GM Bob Murray hopes to light a fire under his underachieving Ducks by bringing stern coach Randy Carlyle back.
The man who led the Anaheim Ducks to the franchise’s only Stanley Cup is coming back to Orange County. On Tuesday, the team announced that Randy Carlyle, who previously helmed the Ducks from 2005-11, will return for a second stint as bench boss. But not everyone’s happy about it.
Carlyle, 60, may be Anaheim’s all-time winningest coach—273-182-61 with five playoff appearances in his six full seasons—highlighted by the 2007 Stanley Cup, but he's notorious for wearing out his welcome. After a rough start to the 2011-12 season, he was fired 24 games into the season and replaced by Bruce Boudreau, whom the Ducks kicked to the curb on April 29 after four consecutive Pacific Division championships followed by four straight Game 7 playoff losses.
Now the coaching personality pendulum has swung back. Carlyle is known for his no-nonsense, hard-ass mentality, which is the complete opposite of Boudreau, who is regarded as a players coach with a more laid-back demeanor. After being deep-sixed by the Ducks, Carlyle coached the Toronto Maple Leafs from 2012-15. Though he struggled to find the same success he'd had in Anaheim, he is the only coach in the last 11 years to get Toronto into the playoffs, though the Maple Leafs notoriously fumbled their 3-1 series lead and 4–1 third period advantage in Game 7 of the first round against Boston.
While bringing back their ex-coach may seem shocking at first (we were half-joking when we threw his name in the list of possible successors to Boudreau), it probably shouldn’t be a surprise. Carlyle and GM Bob Murray are known to be good friends, and since Carlyle's dismissal by Toronto, he has been a frequent visitor to the Honda Center. Yet, the strife he left behind after his first term should be cause of pause.
After the Ducks' championship run, current mainstays Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, who were just two up-and-comers in 2007, became the faces of the franchise. During the 2010-11 season, Getzlaf was appointed team captain. Perry scored a league-high 50 goals and won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most outstanding player. But the two stars reportedly had issues with Carlyle, and even went so far as to stop listening to anything he said. And they weren't the only ones who didn't particularly like the coach. Carlyle's difficulty getting along with his players is inspiring comments like this one from former Ducks defenseman Ryan Whitney.
At his introductory press conference on Tuesday, Carlyle addressed the criticism and how he would handle things differently today. “I think I’ve mellowed dramatically,” Carlyle said. “There’s a time and place to be somewhat volatile, a time and place when someone needs a kick in the pants and a time and a place when they need a pat on the back. Obviously there are things that I did 10 years ago that I wouldn't do today. Simple as that. Today’s athletes are much different. They want to be heard, want to have a voice, want to participate.”
Whether or not the players like him, it’s the coach’s job to get the best out of the players. Think Herb Brooks guiding Team USA's “Miracle on Ice” team to the gold medal in the 1980 Winter Olympics. Tyrannical Iron Mike Keenan leading the New York Rangers in 1994 to their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. Or St. Louis Blues players recently saying that while they may not like coach Ken Hitchcock, the relationship still produces favorable results on game night. Clearly Bob Murray feels a whip-cracker is in order now. After he fired Boudreau, Murray talked about how the the team's stars had perhaps been let off “too easy” in the past, and that they would have to answer for the collapse and would be receiving a stern message this year.
Love him or hate him, Carlyle is the perfect guy to deliver that message. The franchise has placed its hopes of winning a second Cup on the shoulders of Getzlaf and Perry, and Murray admitted on Tuesday that the window to do so is closing fast, as they both turned 31 last month. And who knows? Maybe time has healed the wounds between the players and Carlyle. Two years after Carlyle was fired in Anaheim, Perry told the Toronto Star that while he and the coach didn’t always see eye-to-eye, Carlyle is a key reason why Perry is now considered to be one of the league’s best players.
“Randy has been pretty instrumental in my career,” Perry said at the time. “He’s a great coach. I can’t thank him enough. He certainly helped me get to where I am today.”
Murray said he reached out to Getzlaf, Perry and company during his coach search. “I probably wouldn’t normally do that, and just said 'hey, this is where I’m heading,'” Murray said. “The feedback was nothing but unbelievably supportive. A few even pushed for him. It was good.”
Former Ducks star and future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne is also in favor of the hiring.
Ducks assistant captain Ryan Kesler played for the AHL’s Manitoba Moose in 2004-05 when Carlyle guided the club to a 44-26-7-3 record and the Western Conference Finals with a roster that included current Anaheim defenseman Kevin Bieksa. During a recent interview with the Vancouver Province, Kesler, who scored 30 goals that season, raved about the coach.
“He was a very good bench coach and very detailed,” Kesler said. “We worked on face-off plays every practice and on the power play every practice—things that you really need to work on everyday.”
Kesler is now one of the league’s top face-off men.
“We just need a good bench coach, a coach that does things on the fly and makes changes during the game and not just between periods,” Kesler said. “We need a coach to come in and just be a good motivator and do what a coach does. We need a coach that holds everybody accountable—not just certain guys.”
If Carlyle proved one thing the first time around in Anaheim, it’s that he will not let anyone off the hook. Abrasive personality aside, another main criticism of Carlyle is that his physical-style of play is out of step with the league-wide trend exemplified by the speedy Penguins who won the Cup on Sunday. But “speed” and “Anaheim” have never been used in the same sentence. Since the club finally broke free of its Disney image, the Ducks have been known for their physicality and grit, which at times may have gone overboard (think: Chris Pronger and George Parros.) But that bruising identity was nowhere to be found this season, as it was the Ducks who were pushed and shoved around by Nashville in their first round matchup.
It’s time for the Ducks to once again embrace their big, bad identity. Carlyle is just the man to make them do it. It may not be pleasant, but Murray hopes it will be have the desired results: the Cup.