Sticking by the wrong guy

Sticking by the wrong guy

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Well, folks, there we have it. Another bizarre chapter in Leafs history was penned today as it was officially announced Randy Carlyle is staying on a Leafs head coach despite all basic logic suggesting otherwise. And he’s not only staying, but receiving the vote of confidence and financial reward of a two-year contract extension for his accomplishments presence behind the bench.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Taking the fall, at least among the non-player personnel, are the remaining holdovers from the Ron Wilson era, assistant coaches Scott Gordon and Greg Cronin, as well as Carlyle hire Dave Farrish. In their place there will be an assistant with some head coaching experience hired, if we were to guess, who will be ready to take over the team at a moment’s notice. While it’s telling in the symbolic sense,  the extension itself doesn’t mean all that much given it’s likely Randy will be fired inside a month if next season starts poorly. What is gravely concerning is this:

  • Carlyle will continue to have input on roster decisions this summer as Nonis continues to try to mould the team in his image (think about McClement, Bolland free agent situations).
  • Carlyle, according to Nonis, will be involved in the hiring process of his new assistants, meaning the guy likely to replace Carlyle if the season starts badly is someone Carlyle helped pick.

Just like that, any promise we felt from Brendan Shanahan’s initial press conference, where he looked to be coming in with carte blanche to fix what ails this team, where he seemed to bring new ideas and some fresh perspective, has been zapped by this decision to stay the course behind the bench. And it was announced in a press conference that imbued considerably less optimism. Just like how Carlyle went under the hood during the Olympic Break to fix the defensive issues and came up with apparently nothing for a solution, Leafs brass has been meeting for the last couple of weeks and there was not a serious answer (not even in a general, not-getting-into-specifics sort of way) mustered by Nonis or Carlyle as to what happened, why it happened and how it’s going to change offered in today’s press conference.

Is this Tim Leiweke’s idea of culture change? There is a valid point to be made that letting the players off the hook entirely doesn’t beget a culture change, but how does hiring a guy to okay a decision to hold onto the head coach who was out of ideas (by his own admission), or having the GM justify an absurd contract renewal because of Carlyle’s Cup ring in Anaheim (Nonis mentioned it in the press conference) inspire such accountability? There was need for change on both fronts, of which Carlyle needed to be a part. It’s pretty clear to anyone reading between the lines that Leafs management is trying to hold the players accountable by refusing another fire and hire at the head coaching position, but talk about cutting off the nose to spite the face, metaphorically speaking. They’re sticking by the wrong guy.

Again, we’ll repeat: There’s talent here. There’s a good young core. There was a chance to course-correct what went wrong last season with the right coach and the right few personnel moves (which Anthony Petrielli has begun breaking down). Instead, Shanahan, Nonis and co. have doubled down on the man with no answers. The 3-line coach in a 4-line league (Carlyle was asked in the presser what happened down the stretch and he suggested the team was “just gassed”) with the remedial defensive system that sets embarrassing records for shots against to the point where even its great goaltending can’t keep the team out of the bottom five in goals against. The coach who hasn’t allowed the youth who show promise the minutes or opportunity to really make a difference. The coach that has been corrosive in this organization’s attempts to manage its assets properly.

Dave Nonis and Brendan Shanahan have decided that the image Carlyle describes for his team, an up-tempo team that can cycle, is what they want and they will continue iterating the personnel to make it happen. Anyone who has been watching hockey with a passing interest for past few seasons can identify this. It doesn’t make him a good coach if there isn’t an ability to properly deploy his lineup, to actually maximize what’s here, and to take steps toward achieving those end goals.

Were we naive for thinking it might have played out any differently?

Alec Brownscombe is the founder of MapleLeafsHotStove.com, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He was also the editor of the 2009-12 Maple Leafs Annuals. You can contact him at [email protected]