The Toronto Maple Leafs had to fire coach Randy Carlyle, but the pressure is now on the players to prove they deserve to stay with the team.

By Allan Muir
January 06, 2015

Whether it made more sense to tear down or simply renovate the frustrating Maple Leafs was a question that couldn’t fairly be answered as long as Randy Carlyle remained behind the team’s bench.

Toronto finally removed that obstacle on Tuesday by canning Carlyle after two-plus seasons as coach.

The right move? Undoubtedly. Carlyle led the Ducks to a Stanley Cup in 2007, but failed miserably at getting the Maple Leafs’ players to buy into his system and adapting his approach to the talent he had on hand. The result was a maddeningly inconsistent team that relied on opportunistic offense and the often breathtaking goaltending of Jonathan Bernier to compensate for a disdain for defense.

Carlyle may have triggered his long-anticipated dismissal when he allowed his frustration with the organization and his players to boil over after Toronto went belly-up in a 5–1 loss to the Jets on Saturday.

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“You don’t always have the luxury to say that you’d like this player or that player or this type of player. That’s not the way it works,” Carlyle said. “How it works is you have an organization that provides you with players, and our job, as we’ve said all along, is just to coach ’em up.

“We’ve been trying and preaching and begging, coddling, kicking—doing whatever you have to do to get more people back in the puck recovery zone,” he said.

Clearly the Leafs, who are giving up 34.4 shots per game (29th in the NHL), weren’t listening. And you know how this works: When the players stop listening, the coach has to go.

But that can’t be all there is. For this team to get back on track, Carlyle’s dismissal has got to be just one step in the process, a move made specifically with an eye on evaluating the talent on hand.

Peter Horachek will step behind the bench as the Tornto’s new coach, but it doesn’t matter who replaces Carlyle. It’s now entirely up to the players to demonstrate whether they’re willing to change and contribute in a meaningful way. If they don’t, or if they can’t, everybody will know that they were just as much of a problem as Carlyle suggested.

Odds are that several players, including leading scorer Phil Kessel, young pivot Nazem Kadri and No. 1 defenseman Dion Phaneuf aren’t going to look any better than they did under the old boss.

Yes, Carlyle had to go. But don’t think for a minute that there won’t be others.


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