Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Rejoice! Leafs Fire Randy Carlyle

Dave Nonis forgot one last Christmas present under the tree for Leafs fans, and delivered it on Tuesday, firing head coach Randy Carlyle.

The move comes half a season and one contract extension too late, but the news of Carlyle's dismissal is positive nonetheless.

In his time behind the bench, Carlyle amassed a 91-78-19 record, and led the Leafs to one playoff berth, albeit under a shortened season. This season the Leafs are 21-16-3 and cling to one of the wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference. The underlying numbers, however, paint an entirely different story. The club is still dominated at even-strength, allowing more shots than any team but Buffalo, a team who willingly created a terrible hockey club. If not for opportunistic scoring, quality goaltending, and decent special teams, the Leafs would be fighting in the lottery like years past. If their play at even-strength doesn't change with the new coach they likely will be again, as you can only outrun the shot clock for so long until it catches up. Just look at the last two full seasons.

Despite recognizing that the team could not continue to win in such a manner, Carlyle was unable to implement a system that could reverse the trend year after year. In fact, in most years the Leafs got worse as the season wore on. It's as if Carlyle implemented changes at the beginning of the year and failed to adapt once other teams figured out the Leafs. Somehow, more Jay McClement or Roman Polak wasn't the answer, not that it stopped Randy.

As if his system wasn't bad enough, Carlyle actively made the roster worse by pushing out quality players (Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur, most notably) and convincing Nonis to bring in players more suited to his style of hockey (David Clarkson and Dave Bolland, most notably, but sadly not only).

Pension Plan Puppets has a long series of articles detailing exactly how bad Carlyle has been for the Leafs. It isn't pretty. It's unbelievable that it took the Leafs this long to get rid of the man.

Peter Horachek and Steve Spott will take over the coaching duties in the interim, and it's unlikely any permanent decision will be made until Mike Babcock either signs an extension in Detroit or accepts a Brinks truck full of money from Brendan Shanahan.

The circumstances are familiar to Horachek, who took over a struggling Florida Panthers club mid-way through last season and dramatically and quickly turned their puck possession numbers around, a matter that has befuddled Carlyle for the last three seasons. One reason for Horachek's success was an increased reliance on young centres Nick Bjustad and Alex Barkov, and a similar uptick in ice time for Nazem Kadri and Peter Holland could prove beneficial as well, at least because it would limit Tyler Bozak's ice time.

Changing the coach is not going to be a magic bullet that immediately transforms the Leafs into a contender, but now at least upper management can get a better evaluation of the talent on the roster. It's unlikely that placing Carter Ashton on waivers was the most dramatic change for the Leafs in the coming months.

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