Have the goal posts started to shift?

Listen here:


For those that didn’t want to listen through the full Dreger segment, here’s a quote: “Nonis told the board that there could be another tough year or two ahead.”

Now, this is either intentional PR face saving (i.e.  spin courtesy of the ‘cous) or at best Dreger malarkey.

The simplest example: Does Nonis sign Clarkson in the first place, let alone commit 5.25 mill/year for 7 years, under the pretence that he was “worried about Year 1” if the real idea was that he would be a part of an ongoing rebuild?  If the thinking wasn’t playoffs and beyond, or why the Leafs didn’t get the job done against Boston in round 1?

This could be a preview of what’s to come in terms of management’s approach to responding to the recent mess. “We’re in the long game,” which to be clear isn’t totally devoid of merit, but let’s not for a second take what this season has turned into as anything short of a failure for which management must be accountable, for which a few heads should roll and some big changes considered.

What I’ll give Nonis, in terms of my patience, is that he has a collection of still-fairly young forwards — all prime aged — two promising up-and-comers on the blueline (along with some promising prospects for a little further down the road), and a young goaltender of the future in Jonathan Bernier. There’s some pieces here and he can make the argument he’s been a significant part (having been in management since December of 2008) of assembling a nucleus of good, young-ish talent, even if he is going to have to get damn creative to continue to add to/redefine the core with limited cap flexibility this off season.

Another thing Dreger mentioned as far as a coaching change wasn’t that it was expected or even probable, but that there will be an “exhaustive review” of Carlyle’s performance as head coach of the Leafs this season.

Let’s do a five-point, brass tax version of what that review should reveal:

  1. The team took a step back from fifth place in the East to non playoff team over a larger sample size this season.
  2. Team underwent two epic collapses, one in the span of 11 minutes in game 7 last May and one in the span of 8 games this March, under his leadership.
  3. Carlyle’s philosophies were described (hilarious now in hindsight) as defence first. He’s had essentially two full seasons with the roster and the team is breaking records for shots against and is 26th in goals against. And while it’s fallen off along with pretty much everything else in the last 8 games, he has received top-10 goaltending (.914).
  4. Special teams: the penalty kill, an accomplishment Randy could hang the hat on last season, has fallen off immensely from 2nd to 28th. The PP has improved from 14th to 4th, but has fallen off when needed down the stretch and also wears the dubious distinction of allowing the second-most shorthanded goals in the League (which I’d attribute to the choices in defence pair-ups). Do we give a checkmark for sustained success on the powerplay in terms of the overall conversion rate, though? Yes (Keep in mind it runs through a top-3 goal and point producer since 2011).
  5. The team’s offence has fallen off from 6th to 12th, despite Kessel/JvR/Bozak’s great seasons, as secondary scoring has taken a significant hit this season. (The Leafs are where they are in this category because of their top line, and “ride one of the league’s best lines like a rented mule, at the cost or without much success in terms of defensive system buy in” doesn’t really seem like a coaching masterstroke).

Now, the stuff outside the brackets is a simple listing of  objective information about the team’s performance under Carlyle this season. We could get into a whole slew of more opinionated stuff like lineup management (wearing down line 1, failure to use a 4th line to the detriment of the likes of D’Amigo, Holland, Ashton), his systems,  individual player deployment/usage, the fact that this is more of “his” lineup with Grabovski/MacArthur jettisoned and the Bolland/Clarkson adds, but we’ll stick to this for now.

The thing is, if the Leafs are to aspire to the gold standard of the San Jose’s and St. Louis’ of the world — very deep teams in all areas with mobile defences and fast, aggressive forwards who can forecheck, cycle, sustain possession  – the roster is going to have to change in  few significant ways, too. That’s the type of team Carlyle wants, but he can’t be the only one to see the way the dominant teams of the League play the game and aspire to a similar goal.  It’s pretty difficult to imagine how an exhaustive review reveals much if any evidence of good coaching or a harbinger of good things to come. The Leafs are clearly punching below their weight.

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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-hosted "The Battle of the Atlantic," a weekly show on TSN1200 that covered 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