Randy Carlyle's Maple Leafs fell from playoff contention to high draft pick in the final stretch. (Graig AbelGetty)
By Allan Muir
The Toronto Maple Leafs finally made their decision about the future of coach Randy Carlyle on Thursday afternoon. Inexplicably, it did not involve moving boxes and a visit from someone in HR.
Instead, it was confirmed via a press release that Carlyle had his contract extended for two years after "a thorough team review."
Apparently the review did not include watching tape of the most defensively inept team in the league.
And don't get the Corsi Kids started on the Leafs' possession numbers. Because their analysis of the situation is a little different than the one that was arrived at by GM Dave Nonis.
"It was important, after a disappointing end to the season and the arrival of Brendan [Shanahan] as team president, to conduct a thorough review of the organization as we continue the work of building a winning tradition and culture for the Maple Leafs," Nonis said. "That process started with the head coach, and as we analyzed it, we decided together that Randy Carlyle was the right person to lead this team. In Randy we know that we have a leader who has enjoyed a high level of success as both a player and a coach, including a Stanley Cup championship. It was important that the positives Randy brings to our team were not overshadowed by a finish to the season that we all must take responsibility for."
It would have been interesting to hear Nonis lay out those positives, because he seems to be one of the few who can see them. Maybe in his mind Carlyle gets credit for the above-average goaltending provided by Jonathan Bernier, the dazzling performance of Phil Kessel, and the maturation of blueliners Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly -- maybe even the team's surprisingly high shooting percentage.
But even if those developments were generously attributed to Carlyle's guidance, none could cover for a bankrupt system that saw the Leafs rely on Bernier to bail them out night after night as they were being outshot, outworked and outsmarted. Or one that saw them fall from home ice in the playoffs to the eighth-overall pick in the NHL draft over the season's closing weeks.
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It's not just that Carlyle couldn't make these players better. It's that they showed no inclination down that ruinous final stretch to play any better for him.
So Carlyle avoids accountability for his failures, but that doesn't mean there won't be a reckoning. Assistant coaches Dave Farrish, Scott Gordon and Greg Cronin will not return to the team next season, but since the latter two were hired by previous coach Ron Wilson, their dismissal doesn't even qualify as a backhanded swipe at Carlyle.
And even if it did, that's hardly change enough to satisfy a fan base angered by consecutive late-season swoons. The Leafs may be the closest thing there is in sports to bullet-proof, but there's no upside to thumbing their noses at their paying customers.
Change, then, will come on the ice where backup James Reimer is on his way out, likely to be followed by UFAs Nikolai Kulemin and Dave Bolland. And given the need to alter a core that's proven inadequate time and again, those three should be just the beginning.
If they're not, it's just another slap in the face to Toronto's fans. There's been much talk of a culture change and accountability since Shanahan and CEO Tim Leiweke came on board, but with this, their first major decision together, they've shown it was just that.