No really, how is Carlyle still the coach?

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To a certain section of Leafs fans, Randy
Carlyle has become a video game boss you just can’t get around. You can break
down the roster a million ways, complain about cap hits, project line
combinations, even cut management some slack from time to time, but then you remember
Carlyle’s the guy in charge and you just want to quit.

I used to write more. Usually the off-season, even in
the slow times, was when I came up with the most ideas for articles. Recently I
started wondering why I couldn’t think of anything to write. I mean, I’m still
interested in the Leafs, and to be honest it’s easy to talk about a terrible
team, as painful as it is. Then I realized it’s Carlyle. He’s like the David Clarkson for writing creativity, just bringing everything in to a lull. He is
writer’s block.

I can’t count how many discussions, whether in person or
through social media, about how the Leafs can improve, go on for a while to
eventually end with “Yeah, but until Carlyle gets fired…”

It seriously makes
covering the team difficult.

Most of us assured ourselves that Carlyle would be fired
after the Leafs’ unbelievable (but totally believable) collapse this past
season. And that was before Shanahan showed up. With Shanahan, someone who seemed
to say all the right things upon hire, it felt even more certain that the head
coach was getting canned. But somehow Carlyle managed to convince management
that the collapse was on the players and their refusal to try hard at hockey. This
is the franchise we’ve been dealt.

What makes this all the more bizarre at this point in the off-season is that the Leafs
essentially cleared out everyone around Carlyle, recently brought in some new
assistants, and didn’t mention much about acquiring a “Randy Carlyle
type of player” this summer. Nonis even completed moves that should force
his coach away from using a facepunchers line, and decided to let Carlyle’s
secret weapon, Jay McClement, walk to the Hurricanes. Some nights it felt like
McClement played the entire second and third periods while Carlyle employed his
“strategy” for defending a lead. 

So why on earth would you keep this
guy around when what you’ve done around him points to how terrible he’s
been at his job?

I’ve talked about it a few times over beers in the backyard.
One theory is that the Leafs simply want to eliminate the image they’ve gained
as being too trigger happy when it comes to making changes. The team has long
been ridiculed for giving up on prospects and picks, buying out players, buckling
under the pressure of the city, and just making garbage moves trying to win as
soon as possible. It hasn’t worked, neither in the short or long term. I can
somewhat buy this explanation (not that I agree with this approach in the slightest),
especially since Carlyle seems to have established a good relationship with the
Toronto media after what felt like Ron Wilson being at war with them two
years. Carlyle hasn’t received nearly as much criticism as his predecessors, as
the attacks are usually deflected to his star players like Kessel and Phaneuf.
This seems like an absolutely insane reason to keep a coach around, but you know,
Leafs and all.

Another theory, which sort of ties in to the previous one,
is that Carlyle will now have minimal control over tactics or systems, and
newly minted assistants Horachek and Spott will do the heavy lifting in this
regard, basically as a working audition for the main job. Carlyle will act as a leader and motivator, which perhaps is something
he’s good at. I don’t know.

Hiring guys when you haven’t figured out what their jobs
will entail seems like a poor idea, but who am I to question an NHL general
manager right? Either way, pushing Carlyle to special teams signifies that the
Leafs know they got absolutely murdered at even strength last season. Usually
assistants are more heavily involved in the powerplay and penalty-kill, but
based on the comments by Nonis, you can probably expect Horachek and Spott to
be more involved in 5-on-5 systems than the guys they’re replacing. They’ll
obviously have a lot of work to do in establishing something better.

If I had to speculate (and I will, because who’s really
going to stop me?) I’d say Shanahan and Nonis chatted with Carlyle and let him
know that heads need to roll. Randy completely threw the players under the bus for not “buying in”, Nonis believed it for some reason, and they
decided to bring in new assistants to “change the atmosphere” since
that’s the most Leafs thing ever. Again, it seems like an attempt to let everyone know they’re not panicking. In the backwards world of the Leafs, they panic when there’s no need, then stand pat when they should be blowing some things up. And you wonder why they’ve got three playoff wins in over a decade. 

Whatever happened, Carlyle managed to buy himself more
time. But if the Leafs are trash to start and look as over-coached as they have
the past couple years, Carlyle will have to go, since he’s the only constant
with a team whose talent level isn’t poor enough to be dominated the way they
have been for two full years. I’m assuming this can’t go on much longer, but
then again, here we are.

  • itstossup

    I’m a big fan of what the Leafs have done with their coaching staff this off season. Until their glorious collapse, this team was near the top of the Eastern conference. I can’t imagine that all games prior to the collapse were the players ignoring everything Carlyle said, there was a point when coach and team were clicking, despite missing their top center for most of the season and Bolland for even longer. I agree that whatever system Carlyle was attempting to use to defend leads was terrible but I think both the new assistant coaches can help address that. Horacek has been credited for much of the success of Nashville’s defensive system. Of course the Leafs defence pale in comparison to what the Leafs have now, but if he can bring some of that to the table here that would work wonders. Despite the general opinion that the Leafs have done very little this off season, their bottom six forwards will look quite different this year both with the departure of McClement and Kulemin, additions of Komarov, Frattin, and likely one or both of Santorelli/Kontiola as well as more consistent play time (hopefully) for Holland and Ashton. If Spott can find a way to integrate these new additions to a team whose top two lines had 44 points or more (despite Lupul and Bozak missing time) I can see the Leafs making their pick long after Connor McDavid has been swept up.

    • The only problem is if you think that the collapse wasn’t due to happen. The Leafs were near the top of the standings because they had well above average goal tending and above average shooting. Few people can maintain an above average shooting percentage over the course of a career (hence why Syd is a generational/lifetime talent) and why we safely project Clarkson to have a little better season next year (regression to the mean as his shooting was at 4.9% and before last season his career average was 9.7%). This team has been relying on luck and a shortened season to contend for the playoffs. Is it great to see your team win even in the face of getting out shot 65 times out of a possible 82 (or to flip it, we tied or out shot the other teams 17 times source: http://www.extraskater.com/team/toronto-maple-leafs/2013/gamelog?sort=shots_pct) but its not a sound strategy to rely on having a higher sustainable shooting percentage and a higher save percentage, unless you think your team is legitimately better at those skills. The cost for that error is usually your job.

      TL:DR As long as Carlyle is in charge of the ship and he thinks “Shot quality” is a definitive thing, we will be a mediocre team at best, relying on luck to win.

      • itstossup

        The Leafs are hardly alone on the list of teams that are dependent on great goaltending. It’s a requirement. Look at how the playoffs went for Tampa Bay without Bishop, and if Tokarski hadn’t filled in for Price as well as he did Montreal would have been out much faster. So if by luck you mean the health of their starting goaltender, of course the Leafs rely on it. Every team who wants a shot at the playoffs does.

        • LeafErikson

          My point wasn’t just about the goal tending, but mainly on the shooting percentage and the overall concept that this team played at (Shot quality versus total shots).

          However, let’s examine the great goal tending argument.

          Rankings of playoff team save percentage:

          Boston Bruins 1st (.928)
          Detroit Red Wings 21st (.908)

          Tampa Bay 15th (.913)
          Montreal 4th (.921)

          Pittsburgh 12th (.914)
          C-Bus 8th (.915)

          NY Rangers 3rd (.921)
          Philly 19th (.910)

          Anaheim 10th (.914)
          Dallas 18th (.911)

          San Jose 7th (.915)
          LA Kings 2nd (.922)

          Colorado 5th (.919)
          Minnesota 14th (.913)

          St. Louis 13th (.913)
          Chicago 25th (.905)

          Teams from the Top 16 in save percentage that missed the playoffs:

          6. Washington
          9. Toronto
          11. Buffalo
          16. Phoenix

          While all teams need good net minding, I don’t think its really as much about goal tending over the year as it is shot volume. Those four teams all had what we would consider NHL Average or better save percentages. Those four teams needed more than just great goal tending.

          Toronto’s goalies made 102 more saves this year than the next closest team (OTT). This team doesn’t need better goal tending, they need to understand that if you are average in scouting and get decent goalies (I remember Vesa, Razor and Pogge, hence the caveat), the bigger factor is shot generation for your team.

          I’d argue Bishop wasn’t that great this year for the Bolts as they were middle of the pack in saves and really had a let down with their back-up, but as you rightly pointed out, every team hopes for their starter to be healthy. Bishop would’ve been better for the Bolts, but I’d argue that Price was better and facing an equal volume of shots, Price’s team would win more often than Bishop’s team. However, in a shortened playoff series, a hot goalie can override statistics, I do absolutely concede that. However, as you look at the goal tending and shot quantity stats of the playoff teams, you see a major outlier (Chicago), a team that used great goal tending (Colorado faced sixth most shots in the league), and a team that did both (Boston was darn hard to score on).

          I guess the question I’d have to pose is do you think that A) the Leafs can have a repeat in the goal tending performance of last year and B) given you gave two example that contradicted themselves slightly (Goalie Team A goes down, they suck. Goalie Team B goes down, they are okay.), do you think that luck is a much larger factor than we give it credit for? I do understand that untested players will react in various ways to the playoffs, but is that more a luck thing or something that could be scouted? As always, thanks for the reply in all honesty!

          TL:DR? I think that while everyone wants great goal tending and a great goalie can steal games and series for you, over a longer stretch, shot volume is a better indicator of success rather than shot quality.

          • itstossup

            I agree that the Leafs shots against total is an issue and I would also say that the type of injury that Bernier had was an indirect result of being over-worked. My initial comment was regarding how the assistant coaches are going to help with defense and consistent depth play, which I think will help with that issue. Regardless I don’t think you need any “advanced statistics” to prove that having less shots against and more shots for will help your team.

            I wouldn’t say that the Leafs are average in scouting. Some of their top prospects right now (especially on defense) were selected later in the draft Tom Nilsson (4th round), Petter Granberg (4th round), Viktor Loov (7th round), Connor Brown (6th round). You can say that these players being from Sweden is a big part of them being selected late in the draft, but the fact that the Leafs scouts had enough on these players to say they were worth a shot is evidence that they are adept at finding talented players. Rather, I think their issue has been development of these prospects but I also think this is something that they are getting better at, both with their attention to the development as well as the patience to let players reach their potential.

            A) Again, this is dependent on the health of their starter but if Bernier’s injury stays away I can see them having as good as or better goal tending this year if the addition of Horacek improves their defense. B) A slight contradiction maybe but only because Tokarski played so well. If he hadn’t, then it would have been the same story.

  • itstossup

    Too many times Carlyle looked befuddled when the camera was on him last year. Shots ratio has to change. You can’t win when you get out shot 80% of games. The playoff position was smoke and mirrors. It’s not sustainable and probability ran out last year. But Carlyle has a cup (with way more talent granted) . Perhaps with Spott giving intensity and Horacek the systems guy supporting the Champ, they can cut down the shots ratio and be more consistent, or at least mitigate long losing streaks and hopefully maintain the winning streaks….maybe….just maybe.

  • FlareKnight

    I can understand the feeling behind this article. You can try to get behind some of the decisions made this offseason and really some of them were solid decisions. But at the same time….it’s Carlyle coaching. That kind of just kills all momentum.

    Maybe by some miracle the assistants just take over and push Carlyle to a corner. But then it’s still stupid why he’s still here. I don’t care about how things look. You have to make decisions that make sense. Firing a guy who was “mindboggled” is a step in getting it right. If a coach doesn’t fit you get rid of him and keep looking.

    We’ll see what happens, but yeah it’s tough to get motivated when the best case is that Carlyle finally gets fired here.

  • LeafErikson

    I tend to believe if the Randy convinced management the player were all to blame, then we would have seen a larger turnover in player personnel. Since we haven’t seen that, I’m more inclined to believe the patient approach/evaluation is still going on. And that a coach like Horachek was brought in as insurance in the very possible event the season goes sideways quickly, they have someone to go to immediately. You want Randy fired? I believe that’s as simple as a poor start to the season, or a losing record come December away.