It's game day, but Randy Carlyle is in teaching mode at the morning skate.
His Toronto Maple Leafs
have started 10-5-0, largely on the strength of superb goaltending and timely scoring in games in which they otherwise failed to please their coach.
With each passing day Carlyle is expressing more and more dissatisfaction with his players and their reluctance to buy into his defence-first style.
In a special one-on-one interview with CBCSports.ca ahed of Friday night's home game
against New Jersey, Carlyle again cautioned that his team's performance and record are in contrast with one another. That, he insisted, is why the coaching staff has been so demanding at practice this week.
"If we continue to play to the level we are playing at... we're not going to continue to win hockey games. There are just too many things that are trending the wrong way.
"I think there are things we can improve on and there are things we can demand. You have to ask your players if they are prepared to do the things necessary to have success. We'll hold them accountable."'We danced in the parking lot' when he was fired
Carlyle has always been a demanding individual. He asked a lot from himself as a player. He asked a lot from his teammates. He also had the reputation for being a tough coach to play for in Anaheim, where he worked for six-plus years, leading the Ducks to the Stanley Cup in 2007.
By the time he arrived in Toronto to take over from Ron Wilson near the end of the 2012-13 season, Carlyle's reputation for being a miserable S.O.B. had taken on a life of its own. In fact, since he got to Toronto, he has been mostly cordial, pleasant and easy to deal with. Being fired was humbling and a learning experience for the 57-year-old Sudbury, Ont., native.
"I have always had a good sense of humour," Carlyle said. "Some of things that took place with our team in Anaheim should have been [dealt with] outside the scrutiny of the media. If I was unhappy with what was happening at practice I stopped the drill and expressed myself in a way in which everybody in the building heard versus keeping it more private between yourself and the players."
If Carlyle was sad to lose his job in Anaheim, the local media was ecstatic. Relations had deteriorated to the point where the coach and the press couldn't stand the sight of one another.
"When he was fired, there were reporters dancing in the parking lot of the Honda Center," said one reporter who covered Carlyle's tenure with the Ducks. "And when I say dancing, I do not mean figuratively. We were literally dancing around the parking lot."
With only a handful of regular media covering the Ducks, Carlyle admits he tended to take what was written and said about him and his team personally. It was a mistake.
"If you didn't like something that was said you were more likely to express your opinion to the person that said it," Carlyle said. "In a market like Toronto, where there is so much media, when people say something you don't like, I don't take the opportunity to challenge people's opinion.
"You are in a market where, if you tried to challenge everybody's opinion, you'd be exhausted. I have learned that people are going to write what they write and say what they say."'I had no sense of worth'
Carlyle played 17 seasons in the NHL with Toronto, Pittsburgh and Winnipeg, winning the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenceman in 1980-81 with the Penguins. In 1,055 games he scored 148 goals and 647 points with 1,400 penalty minutes.
A few years after retiring, Carlyle got into coaching and went on to stints as both an assist and head coach in the International Hockey League and the NHL. So when he was fired by the Ducks, he was not prepared for life after hockey.
The good news was he still had three-plus years left on his contract, so finances were of no concern to him. The bad news was he didn't know what to do with his time.
"I was at my wit's end," Carlyle said. "I was bored out of my tree. I had no sense of worth. I would get in my car at 6:30 in the morning and just drive around town. I would have breakfast at Starbucks and I didn't have any sense of value. I'd ask myself, 'What am I going to do today?' and I didn't have an answer. It was a real empty feeling."
Because of his contract situation, Carlyle didn't need to jump at the first job tossed his way. So when his old pal (and GM with Anaheim) Brian Burke came calling about the coaching position with the Maple Leafs, Carlyle had some reservations. Toronto, for the most part, has been a burial ground for coaches since its last Stanley Cup championship way back in 1967.
"I told Burkie I really didn't know if I wanted to take this job or where my head was at it and he said to write every question I had down," Carlyle said. "He wanted me to get on a flight to meet him in Boston, so I did that. On the flight I wrote down every question I had and I went through them. He was kind of shocked at the number of questions that I had, but I said, 'That's what you told me to do and I spent five hours doing it.' I wanted to make sure we discussed everything I felt was pertinent to the job.
He said, 'It doesn't really sound like you want the job,' and I said, 'You told me to write down my questions and now you're giving me hell for asking so many. I'm doing what you asked for and now you don't like it.' That's the kind of relationship I had with Brian."
Many of the questions Carlyle had for Burke before accepting the job had to do with dealing with the media.
"It's intense," Carlyle said. "There is a lot more responsibility in terms of the media demands. I think that is one-third of my job. Some days you like doing it and some days you don't. But that's part of your responsibility.
"What I try to do is show respect. I try to consider what they are doing because I was actually on the side of the media a long time ago when I was first out of hockey so there is a respect factor there that they have a job to do. If you allow people to do their job you earn mutual respect."'Everybody has a opinion'
Carlyle said not much has changed in terms of the importance of the Maple Leafs to the city of Toronto since he played here from 1976-78, but the coverage of the team has expanded significantly.
"I just think the internet has opened things up where everybody has a voice," Carlyle said. "Everybody has an opinion. Everybody is allowed to be in print of some sort, but they don't have to attach their face to it. All they need is a name or a handle. That has opened up a lot of opinions."
If Carlyle's relationship with the media has improved in Toronto and his on-ice outbursts at practice are fewer and further between (not to mention less animated), the expectations for his players have not diminished. That is why, despite his team's winning record, he continues to push them harder and harder.
Carlyle has a group that came within a goal last season of advancing to a winnable second-round playoff matchup against the New York Rangers. That, coupled with the team's impressive record this season, has made it difficult for the coaching staff to make the players understand they are not heading in the right direction.
To get his message across, Carlyle sometimes has to resort to raising the level of his voice -- mostly behind closed doors.
So, is his reputation as a hot head accurate?
"Hot tempered is not accurate," Carlyle insisted. "I am emotional, but I think we as a staff are a demanding group. However you deliver that message or however it is perceived can be different from one person to the next. Somebody's perception is their reality. Some players in the past have said, 'He's too demanding...he skates them too hard.'
"I feel like I am firm, but fair. I know a lot of the things players go through, having lived it. I know about the ups and downs and I know that you can't expect them to be their best every day. But there are certain times that things have to be put in a certain order and expectations, accomplishments and work ethic have to exceed that of the opposition."'This is what it takes'
Bruce Boudreau replaced Carlyle as coach of the Ducks. A minor-league sensation as a player, Boudreau had great offensive instincts, but rarely played a lick of defence. As a coach he is very demanding in terms of his players being dependable two-way performers. He said Boudreau the player could never have played for Boudreau the coach.
"I was capable of doing all the things as a player that I demand as a coach, I just didn't want to do them."
Carlyle feels differently about himself.
"For sure I could," he said when asked if Carlyle the player could have survived under Carlyle the coach. "Maybe not early in my career, but I would say about two years into being a pro, I could.
"When I left here I understood what I needed to do. It was Roger Neilson who taught me. I got sent to the minors, got called up to play the playoffs and got sent to the minors again. I got back up and played again and by then I understood what it took and I committed to a different level.
"I think that is what it takes. You learn how to train to be a pro. You learn how to practice to be a pro. The experience taught you how to remain a pro and how to be something of a chameleon because as you go through your career you have to do different things."
Carlyle said winning the Stanley Cup with Anaheim was surreal. The biggest reward, he added, was getting to share the experience with his family and friends, those who supported him through his long career.
Since the Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup on May 2, 1967, Carlyle is the 19th man to attempt as head coach to win the team another title. Carlyle never allows himself the opportunity of imagining what it would be like to be the one to bring the Cup back to Toronto.
"I never think about it," Carlyle said. "There is so much more work to be done. What we're trying to do is show progress year in and year out. What we're trying to do is put ourselves in a position to challenge and make the playoffs and then get ourselves in a position where we can be considered an elite team.
"I think until you do that, all those other things are white noise."
Back to accessibility links