Something I’ve been pondering for a while, or at least for the few minutes it took me to get ready for work this morning, is whether Randy Carlyle can return to the Leafs in the fall as a better coach than he was this past season.
The whole Carlyle debate has been dug up a little more again with the recent departure of Marlies’ coach Dallas Eakins to the Edmonton Oilers.
I know there’s a group of fans and analysts out there that think if the Leafs get results, then Carlyle must be doing everything right. In this past season, results meant the team getting in to the playoffs for the first time in a decade. I don’t want to get too far in to that argument again, so I’ll just leave it there. But I just wanted to point out that I know these people exist.
Maybe in the past I was strictly a results-driven person as well. Perhaps in some aspects of my professional or personal life, I still am. But for the most part I think about things in terms of the process, and continuous improvement. I’d like to think sports teams apply the same type of thinking to all areas of their organization as well. I mean, of course they do, right?
If you think of the Leafs’ season as a project, then surely at season’s end they should carry out some sort of "lessons learned" analysis and re-jig for next year with a slightly different approach to certain areas. Whether that area is coaching, their handling of prospects, scouting, whatever, they should always be looking for ways to improve.
Like many, I think the influence of coaching is a bit overblown. However, if you can’t ice the best lineup possible due to an old-school way of thinking, there’s definitely cause for some concern.
I guess what I’m interested to see is whether or not Carlyle can identify mistakes he made this past season and learn from them. Other coaches have done so in the past, and the first thing that comes to my mind is this piece on Ken Hitchcock.
If Carlyle can’t smarten up, then I guess it’s up to Nonis to go through this process with him. If Nonis doesn’t see any problems or mistakes with the way the Leafs roster was handled under Carlyle, then that’s a bigger problem. I have a feeling Nonis may be on the same page with Carlyle in terms of icing a lineup with a wasted fourth line and "tough" blueline, and that scares me.
A handful of games is not really what you want to draw any conclusions from, but when the Leafs were forced in to a lineup that included Jake Gardiner and didn’t include two lead-footed fighters during the playoffs, I’d consider that somewhat of a lesson learned. If Carlyle doesn’t see it the same way, then I doubt he’ll change his ways next season. There’s an old saying, which I believe goes back to biblical times, and it says "a shit leopard can’t change his spots."
For Hitchcock, it likely wasn’t until he was unemployed that he really started to look at ways to improve his coaching style. I’m sure that’s the same for a number of coaches when they get the hook.
Carlyle shouldn’t have to get fired to see that some of his moves are mind-boggling. What I’d like to see next season is some noticeable improvements in the way Carlyle assembles his lineup, along with some more flow to the Leafs’ game. I know the team is fast, but a lot of times they look like a team that’s being overcoached and their moving the puck is hesitant and a bit sloppy. I suppose all teams show this sometimes, but if you look like a team like the Blues or Senators, they seem to be a bit more "in tune" with each other on the ice. I think the Leafs could improve in that area.
Of course, as mentioned above, a lot of this still falls on Nonis. With Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren free agents (McLaren is restricted), if Nonis decides to bring them back or replace them with two more players that have trouble getting up and down the ice, we’ll know that this isn’t just a Carlyle issue. It’s a Leafs issue.
After a real offseason not overshadowed by a pending lockout, and full 82 game season, I’m sure we’ll get a better idea of each of Nonis and Carlyle’s philosophies. If the percentages start to swing back against the Leafs in terms of shooting and goaltending, that may be a painful process to watch. Let’s hope that between Carlyle and Nonis, they can figure out a way to push the puck in the right direction a little more next season.