Leafs rise to coach Carlyle’s defense

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The Toronto Maple Leafs’ playoff hopes are essentially dead after dropping eight straight games in regulation. All the same, the team’s core players will probably be back next season, but will head coach Randy Carlyle?

With speculation about his potential firing at a fever pitch, his players are trying to deflect the blame away from him.

“No, this shouldn’t be (on Carlyle),” defenseman Jake Gardiner told the Toronto Sun. “It’s on the players. It’s on everybody.

“We’re the ones on the ice, not him.”

Forward Dave Bolland echoed Gardiner’s remarks by saying that those looking to assign blame should direct it towards the players.

The public support of his players might not be enough to save Carlyle after overseeing the team’s worst regular-season collapse since, uh, 2012.

Given that the Maple Leafs are turning disappointing finishes into an annual tradition that predates Carlyle, it’s natural to wonder if this might also be a summer of major moves for the team.

There’s always some turnover, but Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, David Clarkson, James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, and Dion Phaneuf are all signed through at least 2017-18 and many of them have at least partial no-trade clauses. Those six players also come with a combined cap hit of nearly $34 million annually, per Cap Geek, or roughly half of what next season’s ceiling is likely to be.

So while some of them — most notably Kessel — are players worthy of building a team around, the fact is that as the Leafs are set up right now, they have to be the go-to guys for years to come.

Without dismissing the possibility of a major offseason trade, as things stand, the Maple Leafs have to hope that eventually those players efforts breed different results. Likely with a tweaked supporting cast — and perhaps with a new bench boss.

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