New assistant coach Dave Farrish putting his new team through the paces. (Photo: Vince Talotta/The Star)

As the Leafs were in the midst of their free fall out of a playoff spot, it occurred to me that this team, taking into account its strengths and weaknesses, was best suited to play a counter attacking style of game, one that focuses on defense first and utilizes its speed in transition. Ron Wilson’s Leafs constantly tried to play outside of their means with a true run and gun, high-risk brand of hockey that asked way too much of its defencemen and goaltenders. For those reasons, the words of Randy Carlyle after practice yesterday – one of very few Sunday practices this season, something the team will have to get used to under the new boss – were manna to the ears:

We want to improve our defensive-zone coverage. We want to improve on our neutral zone — not turning the puck over as often as we had in the past. In the offensive zone, don—t make those Hail Mary plays. Play conservative, yet be an attacking hockey club.

The Leafs surprised the league out of the gate with their speed and improved skill level, but were solved with increasing ease once the book was out. Neutral zone turnovers and bad defensive zone coverage became the bane of the Leafs existence. It is not as simple as “Luke Schenn sucks,” it’s a five-man problem. Too often the Leafs‘ forwards have cheated for the low-probability stretch pass or ring-around, putting their defencemen between a rock and a hard place. In turn, when the turnovers happen, the Leafs forwards are caught up ice and can’t get back on the right side of the puck defensively. For the defencemen’s part, the emphasis will be a chip off the glass as opposed to a forced play.

Cody Franson added: The way we used to do it, we never paid a lot of attention to that, he (Carlyle) likes to pay a lot of attention to how you enter your own zone in a defensive manner. In a defensive zone he wants you to approach it defence-first. He doesn—t want you cheating to the wall assuming you—re going to have a rim come around up that wall. He wants you to protect the middle of the ice and move from there.

Reversing old habits and gaining a full understanding of the new systems play doesn’t happen over night, but it’s a step in the right direction. He’ll need some help from Burke and the management team this summer, but an injection of harder nosed, more defensively conscious hockey is exactly what this club needs. Carlyle appears to be ushering in that very mentality.



New Leafs’ coach Carlyle begins patchwork
David Shoalts with the story including the quotes from above.

Carlyle embraces DIY spirit
“Unlike Ron Wilson, who was a skill defenceman when he played and let his younger assistant coaches supervise hitting, the crusty Carlyle stapled rookie Jake Gardiner to the glass, shocking the kid and impressing the rest. Throughout the session, Carlyle and newly arrived assistant Dave Farrish had their volume on high, as well.

What happens if we lose a game?, joked winger Joey Crabb afterwards.”

If you plan on paying him you may as well play him
It’s looking like Grabovski’s line will be the go-to for Carlyle in key matchups.

Carter Ashton Interview
From The Leafs Nation.

Local Talent in the NHL
Facts don’t matter to Grapes but the Leafs have the most local talent on their team of any NHL club with 13 Ontario-born players in the system. Burke’s team has drafted plenty of Ontario talent, it just isn’t on the big club yet.

CBC about to pay for Don Cherry’s criticism of NHL?
“NHL officials would not comment publicly on whether the pair would be an impediment to CBC retaining all or some of the next national TV rights package in Canada, which begin in 2014.”

The Maple Leaf Legacy in my lifetime, Part VI, the 2000s
From Michael Langlois at VLM.

marlies-lose-another-to-rochester/”>Marlies lose another to Rochester
Jeffler’s recap of the weekend that was for the Marlies.

Red Fisher: Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke in a class by himself
From Montreal Gazette writer Red Fisher.

Photos from the Leafs’ Sunday practice with Carlyle
Check ’em out over at The Star photo gallery.

Patrick Burke spreads message of inclusion
Read up on the You Can Play project Burke’s son Patrick is heading up.

Randy Carlyle thought he did alright in his Leafs debut
From Chris Lund at Backhand Shelf.

No Sunday off for Maple Leafs under new head coach
Carlyle comments on practicing hard, Phil Kessel, and more.

Brian Burke (and Mike Milbury) on advanced stats in the NHL
Gabe Desjardins takes on Brian Burke’s stance on advanced stats in hockey.

Optimus Reim’s new mask
Pure awesome.

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Alec Brownscombe is the founder and editor of, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He's published five magazines on the team entitled "The Maple Leafs Annual" with distribution in Chapters and newsstands across the country. He also co-hosts "The Battle of the Atlantic," a weekly show on TSN1200 that covers the Leafs and the NHL in-depth. Alec is a graduate of Trent University and Algonquin College with his diploma in Journalism. In 2014, he was awarded Canada's Best Hockey Blogger honours by Molson Canadian. You can contact him at