Under Pressure: Randy Carlyle

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“If you’re worried about optics in this market, it’s going to be a disaster. I think you have to make a decision based on what you think is the best decision for the organization, and this in our minds was clearly the best option.

“He was a guy we believe can get the job done for us. Whether optics are that it’s the wrong thing to do or not doesn’t really matter to us. If you’re looking at trying to please people, you’re probably going to make some poor decisions.”

That was Toronto GM Dave Nonis this past May, talking about the decision to extend head coach Randy Carlyle. The move came under heavy fire as the optics of retaining Carlyle, who presided over a Leafs team that went 2-12-0 down the stretch and collapsed out of playoff contention, left many scratching their heads. Several other coaches that whiffed on the playoffs met their demise — John Tortorella, Adam Oates and Barry Trotz, to name a few — and Nonis made it clear there was some issue at the coaching level by turfing all three of Toronto’s assistants.

Yet when the dust settled, Carlyle remained. One of the few constants in an offseason filled with change.

The Leafs really shifted course this summer. They hired a new president, Brendan Shanahan, then emerged as progressive club on the advanced analytics front — first, with the hiring of 28-year-old assistant GM Kyle Dubas, known as a fancy stat advocate with OHL Sault Ste. Marie; then, with the creation of an advanced numbers department, spearheaded by the guy that used to run Extra Skater.

Change happened on the ice, too.

Gone, it seems, are the day of trotting out truculent bottom-six forwards like Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren. Toronto had itself a Moneyball-esque summer, signing (slightly) flawed veterans on the cheap in the hope of striking gold — guys like former 30-goal scorer David Booth (signed for $1.1M after getting bought out of a disastrous situation in Vancouver), skilled center Mike Santorelli (inked for $1.5M after last season was cut short by season-ending shoulder surgery) and power forward Daniel Winnik (who fell out of favor in Anaheim, remained unsigned ’til August, then came to Toronto for $1.3M). These additions, along with Finnish forwards Petri Kontiola and Leo Komarov, should give Toronto the most depth it’s had up front in the Carlyle era.

As such, the pressure is on.

By keeping Carlyle after last year’s collapse, the message was loud and clear — this was on the players, not the coach. But from that point forward, the challenge was put on everybody to achieve more, coaches included. Expectations have been heightened and there is a demand for improvement — for example, Toronto could have a wildly competitive training camp, as there are 15 forwards on NHL contracts fighting for 12 spots.

All of this, of course, comes back to Carlyle, who has now been given tools to succeed: new players, new assistants and a new, fresh look at the managerial level. If that pressure wasn’t obvious enough, Nonis ensured it in May by saying his coach needs to get through to this group.

“If you’ve seen it being done before with most of the same players, or a lot of the same players, and with that coach leading that group, I know it can happen,” said Nonis. “I know it has happened with this group before. I know that (Carlyle) has reached them before, reached them at times this year.

“For me it’s not that we’re guessing whether or not he can have success or he can get through to them. We’ve seen it. I know that it’s there and we feel he is the guy that can get through to this group.”

Here’s what deal between women’s team, USA hockey is reportedly worth

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It’s great news that the U.S. women’s national team and USA Hockey came together on a deal for the upcoming world championships.

Still, all we really know is that the contract lasts four years, as the two sides decided to keep the dollar figures between each other.

The Hockey News’ Ken Campbell laid out a lot of the possible numbers on his Twitter feed, giving us an idea of what reportedly sealed the deal.

First things first, Campbell reports that the deal is worth $3.7-$4 million overall.

That’s quite the impressive number on face value, but what does it mean for players over a four-year contract?

Campbell reports that earnings will range between $850K and $950K, depending upon how they perform in the tournament:

They’ll also receive the same travel and other miscellaneous amenities as the men’s team, but what about years that are more about training than competition?

Interesting stuff. Definitely check out Campbell’s feed for additional details.

This fight between Tom Wilson, Chris Stewart got downright gory (Video)

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For those who decry the decline in fighting – in “blood and guts” hockey – Tuesday presented a bloody moment, one fairly high on this season’s Muta scale.

Also, for some, seeing it happen to Tom Wilson specifically may provide additional pleasure.

Anyway, as you can see in the video above, Minnesota Wild winger Chris Stewart bloodied the Washington Capitals pest in a fight. Whether you’re for, against or neutral toward Wilson, it’s quite the sight.

Wilson may be hurt, by the way. He missed some time but returned later in the contest.

Milestones: Matthews, Nylander break Leafs rookie records; Chara hits 600

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Auston Matthews likely ranks as the top reason that many Toronto Maple Leafs are starting to get the same feelings they had in better times, so it only makes sense that he broke a beloved Buds’ record on Tuesday.

With his 35th goal of a potential Calder season – but a brilliant debut either way – Matthews passed Wendel Clark for the Maple Leafs’ rookie record for goals in a season.

That goal was also meaningful for William Nylander, as he extended his point streak to 12 games with an assist. This team, fueled by young players, just keeps shattering first-year marks:

Switching gears, let’s go from new to (relatively) old: Zdeno Chara collected the 600th point of his outstanding career with an assist:

Yes, it’s true that most people think of his imposing size and all-world defensive instincts in praising Chara, but he’s been a respectable point producer, too.

U.S. women end boycott, will represent USA Hockey at worlds

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The U.S. women’s national team voted in favor of accepting USA Hockey’s deal, so they’ll participate in the world championship tournament. USA Hockey recently made the news official with this press release.

The press release confirmed a report that the contract will last four years, while financial terms were kept confidential. (Team members had been seeking a living wage to represent USA Hockey.)

“Our sport is the big winner today,” Team captain Meghan Duggan said. “We stood up for what we thought was right and USA Hockey’s leadership listened. In the end, both sides came together. I’m proud of my teammates and can’t thank everyone who supported us enough. It’s time now to turn the page. We can’t wait to play in the World Championship later this week in front of our fans as we try and defend our gold medal.”

The U.S. women’s national team is scheduled to face Canada on Friday.

Here’s a screen cap of the press release for your convenience: