Leafs GM Brian Burke: Season can be salvaged
General manager Brian Burke is confident his Toronto Maple Leafs will be a participant in this year's Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2004.
He also believes Randy Carlyle, who won a Cup with Burke in Anaheim in 2007, is the right person to guide the team to the post-season despite its current 1-9-1 funk and 12th-place standing in the National Hockey League's Eastern Conference.
"We think this is the coach that gives us a chance to salvage the season," Burke told reporters ahead of Saturday's game against the Canadiens (CBC, CBCSports, 7 p.m. ET) in Montreal, where Carlyle was introduced as the 28th coach in Maple Leafs history.
The book on Dave Farrish
- Age: 55
- Hometown: Wingham, Ont.
- NHL coaching career: Assistant with New Jersey (1992-93), Anaheim (2005-06 season to 2011-12) and Toronto (hired March 2, 2012)
- NHL coaching achievement: Stanley Cup (Anaheim, 2007)
- Minor league coaching career: Moncton (AHL, 1989-1992), Salt Lake City (IHL, 1993-94), Fort Wayne (IHL, 1995-97), Springfield (AHL, 1997-2000), Louisiana (ECHL, 2000-04), Pensacola (ECHL, 2004-05)
- Minor league coaching record: 520-402-83-22
- Minor league coaching achievements: 4 ECHL division championships (2001, 2002, 2003, 2004), ECHL coach of the year (2002)
- NHL playing career: 17 seasons
- NHL teams: Toronto, Quebec, New York Rangers
- Position: Defence
- Games: 430 regular season
- Points: 127
- Drafted: 2nd round pick by Rangers (24th overall) in 1976
— Doug Harrison, CBC Sports
Toronto has dropped six straight games and with a 29-28-7 record is five points behind Winnipeg for the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference with 18 games left in the regular season.
"It became obvious to me in the last week that we needed to make a coaching change if we wanted to try to salvage this season. I believe that this team is capable of making the playoffs," said Burke, who fired Ron Wilson Friday evening despite giving him a one-year contract extension in early December.
"If this is a playoff-calibre team, and it was two weeks ago, and we just made a coaching change, then everyone's gotta look in the mirror and say, 'I'm at fault.' And I'm at fault here, there's no question about it. But I also feel we've put enough assets in place that this team should be in the [playoff] hunt."
The 55-year-old Carlyle is no stranger to the post-season, having led the Ducks to five playoff appearances in his seven years behind the bench. Only Detroit's Mike Babcock has more playoff wins than Carlyle's 36 since the 2005-06 campaign.
Carlyle, who reportedly has agreed to a three-year contract beyond this season, is not coming to Toronto alone. He will be joined on the bench by former Maple Leafs defenceman Dave Farrish, his one-time assistant with the Ducks. Farrish replaces Rob Zettler, who has been reassigned to other duties in the organization.
November not to remember
Carlyle was fired by Anaheim on Nov. 30, three days after the Maple Leafs handed him his final home loss with the team, 5-2 on Nov. 27.
The 16th man to both play for and coach the storied franchise senses his new charges are a tense group with a low confidence level.
"I remember this hockey club playing against us in Anaheim [in November] and the number one thing that they were able to prove to me as an opposing coach is they could skate," Carlyle, a native of Sudbury, Ont., said. "They're a skating hockey club and they gotta get on their horse and start to skate."
Carlyle, who no doubt will bring a hard-nosed and tough approach to the Leafs, said he and his staff — assistants Scott Gordon and Greg Cronin remain on board — have to find a way to re-energize the players and rekindle their spirit.
Burke said he is "bewildered" at Toronto's current slide, saying it feels like someone hit him with a two-by-four.
"I've had dips, I've had slumps, had rough patches," he said, "but this is akin to an 18-wheeler going right off a cliff. I've never had this before where a team just plain, flat-out went into free-fall."
Many fans would say the lack of a proven goaltender has been the reason for the team's recent struggles as the Leafs have surrendered 45 goals in their past 11 games, an average of more than four per contest.
James Reimer, who sported a 4-0-1 mark before getting knocked in the head by Montreal forward Brian Gionta in an Oct. 22 game at Montreal and suffering concussion-like symptoms, has seen his season his goals-against average balloon to 3.07 while his save percentage has dipped below .900.
Jonas Gustavsson, who will start Saturday, is 0-3-2 with a 3.76 GAA in his last five starts overall.
Goaltending 'brilliant' at times
Burke disagreed with a reporter who suggested inconsistent goaltending was at the root of the Maple Leafs' problems at various times this season.
"I think the goaltending, at times, has been brilliant," the GM shot back. "I think the reason we're still alive [in the playoff hunt], statistically, is because Jonas Gustavsson saved our ass twice during the season [when Reimer was hurt and struggling].
"It's not just the goaltending in my mind. I think the goaltending is bearing a disproportionate and unfair share of the blame for where we are."
Burke confirmed that Francois Allaire, who also worked with Burke, Carlyle and Farrish in Anaheim, would remain in his position as goaltending coach in Toronto.
"I think we have the best goalie coach on the planet," he said.
Carlyle, who played 17 seasons in the NHL including 96 games on the Leafs blue-line in the late 1970s, feels fortunate to get a second chance to represent the team.
"It's an exciting place to be, you're centre-stage [in this hockey hotbed]," said Carlyle, who compiled a 273-182-61 mark with Anaheim and previously served as an assistant coach in Washington. "I had consultation with my family and to me that's the most important thing.
"My family had given me the green light and said, 'Dad, if you feel like doing this and feel it's the right thing for you to do, don't worry about us. We'll go where you go.' That really was the turning point for me."
Burke, the players and millions of Leafs fans hope the turning point in this season starts Saturday with a win in Montreal.