When it comes to the Toronto Maple Leafs extremely disappointing 2013-14 season, there is plenty of blame to be shared. As Mike Brophy writes, coach Randy Carlyle accepted his slice of the pie on Tuesday and offered his thoughts on where the season went wrong for the Leafs.
When it comes to the Toronto Maple Leafs extremely disappointing 2013-14 season, there is plenty of blame to be shared.
Coach Randy Carlyle accepted his slice of the pie Tuesday.
Asked what he has to say to long-suffering Leafs Nation, Carlyle thanked them for their support and concluded by admitting, "We are embarrassed by what just went down."
The question now, of course, is should Carlyle be brought back to coach the 2014-15 team.
From this little corner of the hockey universe, the answer is yes. Keep him and get some players that will pay a price to win.
Carlyle is the first to admit there were things he should have done differently. He added a season like this calls for some critical self-evaluation.
"It always does," Carlyle said. "If you think you have all the answers you are in the wrong business. There are things you know you'd like to do differently. There are points you feel you should have been a lot stronger on or you should have been softer on. You question yourself all the time."
There are no do-overs in the NHL. If he could go back in time, though...
"What would I change? I think I would be hard and fast on some decisions early in the season," Carlyle said.
Clear No. 1 starter?
Carlyle didn't want to expand on that statement, but one might surmise instead of repeatedly saying he didn't want to be too critical after a win where timely scoring or great goaltending covered up for porous defence, as it often did in the early going, he might instead be inclined to suggest something like, "We are happy with the win, but if we don't pull our heads out of our butts defensively we will not win in the second half when the games get tougher."
Carlyle also split the goaltending between returning James Reimer and newcomer Jonathan Bernier fairly evenly in the early going when it was apparent to everyone he was leaning toward making Bernier the team's No. 1 stopper. Perhaps he would have played that a little differently.
The Maple Leafs made the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons last year and this year they missed the dance. The coach was the same, but many of the players were different.
The Maple Leafs were 10-4 out of the chute and the players did not read between the lines when Carlyle gave one of his, "We won, but..." post-game speeches. Between Jan. 12 and 21 they won six in a row. Between Jan. 12 and Feb. 8 they were 11-2-1 and appeared to be well on their way to a second straight playoff berth.
When they won in Anaheim and Los Angeles during a tough three-game California road trip, they proved beyond any reasonable doubt that when they played the style of hockey Carlyle was demanding they could be successful.
That feeling did not last.
After leaving L.A., the Maple Leafs played in Washington and Detroit before returning home. All told, they lost eight in a row. None of those games got to overtime so there were no bonus points to be had.
"When we came back and played in Washington and Detroit we seemed to have lost our mojo," Carlyle said. "Those two games were quite alarming for the coaching staff in that something changed. Looking back, that turned the tide of our season."
A coach can only do so much. Sometimes to turn the tide the leadership has to come within the dressing room.
There was no one player who could stand up and tear a strip off his teammates with any credibility. The one player the Maple Leafs hoped might be that guy, two-time Stanley Cup champion David Bolland, missed most of the campaign with a severed tendon. It's probably not his personality to be loud and confrontational anyway.
Certainly captain Dion Phaneuf couldn't do it. When you turn the puck over left and right and your plus-minus plunges down the stretch, it's hard to call out others.
David Clarkson couldn't do it. He was brought in from New Jersey to fill a leadership role, but his season was so awful, anything he had to say would fall on deaf ears.
"There will be a lot of investigating and assessing at different levels and leadership will be one of them," Carlyle admitted.
Carlyle said the final 30 days of the season were the tell-tale story for the team. The players refusal to play a more defensive system finally came back to haunt them. The coach said their poor special teams play also had a negative effect.
"We're not asking players to do something that they haven't done before in junior hockey or the American Hockey League," Carlyle said. "You have to play and you have to compete on the defensive side of the puck with will and commitment and we did not want to do that on a day-to-day basis. That's what our struggles were."
There is a new boss in town, team president Brendan Shanahan. Carlyle said he has not had a pow-wow with Shanahan yet.
If Shanahan decides to keep Carlyle, the coach said his mission next season is quite simple:
"We want to be a hockey club that is tough to play against. Fisticuffs are one thing, but that is not what we represent. It's more about blocking shots, about taking a check to make a play or being involved physically while playing an up-tempo, fore-checking game. We have done that at times, but our overall application of that was inconsistent."
If that is going to happen then plenty of roster changes will be required.
Mike BrophyMike Brophy brings a wealth of hockey writing and broadcasting experience to CBC Sports, having covered junior hockey for 14 years before joining The Hockey News as its senior writer for 17 years starting in 1992. Most recently, the Burlington, Ont., native worked as a writer/commentator at Rogers Sportsnet and as co-host of The Power Play on SiriusXM. Mike has written four books, including My First Goal, featuring 50 players describing their first NHL goals.