The struggling Toronto Maple Leafs announced Tuesday they have fired head coach Randy Carlyle.

Assistants Peter Horachek and Steve Spott will handle coaching duties for Wednesday's home game against Washington, the Leafs said.

General manager Dave Nonis declined to give a timetable for when a permanent hire would be made.

"There's a process you go through," Nonis said at a news conference. "We'll focus on [Wednesday] night then move ahead after that."

Toronto (21-16-3) has lost seven of its last nine games and went 2-5-0 on a dismal road trip that ended with a 5-1 loss at Winnipeg on Saturday.

The Leafs were riding high with six straight wins before the current skid, but are now just one point ahead of Boston for the final wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

"We're trending the wrong way right now," Nonis said. "We're still in a decent position. This move was made to put ourselves in a better position."

Do you agree with the Leafs' decision to fire Randy Carlyle? in Polls on LockerDome

Hired in March 2012, Carlyle coached Toronto for parts of four seasons and compiled a regular-season record of 91-78-19. He guided the Leafs to the playoffs in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, but Toronto lost its first-round series to Boston after collapsing late in the seventh and deciding game.

The Leafs fell apart at the end of last season, losing 12 of their last 14 games to miss the playoffs for the eighth time in the last nine years.

Carlyle's job looked to be in jeopardy at the time as he entered the final year of his contract and Brendan Shanahan took over as the team's new president, but instead Nonis gave Carlyle a two-year extension while firing three assistant coaches.

Now it appears Carlyle has been made the fall guy for the Leafs' current struggles.

"The coach is easy to let go. That's the easy change to make," Nonis said. "We all have to take some of the responsibility."

Leafs players react

After Carlyle's termination was announced, the attention turned to the players who couldn't get the job done.

"When the coach gets fired, it's not about coaching, it's not about management, it's about the players," goaltender Jonathan Bernier said.

Taking the most heat are members of the Leafs' core, especially those signed to long-term contracts: winger Phil Kessel, captain Dion Phaneuf, centre Tyler Bozak and wingers Joffrey Lupul and James van Riemsdyk.

"This wasn't about the core not listening to Randy or anything like that. We just felt we weren't going in the right direction," Nonis said.

Kessel took issue with a reporter's question Tuesday about being difficult to coach, calling it "a weird question" to ask.

"You think it's my fault? Is that what you're saying?" a defensive Kessel asked the reporter.

"I don't think so," he continued. "I play, eh?"

Phaneuf is in the first year of a US$49-million, seven-year contract. The veteran defenceman owned up to the fact that the core group should be under the microscope now.

"That is a very fair question for you or anyone to ask," Phaneuf said. "The bottom line is, we, as players, have got to get the job done. This is a result-oriented business, and we are expected to win hockey games."

Inside the locker-room, there was a lot of players accepting at least some blame for Carlyle being fired.

"It's never on one person, it's a collective thing," van Riemsdyk said. "But obviously he's the fall guy now. It's now up to us as players to get the job done and figure things out here."

Defenceman Cody Franson, an impending unrestricted free agent, said accountability has to come from players.

"This action isn't an action of it was just his fault," Franson said. "We know within our room that we're as at fault as anybody else. At the end of the day it's up to us in the room to make things happen and we weren't doing a good enough job of that."

With files from the Canadian Press