When it comes to Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle, he’s certainly a man of intrigue.
For many, Carlyle’s playing days came before their time as hockey fans, as it’s been 21 years since he’s suited up as a professional hockey player. Just 208 players have had the pleasure to have played 17 or more years in the NHL, with Randy Carlyle being one of them. Over the course of his playing career with Toronto, Pittsburgh, and Winnipeg, Carlyle encountered many unique situations. Here’s just a few of the things you (probably) didn’t know about the Leafs bench boss:
While he may not have been the same kind of national and local hero, Randy Carlyle wore #8 in Winnipeg before Teemu Selanne did. Hipster. After wearing #23 in Toronto and #25 in Pittsburgh, Carlyle switched to single digits when traded to Winnipeg. Selanne wore #13 in his first two seasons (Carlyle wore #8 during his rookie year), before switching to #8 in his third campaign in Winnipeg for the majority of the remainder of his career. As Teemu is arguably the best player to wear #8 of all time, (Alex Ovechkin and Cam Neely are two other notables), it’s worth noting Carlyle was the main reason Teemu had to wear a different jersey number his first two years in the league.
HOCKEY’S BARRY BONDS?
Although hockey fans often like to believe that their sport is clean of performance-enhancing drugs, it’s unlikely any major professional sport can remain entirely PED-free. In 1989, Randy Carlyle tested positive for an anabolic steroid following a drug test while competing at the IIHF World Championships in Sweden for Canada. John Ferguson, father of future Leafs General Manager John Ferguson Jr., was the one to deliver the news to him. After being forced to sit out a game, a second sample came back negative, and he ultimately was reinstated for the remainder of the tournament. According to William Houston’s account from the Globe and Mail, Carlyle’s teammates nicknamed him Ben- in reference to the 1988 Canadian Olympic doping scandal and the subsequent forfeit of Ben Johnson’s 100m sprint gold medal, although it seems like that moniker’s failed to last until today.
1980’s One Hit Wonder
In 1980-81, Carlyle had the best season of his career, where he scored 83 points to lead all defencemen, winning the Norris Trophy as the league’s top rearguard. While that’s fairly well-known of anyone who’s followed the Leafs during his career, Carlyle’s Norris comes in the rarity of his Norris Trophy win not being an indicator of legendary status. Oddly enough, Carlyle’s one of just two players currently eligible for the Hall of Fame who have won the Norris Trophy and have yet to be inducted (Doug Wilson, current GM of the San Jose Sharks, is the other). It’s all but certain Carlyle’s resume isn’t long enough to warrant an induction as a player, though the jury is still out for his coaching career.
Playoff Loss? Blame Carlyle
It’s a common occurrence after a close loss for fans to scapegoat one player for a play that “cost their team the game”. Of course, a few moments of rationality makes one realize there’s a host of factors that contribute to a win or a loss.
Remember that time Dion Phaneuf ‘pinched’ in overtime of Game 4 of the 2013 playoffs, getting caught out of position just before the game winning goal?
THE ORIGINAL “UNFIT” STAR
Leafs star winger Phil Kessel’s fitness has come into question by many throughout his career, largely fueled by his supposed chubby physique. (Is it weird that I’m really curious of what a shirtless Phil Kessel looks like?) But not to be one-upped, hipster Carlyle does it again. In this 1984 interview, the interviewer questions Carlyle’s fitness of the past and tries to link a new diet to higher expectations for Carlyle.
LIFETIME DISLIKER OF HELMETS
Randy Carlyle was one of the last five players in the NHL to not wear a helmet. (As was Doug Wilson. Perhaps there’s a helmet-wearing bias for Hall of Fame criteria). Of course, doing so was actually safer according to Carlyle, who came up with the revolutionary theory that helmets cause concussions.
Carlyle worked one season as a radio analyst for Winnipeg Jets broadcasts following his career. Randy Carlyle, former member of the mainstream media. Let that sink in.
NOT AS GOOD AS YOU THINK
SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST
The 1992-1993 Winnipeg Jets may have had the most interesting collection of players ever assembled in an NHL locker room. Along with Carlyle, Teemu Selanne, Keith Tkachuk, Kris Draper, Tie Domi, Dallas Eakins, Thomas Steen and Eddie Olczyk all suited up for the Jets that year. That’s right- Tie Domi and Randy Carlyle were once teammates. Additionally of interest, Carlyle later coached Teemu Selanne to the 2007 Stanley Cup. In Carlyle’s final game with the team (and the final game of his career), he scored a goal (his only one in 22 games that season), against… Leafs goaltender Felix Potvin. Although Carlyle’s certainly not the first ex-Leaf to save a strong performance for his former team, he’s certainly a contributor.
PERPETUAL LEAF GRIEF
Lastly, Randy Carlyle’s somehow got an ability to create headlines and quotes over 25 years apart that remain relevant today. While the line “Randy Carlyle is a symbol of Maple Leaf grief” could easily be splattered across sports pages today, it’s actually a headline from 27 years ago. Seriously. Long-time journalist Milt Dunnell’s January 4th, 1987 story from the Toronto Star exemplified trading Randy Carlyle to the Penguins after just two year in the blue and white as a prime example of the Leafs’ management’s inability to properly develop young players and trade them before they blossomed elsewhere. Here’s a quote from Carlyle in that article, which sounds like it could be said yesterday:
“It’s hard for a young player to realize what is required of him to be consistent in this league. By the time I realized it, I guess, I was gone. It’s especially tough in Toronto and Montreal. The spotlight never leaves you.”