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Can Carlyle really adjust?

In these (wonderful) summer days when there isn't, in all honesty, a lot to discuss in Leafworld that doesn’t sort of fall within the broad category of hope and mere speculation, I’ve been reflecting on being a Maple Leaf fan. It’s always fascinating to read here at VLM the range of opinions that people have about the blue and white.  I enjoy reading the comments a great deal.  Divergent for sure, but the views expressed are almost always thoughtful and constructive.  No one pretends to have all the answers.  We’re fans, after all, not scouts or General Managers.

Quite a number of visitors here have been Leaf fans, like myself, for (many) decades.  Others have followed the team not quite as long, but no less intently.  Leaf fans generally fall somewhere between eternal hopefulness and mild despair, but regardless, we keep coming back for more.

So I’ve been thinking about where the team is right now.  Some VLM commentators believe the team is still on the right track, and that with a few breaks, fewer injuries and improvement from within the young core, we aren’t that far off.  Others see the picture rather differently, with not so much belief in the much-discussed Leaf “prospects” and even less belief that Dave Nonis (or Brendan Shanahan, for that matter) are the guys to make it happen.

Of course, besides those who actually play the game, there is one other individual who plays a key role in all this: Randy Carlyle.  

There are almost always lightning rods in Leafland, eh?  Guys that fans love, or hate, or love to hate.  We all remember Larry Murphy, right?  Good enough to win Stanley Cups elsewhere, and also to be elected to the Hall-of-Fame, but not good enough for us. 

In more recent times Dion Phaneuf has seemingly never quite satisfied the fan base, though goodness knows he couldn’t do much more than he has. Last season, a lot of emotional angst was spent on David Clarkson, he of the large, long-term contract.  He delivered precious little in Year One, much to the chagrin of the faithful here. (Recent reports suggest he is “working hard” this summer, so hope springs eternal…)

But maybe the guy who has made Leaf supporters shake their head the most over the past two seasons is indeed the Head coach, Carlyle.  Now, I’m not a sophisticated enough fan to be able to properly assess all the advanced stats that modern-era analysts have at their fingertips when assessing players—and coaches.  Regardless, I do know that whether it’s here or the social media outlets I visit on occasion, Carlyle’s name comes up constantly, and not in a positive way.  Fans have been (rightly so, I think) frustrated with some of his roster decisions, a system that players have not embraced and a style of play that may seem out of place.

The prevailing thought is that he is intransigent, stubborn or simply out of touch.

Now, I struggle with all this a bit.  When Carlyle first came here, I was none too thrilled with the choice.  But I thought he at least connected with the players, though a number of ex-Leafs would clearly not vouch for that statement. I also figured—and still believe—that he is a longtime hockey guy who was an excellent player and earned his NHL coaching jobs by working his way up through the minor leagues. 

I know some observers believe the Cup he won with Anaheim (with Dave Farrish, his Leaf assistant the last couple of seasons, at his side, right?) is ancient history.  Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer don’t player here, I understand.

But in the same breath, not too many teams win a championship despite their coach. Do we believe that he is so incapable of change that even with the right players, some looking in the mirror and a few adjustments, he can’t win here?

The truth is, I have no idea.  I know many are convinced Carlyle is long past his best before due date as an NHL coach, but while there is some evidence in that regard, I just don’t know that for sure.

Brendan Shanahan, I believe, not so much Dave Nonis, made the decision to sign Carlyle to a new contract.  MLSE has plenty of cash, so paying Carlyle off if he is fired at some point is not the issue.  But Shanahan is giving a lot of players another “chance” and the same thing applies to Carlyle, it seems.  That said, the fact that Carlyle’s assistants were let go and he seemingly had little to do with hiring his new assistants suggests he is indeed on an island by himself. The players surely know this, and while I’d hardly claim there is a player conspiracy to get rid of him, most likely would be just as happy to have a new guy in charge. But who knows?

So I guess it comes down to whether the players truly embrace whatever Carlyle is selling this time around come September.  If the team “leaders” are even a bit ambivalent, it’s likely the coach won’t be here long.  If there is, somehow, a sense of “we all messed up last season, but we’re all in this together now, we’ve been given a lifeline” that exists between Carlyle and the players, maybe the optimism I expressed through most of last season will be revived.

I will say this: a few early-season wins won’t be enough.  The Leafs have to play smart, fast, grinding hockey on a consistent basis.  They can’t take their foot off the pedal if things go well for a while.  We know they need better play from their blueline, better overall team defense and certainly better play from their third and fourth lines.  Some roster tweaking has provided for those possibilities, but at the end of the day, I still believe it will be about not only skill but “will”—the willingness of the players to fight for every inch of ice, game in and game out. 

So here’s the question: is Carlyle the guy to build an identity for this team and get them to believe in themselves so they can in turn play the kind of hockey that will make believers out of a fatigued but still wanting-to-believe fan base?


  1. Hi Michael,

    before I say something please tell me, who are the players that get another chance?

    1. Hi Marcus- my thought is that Shanahan has come in and wants to give the core players an opportunity to have another season together before he recommends that Nonis make any significant trades. I don't know that I'm thinking about particular players, though maybe Shanny wants to see Lupul healthy and Phaneuf with another defense partner.

    2. Ah okay. Thank you. Yeah you are right and it was the only smart decission he could make.

    3. It is very difficult to assess the work of the coach or the management from the outside.
      We mostly see the results of their work, but we can not see the actual work they do.
      What I mean is: If I want to assess Nonis' work this summer I can look at the roster and listen to the rumors and form an opinion out of that,, but I was not sitting on his lap when he was making all the phone calls, or perhaps only one call, to make happen what he can. So it is very difficult for us to really assess the work they do. Same goes for the coaching staff.

      On the stats thing, regardless of modern or old fashioned stats, they are all helpful but only ever tell one side of the story.

      Last season Carlyle was forced to make roster decisions he wasn't happy with himself.
      Because of the cap crunch the Leafs lacked depth (it was diffrent the year before), their big time summer aquisitions didn't pay off and the injury bug hit them full stride.

      Like you I was not to thrilled when they first hired Carlyle. But then I thought, just like you, he did connect well with his players.
      Unfortunatly (and here starts the Dilemma) we can not assess if the complaints of Grabowski, Kulemin, McArthur were because of Carlyle or because of themselves.
      But I admit I am not comfortable with these issues. What we know is that Lupul said he was not used to his strength while playing for the Ducks and Carlyle admitted that.

      The Ducks Cup win is ancient history because of one specific reason. It was two years after the year long lockout. All changes made then are completely in effect now and weren't back in 2007. The best players of this era now have played their whole NHL carrers under the new rules.
      The Leafs as an organization had their difficulties adjusting to the new circumstances. And Carlyle is clearly not the best example when it is about adjusting to the modern game.
      But we had a good 12/13 season because of him and not inspite of him.
      I think the Leafs are able eto win with him as a Coach. But changes have to be made.
      If you want to be succesful as a player with a long NHL career you have to adjust your game continously. Same is imperativ for the coaches.

      Are you sure Carlyle had little to do with the hirering of the assistant coaches?
      Nonis said otherwise.

      What I know for sure is that Shanahan had not kept Carlyle if he thought the players will not follow him.

      I don't know what was the matter last season. I had a good feeling during the exhibition games but than the Clarkson Suspension and the Orr/Parros incident happend and the wheels fell off and I never trusted them like the season before. They never had their feet on the pedal! They won early because of puck luck and not because they played particularly well.

      It is not on Carlyle to build an identity. This assumption is wrong. It is on Shanahan to do that. In the cap era you can not make your identity for the coach.

      My problem with Carlyle is that it seems he really does not know what he wants to do. And clearly the players play that way. There is no structure.

    4. Marcus- I agree, for those of us on the outside, it is not really possible to know exactly what the coaching staff is doing; how well they prepare their teams, etc. We can see the outcomes- roster decisions, game results, etc. but we don't know always have the full information to make fair assessments.

    5. Hi Michael and Marcus

      Alas, I disagree with the particular point upon which you both agree above - that one can't, from the outside, meaningfully assess the value of what a coach is doing.

      On the surface one might say, you can see what's important about a player out there on the ice in full view, but you can't watch what the coach is doing at practice and in the locker room to prepare his team. But I would put it to you both that what a coach does in preparation is no more or less important than what a player does in practice or in the locker room. And, by implication, you ought to judge a coach by what you can see right there on the bench while the game is in front of your eyes. Because the prep, whether by player or coach, counts for naught unless it translates into performance on the night.

      And what can we see from Randy out there, in front of eyes on the TV? The very things that you have (in my opinion) a little too quickly dismissed: the nonsensical utilisation of players (which need no elucidation from me) both in terms of who's on the bench and how often they hit the ice and his inconsistent media comments over accountability for players (a rule that seemed to apply to touch players but not grinders.)

      I think he was a bad coach last year and feel totally justified in judging him so for the reasons above. Whether or not he is categorically a bad coach is beside the point. A bit like Clarkson, I'm just praying he can do significantly better this year

    6. I see you point, KiwiLeaf. At the end of the day coaches are judged on the results their team achieves, and while the roster was not top-tier, I think fans expected more.

  2. It would appear to me that upper management and Randy Carlyle have 'seen' something in the culture of the team that needs to change before we can see any real, long-term success. If the team is sending a message to the players by retaining Carlyle, I can only hope it has the desired effect! And, even though they all share this in common, I believe that Shanahan (and Nonis, to some degree) recognize that Randy could easily try some new strategies to foster greater rewards overall.

    Carlyle seems to quickly forget the energy and effectiveness of the younger players who were pressed into service upon the realization of injuries and suspensions. Every time I thought we would see an implementation of a more useful 4th line, we promptly returned to the 3-4 minute world using the old guard instead of the new blood (that I thought had done well and actually earned the coach's trust).

    A quick word on McLaren and Orr, both played a big role in the effectiveness of the team in a shortened season, yet it appears that the league has 'clamped down' on their most useful habits (and intimidation). So, for both the above reasons, I'd say their days are numbered (especially since Orr seems to be psychologically affected by the 'impact' of the Parros fight/ice hitting injury). When you consider that concussion fallout/liability will only increase and the league is intent upon protecting players the best they can, it would appear that the Leafs may use those two on the waiver wire and let them play out most of their remaining contracts on the Marlies.

    IF that happens (and Nonis controls that aspect of the roster) and Shanahan has made strong suggestions about coaching implementations for the coming season, I believe we will see the young guns having a shot at more significant roles this coming season. And, I might add, they are better seasoned by their development time in the minors than past iterations of the team (perhaps we are becoming a little more like Detroit after all).

    A final word on Carlyle: I don't think he's a lot different from many old time coaches who weren't 'your friend' and that might still work - with Spott around to buffer and communicate the newer NHL expectations to the players. If unsuccessful, it would appear that Randy has 'lost the room' and the free-spending management will move on, while Carlyle has a nice contract extension to cushion the blow and give him paid time to re-invent himself for the next opportunity (would Burke call him to Calgary?)...

    In answer to your question, Michael, I am willing to wait and see if an early-off-season-refreshed-and-refocused Carlyle can get the job done with a significantly remade dressing room - which may be the key if the departure of some of the roster may allow a new group to come in eager to satisfy the coaches. But, yes, I truly await answers to all the questions that percolate in my head on this topic and bet I'm not alone :)

    1. We see this much the same way, InTimeFor62. There are some roster adjustments already in place, so we'll see if that makes a difference. That said, many of us thought last fall that Carlyle had the roster he wanted.

  3. Hi Michael,

    Great topic today, glad I can count on you to come up with thought provoking questions. I also appreciate the other commenters willingness to put their own thoughts into the discussion, other places don't do this quite so nicely.

    We have talked a lot about Randy over the last couple of seasons, in particular. I don't see him as someone who is very willing to look at things a different way. He has said and done many things in his tenure here, that lead me to believe we are in for more of the same.

    His reliance on the true dinosaurs of the NHL, is probably the biggest piece of evidence of where I feel he is, as to roster makeup. It's bad enough to have one goon who can't play hockey, Randy often dressed two of them. The worst of course, was that he couldn't find a way to get them in the game for more than 5 minutes of ice time. They didn't fight, intimidate, drive possession, or score goals. They did however get scored on, not good as far as I can tell.

    It is this mans' opinion that Randy tends to fall in love with things that have worked for him in the past. A defensive minded centre comes to mind. You could even say that he tends to employ a centre that is only capable defensively, intentionally. How many minutes did Jay McClement get last year? Especially when the Leafs were trailing this was unconscionable, myopic, and completely out of touch with what the team needed at the time. Kadri should have been getting more minutes, at least to me anyways.

    Since the day Randy got here, changes have been made that we have been led to believe were at the behest of the coach. I for one, can at least say that I don't see those kinds of moves being made this offseason. Tough, gritty, and full of character, sounds nice as a catchphrase. I would always choose, fast, highly skilled, and high talent ceiling instead. It is amusing that the guys who are considered great leaders were always the most talented hockey players. I know that I have pointed this out on other occasions, but where is the fourth line glue guy who makes big money because of heart and determination?

    It is possible that Carlyle changes and embraces some of the new ways of the NHL. A truly younger roster, Ashton, Holland, Leivo, Granberg, or Percy in the lineup regularly. Instead of the yo-yo crap that the young guys were forced to endure last year. I would embrace the youth of this organization in a second. To consider the vast majority of this team young, isn't in fact the case. Most of this team is in their prime right now, or on the cusp of it.

    I don't believe that Carlyle is going to change this coming season. I truly believe that it is going to be the same mindset, the same systems, and the same belief in the old ways being the best. Should this be the case, I see him fired before Christmas. I think that we have to take Randy at his word. He said after last season ended that he should have stuck to his guns more, not less. This bodes well for those of us waiting for him to be fired.

    The caveat that I would bring forth is that sometimes when a new boss comes in, and says its my way or the highway, the person listens because they would rather still be employed. It has been a long time since Ron Wilson was canned in Toronto. Despite Burke's loud protestations that he would be hired in a second, it doesn't seem to be true. Maybe Randy would rightly so, in my mind, be concerned that he could follow the same path, should he choose to go out on his shield. Making changes to the way he operates seems necessary in order for him to survive in the NHL.

    1. Thanks Jim- I always appreciate your considered input. I guess this season will really be the litmus test regarding Carlyle's ability to "change".

  4. I remember when Carlyle was hired I wasn't sure about it. I believed he was a good coach, after all no one gets as high as he has in the NHL by being a bad coach. The only caveat I had was whether he would go from a good coach to an elite coach, whether or not he would learn from his past mistakes and grow or if he would just continue to go to the well over and over. A guy like Ken Hitchcock has completely revamped his coaching style from when he was first in the league and I would consider him an elite coach. Carlyle is the opposite he has shown no inclination to change from what worked in his cup winning year despite the fact that it ended so badly with him in Anaheim. The story is so similar to what is going on now in Toronto its mind boggling. From feuds with players, questionable roster decisions to a slavish devotion to a style of hockey that clearly does not succeed in todays NHL. Its clear that Carlyle has not learned from past mistakes and continues to make the same ones over and over. I don't believe he was "successful" in the shortened year when the Leafs made the playoffs. If I remember correctly over the last month or so of that year the Leafs played brutal hockey and if they had played an 82 game schedule would have eventually failed to make the playoffs. There was no difference in the way they played that year than they did this last year. They just didn't have a long enough season for their bad habits to catch up to them. I'm with Jim on this one, Carlyle is going to be fired before the season ends.

    Your comment about Shannahan giving the players another chance doesn't ring true to me Michael. The whole BS Leaf management has been feeding us this off season is really getting to me. All this crap about culture change is one giant steaming pile of crap. What exactly has changed so far? A couple of assistant coaches are replaced and that is going to magically change the way this team plays? This is the same management group that has been here since 2008. Burke may be gone but does anyone really think that he and Nonis are polar opposites? If they were they wouldn't have worked together for the better part of their professional NHL careers. They have changed a few bottom six players but that is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. After a whole offseason of being told to expect big changes, we won't stand for this failure etc. they are going into next year with more or less the exact same roster, headed by the exact same management group and headed by the same head coach. Its ludicrous. I think Shannahan has looked at this roster, saw the farm system with this supposed great pipeline of prospects and reached the conclusion that team isn't going to get better this upcoming year and in fact may get worse. The reason why he hasn't made any changes is because he is insulating himself from the upcoming season. When the Leafs fail to make the playoffs, he will get to play the card "well I gave them a chance" and now I have to fire them. He will bring in his own guys, claim they are making a "culture change" for approximately the 2000th time and we will begin this whole cycle all over again under the "real" beginning of the Shannahan regime. Its all about spin and protecting your own ass. Incidentally, that's also the reason I thing Leiwike hired Shannahan in the first place. Just to add another layer of protection for his ass in case the Leafs fail. Shannhan gets to fire Nonis and Carlyle and put his guys in place. If that doesn't work then Leiwkie can replace Shannahan and hold a press conference and explain to all us idiot fans that a "culture" change is needed and person "X" is the best person available to affect that much needed "culture" change.

    One big giant revolving door of BS.

    1. Hi Willbur- As with Jim, you raise a lot of points that many Leaf fans are feeling.

      I have, as regular VLM readers well know, expressed my own frustration with the whole culture thing, and how every new "leader" comes to town as though they invented the notion of winning. In this instance, I was just indicating that my sense is Shanahan wants to give most of last year's team another shot at showing they can do something.

  5. I don't expect to see a change in Carlyle because he really doesn't believe he was in any way part of the problem. They've changed the staff around him, they've moved his favourite players and I don't expect to see two enforcers on the bench. They have changed the choices he can make. Shanahan has covered the bases very well in this respect. He will have to adjust somewhat to the new roster and coaches but I don't see Randy changing the way he operates. Colleen

    1. It would be interesting to know if they have actually had a discussion (Carlyle, Nonis and Shanahan) about his philosophy and approach and the reasons for the choices he makes about game rosters and utilizing his lines.

    2. They definitely had tis discussion. They are going in a different direction and Carlyle was asked if he is willing to go that way

  6. Honestly Michael, perhaps only the players and management know how effective their coaching staff may be. We on the sidelines can only judge by what he see, hear, and read, which of course is only part of the bigger picture.

    After Shanahan was hired, one of the things he and Nonis first did was talk individually to some of the players. Given the failures of the 2013-2014 season, and the spotlight on Carlyle, many players could have taken that opportunity to throw Carlyle under the bus, or place significant blame on the coaching staff. I get the sense that did not happen. So, if Carlyle and his coaching staff were supposedly promoting the often-sought "compete" level, then somehow the players were not getting (or responding to) the message.

    Management elected to fire some assistant coaches and bring in Spott and Horachek. Nonis & Shanahan obviously still believe Carlyle is a good NHL coach, but want to build an effective coaching staff. To illustrate they still have some faith in Carlyle, they allowed Carlyle to have some input in the selection of the new assistants (something I believe Burke did not do with Wilson).

    Will the players respond?? Well we all hope so. Whatever the case, Nonis & Shanahan are going to get a much clearer picture of the players on this team, and the effectiveness of the coaching staff. If things don't improve, there will be changes. Carlyle & some players certainly will be under closer scrutiny this season.

    I'm not a Carlyle fan for a number of reasons, but he's not as bad a coach as how that team performed for him last season. That being said, a lot of head coaches could have had better results with this same team. Until this team can play effective 2-way hockey I'll never be satisfied with the coach or the players. The personnel changes made in the off season should (on paper) help improve that 2-way play. Nonis and Shanahan will be watching closely.

    It's not about "mojo" or "culture change".

    1. It's true, Don (TML_fan), the coach-player dynamic is not one we can easily interpret from the sidelines. Is the relationship between Carlyle and many of his players as bad as we sometimes seem to hear? I have no idea. (Ex-players are almost always unhappy, especially if they were traded, released, etc.)

      Like most teams, the Leafs weren't as good as they seemed when they were winning early last season, or as bad as they appeared at the end of the season. It's a fresh start in September.

  7. Part 1

    Thank you again Michael for giving us something to think about in these hockey-less days of summer and for asking our opinion even though we’re no ‘experts’ and have no claim to fame other than having watched this team play (and mostly lose) year after year after year.

    I hear the pessimists bemoaning the fact that ‘nothing has changed’ in the Leafland with Carlyle staying and the roster remaining essentially the same with only minor tweaks to the coaching staff and depth options and find myself thinking the opposite – indeed , on paper, things look the same but things have certainly changed and changes will become apparent as the team is slowly transformed from what used to be Burke/Carlyle project into Shannahan’s team.

    I like Carlyle. He may not be able to win cups at will with any roster he is given but he certainly can win the big prize if given a good roster and that is something that cannot be said of anyone – all we need to do is look at our Ottawa neighbours and see a number of very talented rosters over the years the best of which faced Carlyle in the finals and fell short.
    Out West we’ve witnessed the rise and fall of a great Vancouver team and the always dangerous but never good enough San Hose Sharks who, like with Sedins in Vanvouver, seem to have missed their chance with the best years of Partick Marlow and Joe Thorton behind them.

    Anyhow, back to the issue of changes. The man in charge now is Brendan Shanahann and his early moves appear to me to be indeed designated to affect a culture change that will see the Leafs transformed from a gritty, gooney, top6/bottom6 team that Carlyle and Burke were building over the last few years into a much more skill oriented team that sacrifices the toughness in favour of high-flying ‘skill guys’ like the Swedish kid they picked with their first-round pick. I would have preferred Nick Richie myself and I have a suspicion Nonis and Carlyle would have as well – there seemed to be some uncertainty at the Leafs table when it was time to choose – my guess is that that’s what it was about.

  8. Part 2

    We did well the first full year Carlyle was in charge in part, I think, because he managed to convince the room that they have to play for their pride and that they had something to prove. Last year, the coach was given a chance to begin to build a team that he likes and he chose to improve the goaltending and create that 3rd checking line that he so covets to play ahead of the goon line that he also seems to have a liking for. I think the Bolland injury was a key event that broke the camel’s back last year. Reimer’s sulkiness and Clarkson suspension didn’t help either and the general easing off of staged fighting and goonery in general neutralized the 4th line threat. The kids were not ready to step in and Carlyle was stuck in between the rock and the hard place. By the end of the season he seems to have lost the room – the few players he chose to overplay in place of fallen soldiers looked exhausted and seemingly threw in the towel. Then, in the offseason, Bolland and McClement left and we seem to be back at square one. Now, it appears, Carlyle is been told that he has to adapt to the ‘new’ (which is really ‘old’ of few years ago – i.e. Wilson era) style of hockey and we’re left to wonder if it’s possible.

    Shanahan’s claim to fame is being a part of ‘traditionally’ soft but good Detroit teams that were perennial contenders and as a league disciplinarian presiding over the NHL’s latest attempt to purge the league of toughness and goonery. As such, he will try to build a team of 4 lines of highly skilled forwards and puck-moving defencemen – a team that will not be playing Burke/Carlyle hockey.

    I hope that this is not all written in stone and that the big boss is open to the possibility that the road we are on (Carlyle’s way) is the right one and that Shanhann is as willing to adapt to the existing situation as he expects Carlyle to be ready to partake in the ‘new’ direction. My worry is that the new ‘culture change’ will be in effect, that Carlyle and Nonis will be let go after they are deemed incapable of ‘adapting’ to the ‘new reality’ and we’ll be watching Detroit-style hockey in Toronto in the years to come. I just don’t see how, if that is the road we embark on, the results will come before the best years of our current crop of stars are behind them. I also don’t think that that kind of hockey will stand up to the increasingly big and grinding style that seems to still, despite the apparent elimination of the harder aspects of the physical game, win Cups for the likes of Boston and LA. Detroit continues to make the playoffs year after year – there’s no question that the organisation is built on solid foundation –but they don’t look like they are really contending anymore.

    So, against the grain, my thesis here is that I hope that Shanny and the ‘skill boys’ and the tweaks on the coaching staff are indeed just cosmetic changes meant to appease the unhappy leafs fans and that the road embarked on by Burke and continued by Nonis and Carlyle is the one we will continue to walk on. Or, failing that, I hope that these two very different and in many ways opposing philosophies within the Leafs orgainsation can find a way to achieve unity and find a ‘third way’ that will surprise us and everyone else. One thing is for sure – I won’t be writing them accolades 20 games into the season like I have in the past – those days of unbridled optimism are long gone even for a stubborn optimist and a dreamer like myself.

    1. Thanks leafdreamer- great posts. I know you have been more on the optimistic side, and it's good to hear the various views on where the Leafs are at. And I hear you when you say you won't be quite so supportive if things go south early next season.

      I agree, by the way, that the Red Wings, while an organization most teams ought to strive to be like, are no longer the team they once were. Their blueprint was tremendous, but the last several years, it seems it's the Hawks, Bruins and Kings that have the right mix of talent and commitment.

  9. Michael, for those interested there is a very good article about Kadri on Pension Plan Puppets--Monday Links-- "Why Nazem Kadri Deserves Respect". And this is the kid many fans (TSN of course) can't wait to trade! C.N.

  10. Hi Colleen,

    do not let them deceive you with numbers.

    Desperation in Leaf land sits deep it seems. And we paint us a world of colord graphs.

    1. "Desperation". Indeed a good description, Marcus.

    2. I only hope he plays better than last year. He could easily find himself on the outside next season. Holland, Kontiola and Santorelli have something to proof and they will push hard. Being talented is not everything.

  11. Good Afternoon Michael,

    This is an extremely interesting and relevant topic. Shanahan and Nonis must have agonized over the decision to keep Carlyle. The conundrum they faced posed many pitfalls and only time will tell if they chose correctly.

    I was not happy when Burke hired Carlyle (I was hoping for Eakins) but once hired I was cautiously optimistic that he would bring a defensive presence to a Leaf team that was sadly lacking in that aspect of the game.

    There were encouraging signs during Carlyle's first, albeit shortened, season.. The Leafs became harder to play against. Franson was given a lessor role and he and Fraser formed an effective pairing. Kadri was brought along slowly as the 3rd line centre and gradually given more responsibility as the season progressed. The special teams performed admirably. Goaltending under Reimer and Scrivens was by far the best we had seen since the 2004-05lockout. There were many reasons for optimism approaching last season.

    Last season was one of the most frustrating that I have witnessed in well over 60 years as a Leaf fan. Knowledgeable fans could see from the beginning that the wins early were an illusion and that the Leafs were badly flawed, both in the system they were playing in and the way they were using their players. I found myself turning off games in disgust. Disgust with the rope-a-dope defensive system that allowed opponents freedom to wander and hem them in for shifts at a time. Disgust that no adjustments seemed to be made. Disgust with Carlyle dressing 7 defensemen, effectively eliminating a 4th line and rendering the 2 spare forwards next to useless.

    We are told that there were conflicts among the coaching staff and that diverse messages were being sent to the players. That certainly explains the lack of adjustments and is also an indictment of Carlyle.s head coaching expertise. I cannot believe that head coaches like Babcock, Quenneville or Sutter would tolerate mixed signals from their assistants.

    I believe Carlyle is on a very short leash. I question the wisdom of him being here at all. I would have much preferred a fresh start but since we are stuck with him we can only hold onto the hope that he will adjust.

    1. No question management's eyes will not only be on the players but also Carlyle, Pete Cam. I was surprised he was retained but I have to believe Shanahan wanted to see if Carlyle can indeed make this work before making a coaching change.

  12. Hi Michael.
    So the latest news is Loiselle and Poulin are history. Interesting that Shanahan has left Carlyle and Nonis in place but removed their Henchmen. I don't know Kyle Dubas, who takes over the assistant G.M. position, but I've heard he is a very smart young man. CN

    1. Colleen,
      As a SSMarie season ticketholder I've watched Dubas with the Greyhounds with a lot of interest. Smart, undoubtedly. Willing to take risks to score big (see: Jack Campbell trade (really not great), hiring Sheldon Keefe (exceptional)). Very personable with the fans and media - it will be interesting to see if he gets swallowed alive by the Toronto press.
      It will also be interesting to see how Carlyle and Nonis deal with a very bright but inexperienced kid working in what is usually a support position in the organization.

    2. Yes, Steve. They tried this in the 80's and it didn't work--Ballard and cronies ,I think, effectively blocked anything the young man--was it Sellek?--tried to do. Shanahan has removed the "old boys club" obstacles. I think this is the first positive sign of change we've seen yet.

      It looks to me like Shanahan has isolated Nonis and Carlyle like a pair of wounded wildebeests. They will have to tread carefully. It should get very interesting for Leaf fans.C

    3. Interesting, too, that Doug Gilmore has had some obvious success in this area as G.M. with the Frontenacs. He brought us Sam Bennett. I wonder if he too may be a subject of interest in Shanahan's long term plan. C

  13. Hi, James here with my reply.
    Only time will tell.He has been surrounded with good assistants.He has had the whole summer to figure out what went wrong last 1/4 of last season.He can probably feel the pressure from above and he has his own pride and job security to think of.Not knowing the man personally, I like to think he's not stupid and can learn new things. Either he does adjust or he's gone. Simple.

    1. Hi James- Today's move to bring in Dubas seems to suggest the organization is indeed changing, so Carlyle will no doubt be expected to make key adjustments as well.

  14. Hi Michael,

    I know I'm a week off here but heck it's summer right ?

    On Carlyle - People blame him for last years result - I've been trying to reinterpret the season through managements eyes - Since Carlyle wasn't replaced there must be another narrative going through Leaf Management - one that doesn't agree with the criticisms that we hear all too often. So I'm going to try to put into words what I think they are thinking (informed inpart by the off season acquisitions)

    Firstly I don't think they think it was Carlyle's fault that they lost. I think after making the playoffs the leafs believed that they were slightly better than they were and so they sat on their hands for the most part. The acquisition of Bernier and Clarkson were the major changes - along with the removal of Grabovski who was replaced by Bolland.

    So what happened ? Well simply the team couldn't replace Bolland/Grabovski's minutes. Kadri's line failed to be able to play defensive hockey. We barely had a third line and we didn't play a fourth. We over played our first line and by the end of the year the burden on them was too great. Our star goalie got hurt and our backup crumbled under the pressure down the stretch.

    It wasn't all Kadri's fault either. The line had been a lot more effective the year before. Then again it was also a third line that played behind Grabovski's line. Kadri on a third line with Frattin and Komarov was quite the effective combination of sniper, playmaker and hard nosed grinder. Last year Lupul never seemed to recover from back issues and his line mates including Clarkson were worse than most of the marlies.

    Going forward Kadri cannot be relied upon for second line minutes against the best teams especially if Lupul is on his line - another player that prioritizes offensive positioning over defense. So we acquire Frattin and Komarov. Boom - we have reconstituted our third line from two years ago. That means we need someone who can play second line minutes as a competent two way centerman. We swung and missed on Bolland. We have Petter Holland who might be able to play that role - he does have offensive talent - but is he a two way centerman ? Unable to acquire a second line centerman without losing one of our future stars (reilly, gardener, kadri) - a move is made to get two other centerman that might be able to rise to the occasion and fill the responsibilities of a 2nd line centre. We acquire a strong seasoned KHL Centerman with playmaking ability. When he was in the AHL 6 years ago he was a defensive liability but word is - that now he has matured into a two way veteran. Then we acquire Mike Santorelli - another two way centerman - who was +9 last year on a bad Vancouver team

    So we have three guys who are going to compete for the number 2 centerman role.

    continued below...

  15. Meanwhile on the Left wing - we manage to acquire a UFA and great forechecker in David Booth. Booth can also put up 2nd or 3rd line numbers offensively. His competitiveness will mean that he and Lupul will be vying for a spot on the second line.

    On the Right wing - we have David Clarkson - who has managed to set expectations so low that he could start on the 3rd line next year. Mike Santorelli can also play RW along with the aforementioned Matt Frattin. Carter Ashton also has a good chance to be a depth RW on the leafs this year.

    So why are we constructing the team this way ? We basically have way more depth but no obvious top 6 acquisitions. Well because we are going to run two 3rd lines. Yes you heard that correctly. We will have no fourth line. Orr will not be in the lineup next year.

    This is what i think management is hoping works as some good lines going forward

    JVR - Bozak - Kessel
    Booth - Konitola - Clarkson
    Komarov - Kadri - Frattin
    Lupul - Holland - Sanorelli

    I'd actually argue that offensively this is a pretty potent team lineup. The question marks are whether Kontiola can play against other teams second line and hold on to the puck. I do think that with this lineup we are going to score a lot of goals. I think you could argue we have 3 2nd lines here with various defensive abilities.

    Phaneuf will have to play the left side to start the year. The acquisition of Robidas and Polak will give us more toughness without sacrificing skill. Gardiner will be asked to play in the top pairing if Phaneuf or Robidas get injured.

    Anyway I write this because i'm getting sick of hearing the we only acquired bottom 6 players - the truth is Kadri isn't a top 6 centerman yet and he probably won't be for at least a few more years. So by definition we have acquired a top 2 centerman - the question is - who is he ? and who will he play with.

    Thanks again for the great blog Michael.

    Joel in Calgary

    1. Hi Joel- I read your post today with interest. While we can only try to put ourselves in management's (including Shanahan's) shoes, I think you've done it well. They did not want to over-spend on UFA's. They certainly didn't want to trade Kadri, Gardiner or Rielly, the kids they would have had to move to get a true difference-making forward.

      Some will have a different take on who should be on what line, but the twelve forwards you cite could well be on the opening night roster, if all are healthy.

      I still think there are plenty of questions marks throughout the roster, but there is some depth. Thanks Joel.