Is Randy Carlyle The Right Coach For Toronto?

August 22nd, 2012 11 Comments

***This article was originally posted at wwwthehockeywriters.com (Written By: Mark Ritter)***

With his team sinking in the standings and rumors of unrest amongst his troops, Toronto Maple Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke made a tough decision when he fired close friend Ron Wilson in favor of hiring Randy Carlyle as the Maple Leafs head coach on March 3rd, 2012.

For the most part it was a popular decision, but there were also rumblings that the crusty bench boss was cut from the same cloth as Wilson (a tough disciplinarian) instead of the players coach some fans the Buds needed.

In Wilson, Burke employed a coach who preferred an offense-first approach. Unlike many NHL bench bosses, Wilson had no problem throwing his stars under the bus, which caused more than a few problems. Wilson was also tough on the media, which in a town that covers hockey to the point of overkill often left him wide open to criticism from the media and fans.

“This was not an easy decision for me to make,” general manager Brian Burke said in a statement. “I want to thank Ron for all of his hard work and dedication to our organization over the past four seasons.”

Burke has a history with Carlyle as the two were together for the Anaheim Ducks Stanley Cup victory in 2007. With that in mind, Burke knew what he was getting in Carlyle—a coach that demands that his players play with a physical edge, are defensively responsible and takes their fitness seriously.

Not known as a players coach in the past, Carlyle is said to have chilled out since his days with the Ducks, but don’t confuse his new found compassion for weakness, he can be as hard-nosed as the next coach and, much like Wilson, has no issue calling his players out if he deems them to be under performing.

Trouble is, when you consider the cast of characters Burke has assembled in Toronto there is a real lack of physical players. David Steckel (170 hits) and Mike Brown (120 hits) provided the Maple Leafs with the most truculence up front last season, with scrapper Jay Rosehill (53 hits in 31 games played) pitching in a reduced role.

Carlyle led the Maple Leafs to a 6-9-3 during the final 16 games of the 2011-12 season. While Carlyle has to accept his fair share of the blame for the losses Burke was quick to point out at his seasons end press conference that Carlyle had a poor mix of players with which to be successful last season, an issue he promised to fix.

“I like to dictate how the game is played, we’re not big enough to play it Randy’s way and that’s not optional. Said Burke at an April press conference. “We can’t play the way Randy wants to play with this group, that’s not possible.”

In an effort to bring in a measure of truculence, Burke signed free agent forward Jay McClement. Known as a rugged defensive forward, McClement will help the Maple Leafs penalty kill which ranked a dismal 28th overall last season and finish every check.

As much as McClement will help, Burke did little else to upgrade his teams physical prowess, unless of course you count signing defenseman Korbinian Holzer (a physical stay-at-home defenseman) to a one-way contract.

Burke also cut loose forward Colby Armstrong who, despite an injury riddled stint as a Maple Leaf, was a good soldier and heavy hitter when healthy. Hard working forward Joey Crabb also left town—his jam and intensity will be missed, at least on some level.

The loss of defenseman Luke Schenn to the Philadelphia Flyers in the James van Riemsdyk trade all but negates the addition of Holzer, as Schenn led the Blue and White with 270 hits and placed third in blocked shots with 115 last season.

While Holzer is a solid player, there is little hope that he will match Schenn’s numbers, which is cause for concern for Carlyle and Burke. While unlikely to materialize, Carlyle will have to ask tough-luck veteran defenseman Mike Komisarek to ramp up his physical game, but with Komisarek’s quickness and fitness in question there are doubts he can do it.

With Captain Dion Phaneuf being asked to stay out of the penalty box and the shift by most NHL teams to cut back on unnecessary fighting, Phaneuf has taken a more relaxed approach to his game. The Maple Leafs need Phaneuf on the ice. The best way for him to maximize his minutes is to play a physical yet cautious style which, given the reputation Phaneuf came with from his time in Calgary when he was one of the NHL’s most feared defensemen, has chagrined the Leafs Nation since his arrival in 2009.

Still, with Schenn gone, that means the bulk of the physical play will have to come from Phaneuf (who had 214 hits and 127 blocked shots last season) and Carl “Uzi” Gunnarsson (who registered 114 hits and a team-leading 152 blocked shots last season).

Up front Brown and Steckel will remain Toronto’s most intimidating forwards with McClement pitching in as well. One forward that is likely to see more ice-time is Matt Frattin who had 81 hits in 56 games last season.

Frattin was a key-cog in the Toronto Marlies success in the Calder Cup Playoffs last season before his AHL playoff run ended when he injured his knee which required surgery this summer. According to the Toronto Sun’s Terry Koshan, Frattin is said to be recovering slowly, but should be ready for the start of the 2012-13 season, CBA agreement pending!

Another player that could raise his physical game is Tyler Bozak. Slotted in between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul on Toronto’s first line for most of the 2011-12 season, Bozak will likely see a reduced role this season bouncing back and fourth from the second to fourth line. Should Bozak (who stands 6’1″ and weighs in at 195 pounds) establish himself as a physical presence his ice-time should increase accordingly.

Bozak registered 117 hits last season, while establishing himself as a decent defensive forward and a reliable face off man with a 52.7 percent success rate.

While Kessel and Lupul are integral parts to any success the Maple Leafs may have next season, it will be the physical players that combine as the biggest difference makers in terms of keeping opposing teams off the scoreboard, which is where the Maple Leafs, who finished the 2011-12 season with a 3.16 goals against average (29th overall), need the most improvement.

Carlyle will play a major role in getting his troops to adapt a defense-first style of play. While not the most exciting style of play to watch night-in, night-out, a change from the run and gun approach is badly needed, especially when you consider the Maple Leafs shortcomings down the middle and between the pipes.

Carlyle’s experience, ability to teach and high expectations in terms of physical fitness and commitment to winning one-on-one battles, should be the right fix for a team that lacked confidence and played so poorly in their own zone last season.

Is Carlyle the right guy to turn around the Maple Leafs’ fortunes? I guess that all depends on what you think “turn around” means. Carlyle should be able to keep his team in more games, but with few experts predicting the Blue and White to make the playoffs he may be hard-pressed to get the results so many fans are hoping for.

The Maple Leafs went 35-37-10 last season, accumulating 80 points. In order to make the playoffs last season Eastern Conference teams needed a minimum of 92 points. With so many Eastern Conference teams making significant improvements to their rosters this summer it may take as many as 94-96 points for Eastern Conference teams to make the playoffs next season—a tough mark for many teams to hit, never mind the Maple Leafs.

Can Carlyle bring about a 14-16 point improvement from last season? Not with the troops he has, but if Burke can finagle a trade or two there is hope that the Maple Leafs will be part of the conversation when playoff season comes around.

Carlyle has the experience, he has a Stanley Cup on his resume, he has the respect of the players and he has the backing of his general manager. Its a perfect storm for success—now if he only had the right mix of players…

Until next time,

Peace!

11 Comments

  1. Dave says:

    Well written bro! I agree with pretty much everything point you have made. Having said that, I still dont think Burke has assembled the troops needed to play the game both Carlyle and Burke want to play. IMO though, I think there is a need for balane between the run and gun offensive mindset and the defensive and physical aspect of the game. I saw Carlyle implement the trap a few time towards the end of the season which didnt work out too well also.

    Bottom line for me, I didnt like the hire at the time, I still dont like it and although I personally believe BB has done a pretty good job overall at building the youth and future of this team, I think Carlyle will be his ticket out of TO. From my chair, Eakins was the better choice in moving into the future and a better fit with the current players and future players.

    Hope I’m wrong! Keep up the great work dude!

    Dave

  2. Mark Ritter says:

    Dave—

    I am a big fan of Eakins as well. Hopefully the Carlyle hiring doesn’t bite us in the arse!

    Also, check me out at http://www.thehockeywriters.com

    just joined, will be writing Leafs and re-posting here. There will still be exclusive content here though, but I could use the reads on THW!!!

    Peace!

  3. Dave says:

    I’m there brother…had your back 12 years ago and still do today!

    Dave

  4. Cody says:

    i think this is the right guy too have.. but it’s not the lack of him and his players having different styles. its his players not performing too there level, Komisarek and Connolly are great examples, i expect Komisarek too be a much better and a feared defenseman again under Carlyle, while Connolly i see getting more ice time than expected. we have too many players looking for too many spots. Burke has a log jam and needs too do something.

  5. Hudson says:

    Good article. The other day, The Sun revealed Carlyle’s latent interior design skills. I guess the lackluster dressing room is a big reason why we have been sucking this badly. 😐

  6. Marty says:

    Good article but two flaws that I see. You mention Bozak on the second line, that’s not going to happen, Grabo has that locked up. Also you fail to mention JVR, quite a bruiser when he wants to be.

  7. MarkRitter says:

    Hi Marty-

    Bozak will likley be a jack of all trade this season, moving from first line duty all the way down to the third line IMO. He can play the wing, so if Carlyle wants some extra D on the second line Bozak could be slotted in there on a temporary basis. Nobody knows where JVR fits in just yet. He too has his defensive shortcomings, so I am not so sold on him being the first line centre. A second line of Garbo between Bozak and Kulemin might just work? We’ll see what happens, thanks for the comment!

  8. MarkRitter says:

    Yep, all about the dressing room for sure!

  9. MarkRitter says:

    Agreed, Burke does have a log jam, but I know Carlyle will not tolerate the poor level of intensity Connolly brought to the rink last season, which suggests he may be seeing a lot of third or fourth line duty. To be fair, if Kadri makes the team he needs top-six minutes, if that happens, Connolly is kinda dead in the water IMO. Peace!

  10. crazy canuck says:

    all through amateur sports we are told that coaches must adapt their teams style of play to the talents of their players.then as soon as they become professionals, the players have to fit the style the coach prefers to play.what gives ?

  11. […] Head Coach Randy Carlyle deserves a lot of the credit, as do his players, who have bought into his coaching style and have executed well on a nightly basis. […]

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