The house cleaning has only begun.
With the decision to not only retain, but extend, head coach Randy Carlyle's contract, new Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan and general manager Dave Nonis have pointed the finger at the players for this season's fatal flop.
Carlyle assistant coaches - Scott Gordon, Greg Cronin and his old pal, Dave Farrish - were let go. The Maple Leafs want some new voices in the dressing room, but the voice that counts is Carlyle's and you can bet it will be much louder and more authoritative than in the past two seasons.
A year after taking the Boston Bruins to a seventh game in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Maple Leafs took a giant step backwards failing to qualify for the post-season.
There were some good times along the way, but the Maple Leafs never displayed the style of tough, defensive hockey that is required to be successful in the NHL even during winning streaks. So when they folded their tent down the stretch, losing eight games in a row at one point, it really wasn't surprising.
Carlyle arrived in Toronto with a reputation as a tough, demanding coach who was not media friendly. In Toronto he has been wonderful with the media, quite humorous at time, in fact, but not at all demanding on his players. Oh, he often pointed the fact they were not being the type of tough, grinding puck-control team he wanted them to be; he just didn't succeed in changing them.
Too many Maple Leafs were not willing to pay a physical price to win.
I suspect Mr. Nice Guy disappears over the summer and Crusty Carlyle returns. Carlyle has some skill to work with, but the players that surround that talent needs to be tougher. For that matter, the skilled players need to display more toughness, too.
When you look at the most successful teams - the true Stanley Cup threats - the best players on those teams set the tone with their determination and work ethic and the other players fall into line.
In Chicago it's Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith. Think any of those guys wouldn't go through the end boards for a victory?
Ditto Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara in Boston and Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty in Los Angeles. Those players will do anything to win and their teammates follow their lead.
Based on the lifetime deals they handed Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf last season, it is apparent Maple Leafs management believe they are the players that will lead Toronto to glory.
Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf.
Kessel is a great offensive player. Since the beginning of the 2011-12 season he is tied for second in points with Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins with 214. Clause Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers has 227. Kessel fourth in goals with 94 trailing only Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals (121), Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning (114) and Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks (95).
An underrated passer, he is 12th in the NHL in that span in assists with 120. Clarkson on the spot
Through three-quarters of this season Phaneuf was pretty good. For a guy who plays as many minutes as he does against the other team's best forwards, he enjoyed success. After the Olympic break, though, his play was awful. He was minus-19 in Toronto's final 20 games.
James van Riemsdyk, on the other hand, enjoyed a career season and is willing to take a physical beating to attain success. He is 25 and is maturing nicely into the type of player than could influence others through his actions.
The Maple Leafs hoped signing veteran right-winger David Clarkson would provide them with an element of leadership. He started the year of with a 10-game suspension and when he returned never gained any traction. His first year in Toronto was a disaster and he's on a seven-year deal. Clarkson needs to make huge strides very early next season or he could be in for a rough time as Toronto's latest whipping boy.
Nonis was asked if he is convinced his team has a strong leadership group and said:
"I agree the best players have to perform in order for teams to have success...We have one of the youngest teams in the NHL and I can tell you a lot of people questioned the team I had in Vancouver in terms of leadership. It was a young group that had some developing to do. Several years later those questions weren't being asked. Can we improve and add some pieces to help the group? No question. I think that is an important thing we have to look at in the off-season."
Nonis is right; the core of the team is young. Kessel has played eight seasons in the NHL and is just 26. JVR is 25. Nazem Kadri is 23. Jake Gardiner is 23 and fellow defender Morgan Rielly is 20. Even Phaneuf, who has 10 years under his belt, is just 29.
If they are to continue to be the go-to guys on the Maple Leafs and Carlyle is to continue to be the team's coach, then he has to stop asking and start demanding they play the way he wants.
Carlyle has been given a second chance in Toronto. He'd better not waste it.
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