Maple Leaf management has extended Randy Carlyle’s contract, though he will move forward with a new coaching staff. The decision will not satisfy those Leaf faithful who believed strongly that the veteran coach had not adjusted to the talents of the roster handed to him, or to the way the game is played these days.
In my view, the extension, while a vote of confidence of sorts for the coach, does not guarantee his long-term employment here. I see this as giving him one last chance. That his assistants were jettisoned suggests he has precious little wiggle room. The security blanket is gone, as it is for Nonis.
I guess my question now is: what about the players? If management thinks Carlyle is still the ‘right’ guy to lead the team, does that mean that they will be looking to shuffle the roster to ensure it can play the way the coach wants them to play? Or does management believe this is still a young team on the cusp of success in the Eastern Conference, so few if any changes are needed?
As I’ve mentioned here before, I no longer see the Leafs as a very young team. I realize they are on paper, but when you go through the roster, we see a lot of players with a lot of NHL experience already. Some of them may still be improving, but is the ceiling high enough in most cases to give us a sense that this roster, as currently constituted, can be a serious contender?
The playoffs are always an eye-opener. I have no doubt that if the Leafs had made the spring dance, they, too, would have played harder than they did in the regular season—just as they did a year ago against the Bruins. All teams give their all at playoff time. The Leafs would be no different.
But if we step back and try to offer a realistic assessment, regardless of who coaches this bunch, it seems to me roster change is necessary. We can make the argument that we have a very productive first line and on paper, at least, a second line that should certainly match up with many in the East. After that, though, it is difficult to feel that the Leafs are ready to do battle with the best teams in the Conference, though I tried to make the argument that they could this past season.
Clearly, few free agents want to come here. I’m trying to think of top-end players who signed on to play with the Leafs over the past fifteen years. Was Curtis Joseph the last?
We tried signing a productive grinder (Clarkson) last summer, but overpaid in doing so. He may still rebound and contribute, but the jury is out.
Do we have anyone in the system who will become more than a possible contributor, a replaceable third or fourth line player?
At the end of the season, I suggested there were very few “untouchables” on the current roster. I pointed to Bernier, Kessel, van Riemsdyk and Rielly. And I wondered aloud if we could win with Kessel as the flagship forward.
For me the Carlyle decision gives pause. I’ve acknowledged that I supported Carlyle for most of his tenure here, and still believe he is a capable NHL coach. But something was missing this past season. Even when the team was winning, many fans were left wondering how we did it. If the big line did not score, and if the goaltending was not superb, we were in trouble. It finally caught up with us.
Just changing assistant coaches is not the answer. It never is. The Leafs need to shuffle the deck. Surely management knows the kind of players we need to become more than just another team in the East. (I still feel as though, watching the Western Conference teams in the playoffs, most of them are on an entirely different level than teams in the East.)
Will Nonis be able to mold the roster Carlyle needs by September?