Let’s start by saying that not even Mike Babcock could coach the Maple Leafs, as they’re currently composed, into Stanley Cup contenders.
Toronto’s roster, as big as its payroll may be, features neither an elite center, nor an elite defenseman. The Kings’ roster has both. So does the Blackhawks’. And the Bruins’. You see the point there.
But that doesn’t let Randy Carlyle off the hook, and he knows it. Because the Leafs’ roster isn’t so bad that it should lose 6-2 in Buffalo, of all places, then 9-2 to Nashville three days later. At home.
“As I’ve said before,” Carlyle said last night, “when you get in this business you better understand that when things don’t go well there’s going to be a huge amount of scrutiny and attention paid to your position.”
So let’s scrutinize.
A coach’s job can be split into two categories. There’s the tactical, which includes systems, structure, game-planning, player deployment, etc. And then there’s the motivational, which is self-explanatory.
Clearly, Carlyle is failing in at least one of these categories.
Just consider what he said last October, after the Leafs got off to a great start record-wise (6-1-0), but one that included some serious red flags:
“Right now when we review and review and review, there are some areas that we are really absent in and our job as a coaching staff is to try to continue to find ways to continue to improve our play without losing sight of the fact we have had some success. We know that is going to turn against us at some point if we continue to play at the level we’re playing.”
And here he was, in reflection, after things did indeed turn against the Leafs:
“We begged, borrowed, stole, tried to convince that we had to play more of a puck possession game early in the season.”
Despite Carlyle’s admission that he couldn’t get the Leafs to play the way he wanted them to — Did he not employ the right tactics? Could he not motivate the players? Both? — he wasn’t fired.
Instead, a new team president was named, new assistant coaches were hired, new players were brought in, and even a new analytics department was created.
Now, granted, not all of those changes were expected to pay immediate dividends, but it sure doesn’t look good on Carlyle that the Leafs (9-8-2) are still a bad puck-possession team and still so wildly inconsistent that they can smoke Boston one night, then put together embarrassing performances like their last two.
“How can you sugar coat what happened with our group tonight?” Carlyle said of the Nashville debacle. “The first two periods we had 35 turnovers. Seventeen in the second and 18 in the first. You can’t win in any league or any level of hockey playing that loose with the puck.”
Is a lot of that on the players? Absolutely. Of course it is. But there was Carlyle again last night, talking about how the coaching staff’s message wasn’t getting through.
“We tried to plead to the pride of the group and what we need to do to have success,” he said. “And obviously, tonight was a prime example of straying away from the structure that we’re trying to create.”
Trying to create.