So Randy Carlyle has finally bitten the dust.
I had a good idea that one day I would be reading about the news here in Chicago at some point, but the timing to me makes no sense. The Leafs may as well bring in John Tortorella and really have some fun! I got a kick out of the TSN 1050 guys from this evenings chat talking about what a field day the media would have if Torts was behind the bench and all the skirmishes at press conferences they'd have with him. If the Leafs really want to turn this into a fiasco then that would be the decision to make.
But this is getting serious with the Maple Leafs, so back to the discussion...
Firing Carlyle in the middle of the season tells me that Dave Nonis (I am mostly going to pin this decision on him, since it was he who made the hiring back in 2012 and also he who made the announcement formally this morning in Toronto) had the inkling of relieving Randy well before this weekend.
There are reasons to support the firing of Carlyle. His willingness to publicly call out players like Jake Gardiner, Nazem Kadri and James Reimer and "throw them under the bus", yet his unwillingness to do the same with guys like Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and Dion Phaneuf was a way of saying he was afraid to put his foot down on the "core" of the team, but not afraid to do so with the youth of the team. Moreover, his desire of keeping Phil Kessel and JVR on the same line together was also a climactic error in judgment. By doing this, Carlyle basically became his own enemy; first of trying to get the team to play a more responsible style of hockey, but constantly let the team as a whole regress back to the same issues by keeping these same guys on the ice together and allowing them to make the same mistakes from game to game. This is where the inconsistencies as outlined by Nonis this morning comes into practice.
However, the recent struggle, brutal schedule and injuries to three of the more solid players of this team cannot be the real reason for his untimely trip to the guillotine.
If I am right, then letting Carlyle go must have been on Nonis' agenda for over a calendar year. A year in which solid, well respected coaches such as Barry Trotz and Peter Laviolette were available. If Nonis was planning on firing Carlyle, it should have been at the end of last season fresh off of another epic end-of-season collapse by this core of the current Maple Leafs squad which has been getting off the hook from its inconsistent, roller coaster style of play way too much since the collapse in the 2013 first round playoff against Boston.
But in all honesty, would the team be any different under Trotz or Laviolette...or anybody else for that fact?
To answer my own question however, I doubt it would make that much difference if Trotz or Laviolette were at the helm of this team. Perhaps the team would be a strong playoff contender one season and a total inconsistent, irresponsible joke the next. The core of the team is the real issue here, but I would like to also press on a bit more than simply blaming the players.
The Toronto Raptors NBA franchise is finally making the grade. I do not follow the NBA or the Raptors at all, but it seems to me like they have been doing well and could contend for an Eastern Conference finals spot as soon as this spring. Still, that remains to be seen after the team blew a series against a considerably weaker opponent in the Brooklyn Nets last spring.
The same problems are striking the Toronto Blue Jays. General Manager Alex Anthopoulous (if I spelled it right, but who cares really) starts out this off-season with a big signing of veteran catcher Russell Martin for his ability to lead a young pitching staff and then accepts a huge trade with the Oakland A's for perhaps the best third baseman in baseball in Josh Donaldson. All of a sudden, the entire city of Toronto is caught up in some Jays fever. What has the team done since? Nothing. The team still doesn't have a starting second baseman, a starting left fielder and almost half of a big league bullpen not to mention three more unproven pitchers "mostly rookies" in the starting rotation competing in a division that is actually wide open to win. Big hype and excitement, for a short time, yet still the unwillingness to put it all on the line (like the Chicago White Sox and Cubs have done) and try to put together something special. I know this is a hockey conversation and not about baseball (nor should it be), as I have also been passionate about the Blue Jays watching them win those World titles back to back as I was getting really interested in playing youth baseball outside Chicago. But the same deal with them is similar to the problems of the Maple Leafs.
That hype and excitement is very short lived for Toronto fans. And by keeping that hype and excitement just temporarily means that nobody is serious about putting together something that can be successful not for just one game to the next, but for a full season and beyond. The city of Toronto have seen that before, under leaders like Pat Gillick, Paul Beeston and all the way back to Harold Ballard (despite some dissent among Leaf fans towards him) and Conn Smythe...way before my time but you get the picture!
To have successful programs, sports teams, businesses, you have to have a person or persons at the very top stand out and really be the difference. It starts at the very tip of the iceberg all the way down to the little people making the smallest salaries and often go forgotten. It is the same deal here with the Toronto sports scene. The people at very top are either too timid or just plain do not know what they are doing or what to do to make their "business" successful. These people must be able to appoint the right "assistants" and support staff and those people must be able to help find the right "workers". In this case, Shanahan will hopefully be able to provide the right "assistant" or coach in this respect and then be able to work with that man to find the right "workers", obviously I mean players or talent. You don't even have to like these people, but strong franchises need strong men at the top who are ultimately not afraid to fail yet willing to do whatever it takes to make sure the plans they have get done correctly and successfully not only for them, but for EVERYONE involved (and yes that includes us the die-hard fans and loyal supporters of this hockey team).
Nonis' days are numbered. He may be a good man but he is not a strong man. Heck, I can even use the analogy of Captain Richard Winters (a well respected American serviceman of the 101st Airborne in World War II during the allied invasion of Normandy, who started as an ordinary platoon officer and ended up as a Major) replaced a weak platoon leader, yet a good man still, in a serious firefight with another unknown platoon leader who was not afraid to step up, put his life on the line and pretty much save the rest of the company from a Nazi German ambush in a small French town. Decisions sometimes have to be made at moments notice, and you pray to God that they are the right ones.
Nonis may have well fired himself up there speaking at that podium this morning. Him, like Brian Burke are mainly at fault for where this team is now. They failed. I hope and pray that Shanahan will avoid the mistakes made by those two men. Then again, I feel much better trusting a Hall of Famer when it comes to making hockey decisions.
Teams like the Blackhawks and Kings had some poor management people at the top for years. Arthur Wirtz made an absolute mockery of the 'Hawks brand that most of the fans turned their backs on the team for almost a full decade. Now his son comes in, reverses the changes and the team has become a model for other franchises as have the LA Kings.
This process will take some time. In a year or two, this Leafs team will be completely different almost from top to bottom. Things must change, almost from scratch in order for them to get better. But this team does not have to literally start from scratch like the 'Hawks and Kings basically did. Shanahan must be able to put some faith and trust in young players like Nazem Kadri, Jonathan Bernier, Peter Holland and even Jake Gardiner to help lead the way. To put together a successful core, you must be able to start somewhere and I think the Leafs have something of a developing young core in those players. If we see any of those guys traded in the next several months during and after whatever happens this season, then this could turn into a total rebuild. But like I said, we need to have some confidence in a Hall of Fame hockey mind. It has worked out in Tampa Bay with Steve Yzerman, a former teammate and fellow Cup champion of Shanahan. We (and most importantly, the board of MLSE) must have some faith in someone, and I hope Shanahan will turn out to be the right fit for the Toronto Maple Leafs. And if it takes a few years for him to finally see his "plan" come to fruition, then I look forward to that day when we can actually say the Toronto Maple Leafs are for real and look to finish off whoever in this best of seven series...
So, with that all being said, let's see what happens this week at the ACC when the Leafs take on the Caps and Jackets. I will be back with more after my trip to Los Angeles for my first ever Kings game at Staples Center against our beloved Maple Leafs...At least I am looking forward to getting out of Chicago where the weather is currently a degree below zero and drifting snow...School has even been cancelled already for tomorrow, so I will enjoy my day off of teaching and coaching the boys basketball teams!
Wow, a veteran Leaf fan...I know people in Toronto did not like Ballard and did not like Punch Imlach very much either, or at least the players didn't but they found ways to win with him...My father told me about those guys...he grew up watching those Leaf teams during the 60s and the Habs too for that fact when they played here in Chicago at the old Chicago Stadium...I have only been around since the early 80s, and grew up watching guys like Wendell Clark, Doug Gilmore, Felix the Cat, Jamie Macoun. The 1993 playoff series vs LA was the first series I watched since I was mostly into baseball those days. Hockey was not a big deal in Chicago at the time, and really isn't that much considering how everyone here loves the Bears and the Bulls before hockey. Do not let the attendances at the UC for the Hawks fool you guys up in Ontario. Most people are young folks in their 20s and 30s and only like teams when they are superior for the short period of time outside of football and basketball. Nobody comes to watch the Sox, the Cubs? It is just one big drinking festival and mostly tourists. I did read how Ballard lead this team into some real rough spots, and it seems like the same things are happening today. The people at MLSE are not really hockey minds. Too many people struggling for power. The Leafs need one main guy at the top surrounded by a strong supporting cast to help turn things around. It doesn't sound like that will happen any time soon, but I hope they'll let Shanahan take ownership of decisions going forward. I am just as frustrated with the Blue Jays and their leadership at the top, and that is an entirely different story since they are not at all controlled by MLSE but rather a communications company who can spend as freely as they want to in the MLB which is totally out of control compared to the NHL or any other sport. The Jays can be as competitive as they want to yet they never seem to want to put it all on the line.
Actually, Mr. Convoy, you are the same age as my dad.
Tonight's game against the Caps was perhaps the worst, let alone least exciting game I have seen from the Maple Leafs in a rather long time. Phil Kessel was awful. He showed that he cannot handle adversity (most of the team also did not show much fight or reason for us to have hope and keep some faith in them) and that is a shame because the guy never misses a game no matter what and will still score his 30+ goals.
They should have let Carlyle go after last season's collapse and they could have had the coach behind the Caps bench tonight and allow him a chance to turn this group around. Too bad he is shaping the Caps into a strong bunch and it was displayed right into the faces of Nonis and the other Leafs brass at the ACC tonight.