigns for 113 games (granted only winning 36 of them) before being terminated in December. This was not a large enough sample size and Eakins argued that, “The record does not show it, but I’m telling you that this team is much better than it was last year.” Eakins will certainly be considered by his former employers at the MLSE, but it is still seems unlikely Eakins grabs the top coaching spot, perhaps regaining his old assistant position.
8 Bruce Boudreau
After a slew of recent Leafs’ head coaches who haven’t exactly been beloved by the fans and players alike, the affable Bruce Boudreau could be exactly what the doctor ordered in Toronto. Unlike many past bench bosses in Toronto, Boudreau has a history with the Leafs and truly loves the organization. He understands Leafs fans frustrations and recently stated that the fans deserved some triumphs after a long stretch of dismal seasons.
Still under contract in Anaheim, Boudreau won’t be heading to Toronto unless Anaheim again falls apart this postseason. That isn’t outside the realm of possibility in a strong Western Conference, coupled with Boudreau's constant lack of playoff success. He's only 3-6 in playoff series in his NHL coaching career.
7 Kevin Dineen
Kevin Dineen has been a miracle-worker in the past, turning around both the Florida Panthers and the Canadian women’s Olympic team quickly. After the Canadian women’s team was left without a coach, Dineen took over and led them to an upset win in the gold medal game against the high-flying Americans. Dineen also rehabilitated the dismal Florida Panthers, who went a decade without a playoff appearance before Dineen led them to the postseason in just his first season as head coach. Like Eakins, Dineen was never given a fair shot to turn his team around and was fired in just his third season.
6 Dave Tippett
The current head coach of the Arizona Coyotes may be on the fast-track out of the desert and on to colder pastures if Arizona can’t right the ship. Seeing as they sit in second last in the West halfway through the season and possess the third worst goal differential in the league, a post-season berth seems very unlikely. Tippett will get the blame for this and is expected to be fired with a new ownership group in place. Expect the Leafs to take a hard look at the former Jack Adams coach of the year award winner who was able to develop solid defensive teams in Dallas and, up until recently, Arizona. He led both the Stars and Coyotes to the Western Conference final, with Dallas in 2008 and Arizona in 2012.
5 Dale Hunter
Dale Hunter’s more defensive approach is not likely to make him any friends with the Leafs’ snipers, but a totally revamped viewpoint is exactly what the Leafs need. The former Washington Capitals head coach made few friends in the nation’s capital, particularly with Ovechkin, (mind you, not many coaches have made friends with Ovie) but he did lead them to the second round of the playoffs in 2012 after taking over halfway through the season. Hunter also played almost two decades in the NHL and his brother Mark is the current Leafs’ director of player personnel, which could work either for him or against him. Expect the Leafs to take a look at him, though only hire him if all of their top choices don’t pan out.
4 Todd McLellan
If the Leafs can’t get Mike Babcock, they may look to one of his former assistants and the current head coach of the San Jose Sharks Todd McLellan, who helped Detroit land their last Cup. If San Jose can go deep into the playoffs, McLellan won’t even be an option. However, the Sharks are struggling halfway through the season and with them likely facing a solid opponent in the first round of the powerhouse Pacific division, another early postseason exit could be imminent. If that’s the case, anticipate that McLellan will likely be fired and then quickly hired again as the NHL coaching carousel picks up full steam over the summer.
3 Dan Bylsma
Dan Bylsma was fired this past June after guiding the Penguins to another impressive regular season followed by a premature playoff exit. This was in spite of an impressive resume, which includes a Stanley Cup ring in 2009 and the Jack Adams Award in 2011. Ironically, the most important factor in why Bylsma may eventually join the Leafs is their current status as a non-contender. In an interview with ESPN in November, Bylsma stated that he would be open to coaching any team and that they didn’t have to "be a contender” immediately, though he did admit that he had been following certain teams more closely than others. Expect the MLSE to put Bylsma under the microscope and give him his due consideration.
2 Peter DeBoer
The Ontario native and former New Jersey coach has been linked to the Toronto head-coaching job in the past, though with the position now vacant and DeBoer still unemployed, the speculation will be rampant in Toronto this summer. Perhaps the greatest asset that DeBoer possesses, in that he preaches puck possession. In today’s NHL of advanced statistics, this will not be overlooked. Moreover, DeBoer has a strong relationship with former Devil & Kitchener Ranger David Clarkson, current Leafs’ assistant coach Steve Spott and, most importantly, Brendan Shanahan.
1 Mike Babcock
Mike Babcock has accomplished more than most NHL head coaches could ever dream of: multiple & consecutive postseason appearances, a Stanley Cup ring and two Olympic gold medals. He has one gap left on his resume: turning around a franchise and he would have the opportunity to do this in Toronto. Over 747 games in Detroit, Babcock has produced a stellar 438-209-100 record and has never missed the postseason in Detroit (granted that streak started long before him, though the point remains).
Some Toronto fans might be dreaming of Babcock to come riding in to save the day this season, but with Babcock under contract until July 1st and MLSE announcing that Horachek will finish out the season, don’t expect any mid-season miracles. One can dream though. While no one is going to pretend Babcock can turn Toronto into a contender overnight, the money that MLSE will offer him will be difficult for anyone to turn down. Leafs fans will just have to hope he gets to July 1 without a contract.