May 13 2014 01:21PM
I wrote "Randy and Jake" last week
, which focused on my overall concerns with the philosophy of the Toronto Maple Leafs organization. Since then, the Maple Leafs have doubled down on that philosophy, extending Randy Carlyle and giving him at least the beginning of next season to turn this sinking ship around.
"If you're worried about optics in this market, it's going to be a disaster".
Nonis was, in my best guess, responding to a question about how the optics of keeping a coach so many fans wanted out. There are a lot of good things said by sports managers about what happens when you start to let fans dictate the way you play or the players you dress, but this isn't one of them, because the decision to keep Carlyle is a way of placating the masses and 9-to-5ers who believe, deep down, that the players of the Toronto Maple Leafs don't work hard enough at their jobs.
Contrast that to the thousands of fans that connect with one another through blogs or Twitter. Statistical data for the National Hockey League isn't great, but there are enough websites that catalogue a lot of useful information about players and teams. That information is shared. For fans that aren't exactly well-versed in statistics, they have the option of watching every out-of-market game on their computer for $150 per season, which to me is a hell of a deal.
What the changing media landscape means (consider that when Dave Nonis was first hired as an NHL general manager, not only was not every game televised, but in places like Florida, New Jersey or Phoenix, you'd be lucky for the NHL to have more than a text-based box score. Before GameCentre, geeks like me would be streaming games via the free radio apps on NHL.com, and the video available was limited to highlights owned by the television networks) is that there are more fans that can follow the game as closely as an executive. You no longer have to be in the building to generate a quality opinion on a player, and the days where managers and journalists—the old white men who got to be in the building every night—have control over all the information are over.
There was a time when you were a die-hard fan, and your team signed David Clarkson to replace Clarke MacArthur and if you disagreed, you couldn't really say much about it. "I dunno, I liked MacArthur. I thought he was versatile, played hard, and had a good shot." Then after a moment of pause "but I don't know. I don't know much about this Clarkson guy, but he always seems to play well against us. It said in the newspaper that he scored 30 goals a year ago? Hmm. Maybe I shouldn't be too hasty. After all, management knows this stuff a heck of a lot better than I do."
I don't think anybody that watches six games a week (as a lot of us do) can really say that bolded section with any degree of certainty anymore. I've seen a lot of opinions in the comment section of this blog, some that I agreed with, some that I disagreed with, but none of them any less wrong than the decisions made by the Maple Leafs head office over the three years I've been writing here. That's partly why these lazy excuses like "we need to demand accountability from our players" as a reason for keeping Randy Carlyle employed set off so many bullshit detectors. You don't need a degree in statistics to note that the Leafs lack of compete-level isn't the reason the team missed the playoffs as much as it is that Leafs management consistently makes bad bets on bad players when better ones are available. The differences between fans and management when it comes to the direction of the Leafs comes down, most often, to philosophy, and not that management has any better idea of what's going on in the world of hockey than ten thousand die-hards.
Now why would the philosophy be so radically different? Everybody knows that puck possession is important. Radio broadcasts were stressing the importance of shots on goal long before Jim Corsi ever became a coach of the Buffalo Sabres. Why have the Maple Leafs consistently made decisions to acquire less-skilled, gritty-type players if the optics aren't a concern to Nonis & Co?
That's not a question with an easy answer. So far during this post I've gone off on four two-paragraph tangents before deleting them, because decision-making and psychology is an interesting subject to me. There's more to this, and hopefully during the offseason I can collect a few more thoughts in here as I exit the hockey-writing game.
In the meantime, Tyler at mc79hockey (as usual) not only has a fantastic breakdown of what makes the Leafs so successful when they have Gardiner on the ice, and it dips into a little bit why conservative-thinking coaches, like Carlyle, are generally in the wrong.