Randy Carlyle is going to be fired. Maybe. Hopefully. Oh god I hope so.
In Justin Fisher’s “What Now” post, I said that keeping Carlyle and the coaching staff would be a big black eye on Shanahan’s ability to analyze and react to the situation in Toronto. But saying that without offering any alternatives isn’t really that helpful, and kind of makes me look silly. So I decided to do some grunt work and look into some candidates for The Best Job in Hockey™ aka Toaster Master aka The Leafs Head Coach position.
I am a believer that, while not a fan of how the Leafs are built, they would be a surefire playoff seed if they had a coach that can actually, you know, coach.
On to the candidates.
Just kidding. Although he was supposed to be first on my list. Oh well.
While hiring a guy away from the Swiss League wouldn’t exactly excite the masses, I really think Guy Boucher should be near the top of Shanahan’s shopping list. After having tremendous success in the QMJHL and AHL, Boucher had a great season in Tampa Bay before falling off and being fired two years later (not the best resume entry, I know). But, his 1-3-1 is interesting and could be a good fit for the Leafs. It requires mobile D, which the Leafs have, and a buy in from everyone – but hey, we can hope. It isn’t the most exciting hockey, but any team with Kessel, Gardiner, Rielly, Kadri, and JVR will be fun to watch, no matter the system.
In fact, I’m not the first person to bring up Guy Boucher and his 1-3-1 here. Cam Charron wrote a brilliant article about it, and how it is a “counter attack” formation, something that works really well with speedy, skilled wingers. Guess what? The Leafs have those. It is also a system that neutralizes the other team’s attack before it can enter the defensive zone, allowing them to play in it less. Playing less in your own zone = good. And for us Stats Geeks: in Tampa’s 103 point season, they were a 51.3% corsi tied team. That alone will help the Leafs be more consistently successful.
My summation is not nearly as good or in-depth as Cam’s entire article, but it’s the gist of it. It’s easy to say no to Boucher because of the lack of long-term success, but I think a good portion of that can be tied to Yzerman telling him to stop using the 1-3-1 because of how Pronger embarrassed them, and Tampa’s rather weak, non-mobile defense group at the time.
There is one caveat – Nonis/Shanahan would have to change some personnel over up front to make it work. Boucher relied on aggressive forecheckers like Steve Downie and Sean Bergenheim a lot and used them against tough competition, allowing him to let Stamkos feast upon the lessers. But again, like Cam mentions (my whole post about Boucher is basically me plagiarizing him), it’s a lot easier to find players like a Downie or Bergenheim than a Kessel or Van Riemsdyk.
Another candidate talked about already (but this time by Steve on the podcast), Laviolette brings with him a Stanley Cup ring from his time with the Hurricanes and a couple 100-point seasons with the Flyers. It’s actually kind of surprising that he was fired, but he didn’t get the goaltending necessary to keep his job. That could be good news for the Leafs.
While Laviolette doesn’t have as famous of a system as Boucher, the 2011-12 Flyers (Laviolette’s last full season) were top 10 in FenwickClose (51.1%). For comparison, this year’s Leafs were 29th in the league (41.5%). That in itself is a huge difference. What I think would make him an even greater choice is that the 11-12 Flyers finished with 103 points, with a team save percentage of .906%! That’s bad. Not horrendous, but, like, pretty bad. With this year’s Bernier and Reimer in net (a combined .918%), that Flyers team would have allowed 28 less goals (191 to 219).
Now I understand that you can’t just take one year’s goalies from one team and say “voila!” But I did it anyways so the joke’s on you.
The point is that Laviolette would be a good fit for this Leafs team. He has shown that he doesn’t need elite goaltending to win (hi Randy). You know why that is? Because he is a good coach – it’s just a bonus that he’d get some pretty good goaltending here.
Dineen, to me, is the most interesting candidate of the bunch. That’s not to say that he’s the best candidate, but his NHL resume, while not overly impressive on the surface, promises potential with a competent management group and actual talent on the ice.
As coach of the Panthers, Dineen led the 2011-12 squad to a division title. Admittedly, that division was awful (SouthLeast), but he was coaching the hockey team equivalent to an ugly quilt, with the Panthers signing every UFA on the market to stupid deals. But the underlying numbers are interesting. They finished the season 13th in FenwickClose (50.4%), with a PDO just south of 100 (so the numbers wouldn’t seem to be based on luck). Last season, the team absolutely tanked and dropped to 17th in FenwickClose (49.2%, still not awful), with a PDO of 94.9(!!!). The goaltending, quite simply, was atrocious. Less than AHL-level. Worse than me. Coupled with a pretty terrible roster, it’s not surprising they fell off so much. But it is surprising how they were just below the mean in some crucial underlying stats.
And those underlying stats are what I like so much about Dineen. I also like that he and Dale Tallon seemed to embrace a new NHL model of team (even if it was lacking talent), focusing on puck-moving defensemen and using all eighteen roster spots pretty wisely.
I really think that Dineen would do well in Toronto. He’s had success with way less, and was quite simply a victim of some of the worst team goaltending you will ever see (.891%, good lord).
Just keeping you on your toes. That said, Wilson would have done very well with the Leafs last year and this year. He just needed goaltending.
Right off the bat, I’d like to say that I am not in favour of hiring Steve Spott to coach the Leafs. But I wanted to give him a fair shake and include him regardless because he’s at least earned that (and like, what have I earned, you know?).
Spott has had some great success in the OHL, and just won the division in his first year with the Marlies with 96 points in 76 games (which projects to 103 in an 82 game season). That said, Drew McIntyre, Garret Sparks, and Christopher Gibson combined for a save percentage of .915%, which would be right around average in the NHL (the Leafs are just above that as a team, but Bernier has significantly better numbers than McIntyre). He also benefitted from a couple exceptional seasons from T.J. Brennan and Spencer Abbott.
A major concern I have about Spott is that his use of enforcers resembles that of Carlyle and doesn’t project for long-term success in the NHL. I want a Leafs team that is focused on skill and speed. Don’t get me wrong – I am not anti-toughness. But tough players have to bring other skills to the table for them to get a roster spot. People use Boston as a reference point for toughness, but guess what? Their tough players are really good players. Good teams use all of their roster spots wisely.
With that, I’d love to see underlying numbers for this Marlies season to see how they faired possession-wise. I’ll give Spott the benefit of the doubt because has had continued success throughout his coaching career. His one real blemish was as coach of the Canadian World Junior team in 2013. The team came fourth, and his misuse of Nathan MacKinnon still infuriates me to this day.
He is an interesting candidate, and I could easily see him getting an NHL job, especially if Shanahan wants the organization to begin promoting from within across the board. Like Eakins a year ago, Spott’s success with certain players that could receive NHL jobs next year is a huge plus in my mind. He’s still not my first choice.
It feels weird to even include Trotz in this post because he will always feel like the coach of the Predators. And that’s kind of a problem for me – how would Trotz adjust from coaching a team with great d-men and no gamebreaking forward for fifteen years, to coaching a team that is built for speed and offense? There is one thing that wouldn’t require adjustment – that whole having a good goalie thing. Off the top, one thing I do like about Trotz is that he doesn’t really dress goons – he actually uses all twelve forwards, which I think is key for next season.
Trotz made the playoffs in seven of his fifteen years in Nashville, which altogether isn’t very impressive. What’s peculiar about his last few years in Nashville is the team’s FenwickClose. This past year, the team finished 14th in that stat (50.7%), and didn’t make the playoffs. But two seasons ago, when the team finished with 104 points and made it to the second round of the playoffs, they finished 29th in that regard (46.1%). It’s not surprising that Nashville relied on Rinne in past years, but what those numbers suggest to me is that Trotz changed something in his system. I’d guess that it was an adjustment so that they wouldn’t have to rely on goaltending so much with Rinne being out for most of the year.
If Trotz were named the next head coach of the Leafs, which Trotz would we get? If it was this season’s version, I’d be all for it. I think with actual top-line forwards, goaltending, and a puck-moving defensive unit, he could have success. If he comes in with the perception that Bernier can carry the team, I think he will fail in the long run.
I am glad that we shared this together. We learned, we laughed, we explored. I had fun, and I hope you did too. But in all that fun, I forgot to come up with an answer for who should definitively be the next coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. To be honest, I didn’t really expect to. However, there are some interesting candidates above, all of whom have something to offer. Some I like more than others, but I’d be happy with most of them.
Shanahan has a big decision ahead of him. Fortunately there are eligible bachelors with track records available, depending on what kind of culture he wants to create. Buckle up.