December 01 2011 03:57PM
The response to Anaheim’s firing of Randy Carlyle has been barely contained glee in many quarters. Over at SBNation’s blog Anaheim Calling, the news was inititally celebrated with an ALL CAPS POST. Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski called the decision to swap Carlyle for Bruce Boudreau (fired on Monday by the Washington Capitals) a “genius move.” Helene Elliott opined that the Ducks had tuned Carlyle out.
However good the reasons may have been for firing Randy Carlyle, the decision does not reflect well on Ducks general manager Bob Murray. How so? I’ll explain.
Let’s go back to the summer. Murray was facing a coaching decision in the not too distant future, as incumbent head coach Randy Carlyle had just a single year on his contract.
The results for the Ducks the previous few seasons had not been good. The Ducks had won a Stanley Cup and posted back-to-back 100-point seasons under the watch of Brian Burke, and 17 games into 2008-09 sat fifth in the Western Conference. It was then that Burke resigned the top job (he would take over in Toronto a little over two weeks later), and Bob Murray inherited the team.
The exodus of talent started immediately. In a series of deals that season, Murray gutted many of the depth components that had made the Ducks a championship team – the so-called “Nothing Line” was dismantled, the parts scattered across the league, and others were also sent away. Murray kept a few pieces (the offensive quartet of Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan and Selanne, enforcer George Parros and goalie Jonas Hiller) but he completely reworked the team’s depth. The results haven’t been pretty – and even last year, when the club was considered by many a dark horse contender, the lack of depth at all positions was painfully obvious, as was the luck involved in making the post-season.
(For those of you without ESPN accounts, that article looks at (among other things) the record of teams with an incredible winning percentage in one-goal games in the playoffs. Of the 11 teams with a win percentage in one-goal games of 0.600 or above to make the playoffs, eight lost series in which they were the favourite, and two of the remaining teams lost in the first round to superior teams. Anaheim led the league in one-goal games last year (with a 29-10-5 record), and also succumbed to the trend, losing a series in which they were favoured.)
Randy Carlyle was the team’s head coach through all of it. He had a rich history with Murray – both Murray and Carlyle had been with the Ducks for the entire post-lockout time period. Murray would have seen him in the room in 2010-11 and in all those preceding years, and would have been perfectly placed to know whether Carlyle was a fit going forward.
Murray could have fired Carlyle that summer, and conducted an extensive search for a new head coach when he had both time and a long list of possible candidates. Instead, in August of 2011, Murray sat down with Carlyle and reworked his contract – turning that single remaining year into a three-season extension. Here’s what Murray said at the time:
“Randy has been invaluable to this club over the last six years. He has been a true leader through thick and thin, and we are very pleased to be able to reward him with this well-deserved contract.”
“We are always competitive. No matter what kind of team we throw at him, he finds a way to make the team try to win. He does very well at it, as his record indicates. He's a good coach. His record speaks for itself.”
There’s no reason to think that Murray viewed Carlyle as anything other than the best possible candidate. He could have waited to see what happened this season before extending him, but he didn’t. Why? Presumably because he was confident in his decision, from years of working with Carlyle.
Less than three months later, Murray dismissed Carlyle in the dead of night, after a win by the team under his watch. He didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about a replacement either – Bruce Boudreau, fired earlier in the week, was immediately installed as the team’s new bench boss.
Boudreau may or may not prove to be a major improvement on Carlyle. That remains to be seen. It does baffle me that Murray’s judgement in the matter is trusted – if he made the wrong decision two months ago despite ample time and a firm read on the candidate involved, why would a decision made in the space of a couple of days two months later be better?
Even without knowledge of what Murray's done to the Ducks, this would come across as an ugly reversal. Combined with that knowledge, one wonders how long it will be until the general manager follows the coach out the door. One doesn't wonder whether it will be deserved.