The Toronto Maple Leafs unquestionably have their deficiencies, particularly on the back end. Last season they ranked 26th in the league in goals against per game, with a 3.07 average. This season has been almost identical, as they’re currently sitting at 25th with a 3.07 goals against average (yet somehow Jonathan Bernier has managed to maintain a solid save percentage). Clearly, changes need to be made in Leaf Nation, but is firing the coach at this current time really going to solve anything?
This entire franchise is in disarray. Don’t believe me? Let’s have a look at the Leafs hierarchy before the Carlyle firing. They had a president that didn’t hire the GM, a GM that didn't hire the coach, and a coach that didn't hire his assistants. Oh, and the CEO (Tim Leiweke) that hired the president (Brendan Shanahan) announced that he’s stepping down. As we sit here cross eyed trying to figure all that out, one has to wonder how they can possibly be on the same page.
As it pertains to on ice play, the team is very erratic. They will go on an absolute tear and look like contenders, only to flop weeks later and look like the worst team in the league. The coach is surely partially responsible for that, but there are a number of reasons why the timing of this firing doesn’t really make sense. Let’s have a look, shall we?
Click the button below to start this article in quick view
8 Timing and Expectations
Why now? At the time of the Carlyle firing, the Leafs were sitting in 8th place. Granted, they were in a log jam with a few other teams, but it was a playoff spot nonetheless. If you told Leaf fans at the beginning of the season that their team would be sitting in a playoff spot by January, they’d gladly take that deal. Entering this season, nobody had the Leafs pegged as a contender. Most pundits actually had them outside of the playoffs. The timing is really questionable, as it would have made way more sense to fire him at the end of last season after another 18-wheeler went right off the cliff (Brian Burke lingo for another late season collapse), and before he was given a confusing contract extension.
7 Mixed Signals
We're not going to let them off the hook that easily when it comes to the mysterious contract extension, as it was sheer nonsense. Brendan Shanahan is well respected around the league but even Mike Milbury had to be scratching his head at this one. It's not only the actual contract that's questionable in this instance, it's everything that came along with it. Normally when a coach that's on the hot seat receives an extension, it's a way of telling the players "deal with it," because he's not going anywhere. But in this case, Carlyle got extended, yet his two assistants were fired. One gesture reflects a vote of confidence and the other indicates that he's on a short leash. What gives?
6 Lack of a Plan
It's not like they fired Carlyle and had a coach in place with a vision of how to fix this wildly inconsistent team. It really appears as though they're just "winging it." It was apparent early on this season that Mike Babcock and Ken Holland were not on the same page. The riff stems from defenceman Xavier Ouellet's demotion to Grand Rapids, where Ken Holland overruled Babcock's decision to keep him with the Red Wings. Babcock told the media to: "ask the other guy" when it pertained to Ouellet. A coach referring to the GM as "the other guy" doesn't exactly reflect harmony in Motown. It's widely believed that at the season's end, the Leafs will break the bank in an attempt to lure Babcock. But who's to say that he will accept? He may just look at this mess and say "no thanks."
5 Dave Nonis is Handcuffed
Even if he had a plan, it's apparent to everyone that he is a dead man walking and he will ultimately be relieved of his duties. It's highly unlikely that he is calling any major shots at this point. Even if he had a great coach in mind, it would probably be vetoed by Brendan Shanahan.
Nonis has done some good things since he's arrived on the scene. Trading Ben Scrivens, Matt Frattin and a 2nd round pick to L.A for Jonathan Bernier was sheer larceny. Bernier has provided more than solid goaltending and is just a smidgen away from being considered a top goaltender in the league. He's also done little things to improve the team this year, like bringing in Daniel Winnik who has become a reliable centerman and boasts a +15 rating. He also signed Mike Santorelli to a one year, $1.5 million dollar deal, which is peanuts for a guy that currently has 25 points in 42 games.
Unfortunately for Nonis, there has been some bad moves too (stay tuned). He also inherited a bit of a mess. But at the end of the day, he's not Shanahan's guy.
4 Inexperience of Peter Horachek
Horachek has never been the bench boss of an NHL team. If they were in dead last and in the Conor McDavid sweepstakes, it wouldn't be such a terrible idea to toss him there and see what happens. But given that the Leafs are still in the thick of things in terms of playoff aspirations, he is effectively getting thrown to the lions. As it stands, the Leafs are in a dog fight for 8th position with the Florida Panthers and the Boston Bruins. The Bruins are not what they used to be, but they are a team that knows how to get things done in crunch time. Is this really the time for a rookie coach to be learning on the job? It's not like he was given the reigns as coach to start the season, where he could implement his own systems in training camp. It's going to be trial and error the rest of the way.
3 Interim Coaches Generally Don't Work
The players are not stupid. They know that Peter Horachek will not be the head coach next season and will most likely not listen to a word he says. Let's take everyone's favorite whipping boy Phil Kessel for example. He was deemed "uncoachable" by his former head coach. If he was that difficult to deal with under permanent coaches, what's going to happen when someone with an interim tag tries to tell him what to do?
We saw a perfect example of this when Randy Cunneyworth took over for Jacques Martin midseason in 2012. It was an utter disaster for the Habs, as they went straight down to dead last in the East. The inmates were running the asylum as there were numerous shouting matches on the bench and in practice (notably with P.K. Subban) when the coaches attempted to coach, for lack of a better term.
2 Poor Contracts/Trades
Well, we did give Nonis some love a little earlier but we knew it wouldn't last long. There has been some dreadful contract signings and moves that have set the Leafs back. Nobody in their right mind would give Dion Phaneuf a seven year extension worth $49 million dollars. Unless they're paying him per turnover, that amount of money and term is ridiculous.
It's hard to believe that there was actually a bidding war for David Clarkson's services, as this signing is even worse. A seven year contract worth $36.75 million is rather steep for someone with 24 points over 101 games played with the team. But the ultimate failure for this team is still Brian Burke acquiring Phil Kessel rather than having a crack at Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton. That's the one move that severely hampered the rebuild and set them back years (and continues to).
The bottom line is that a coach can implement a new system and offer a new voice, but there's no undoing bad contracts that other teams will not touch with a ten foot pole. It's unfair to make the coach the scapegoat for poor management decisions.
1 Refusal to Change the Core
This one is going to be short and sweet. The core of the team hasn't changed in years. If the core does not change, then neither will the result. Ron Wilson's winning percentage during his time in Toronto was a brutal .492. Randy Carlyle's was better at .535, but not nearly good enough.
These numbers demonstrate that a revolving door of coaches is not the answer and that their woes go way beyond coaching. The core and identity of this team needs a major shake up.
Leave A Comment
Looking for an AD FREE EXPERIENCE on TheSportster?Get Your Free Access Now!