Nonis’ expectations, an “exhaustive” Carlyle review

Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis leaves the rink after a practice session at their NHL training camp in Toronto on Thursday September 12, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

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.

Previous articleTSN 1050: TSN Drive: March 31st - Darren Dreger
Next articleRandy Carlyle - 04/01/2014
Alec Brownscombe is the founder of, 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]
  • Yan28

    Broke it down perfectly.
    It would be torture for us Leafs fans to sit through another year of Carlyle coaching.
    What worries me is that Spott said they will look at Biggs in 2 or 3 years to see where he fits in with the Leafs, so I am guessing Broll, Carrick, Devane and the other gritty role players on the Marlies won’t see action for another few years, so we’ll need to mold a 4th line via trades and free agency. Devane was one of the last cut from the training camp this year by the way.
    I feel we have to retool and move out Lupul as part of a package to bring in an Evander Kane for example, both need a change of scenery. We need a guy that maybe scores less goals but will forecheck, get dirty and ride for his team. Like A Callahan for example (of course if the money makes sense).

  • impacted8

    Awesome post, scathing but accurate.


    top 20

    1 REINHART, SAM KOOTENAY WHL C 6′ 0.75″185
    2 EKBLAD, AARON BARRIE OHL D  6′ 3.5″216
     6 DAL COLLE, MICHAEL OSHAWA OHL C/LW  6′ 1.5″179 
     7 DRAISAITL, LEON  PRINCE ALBERT  WHL  C  6′ 1.75″208 
     8 PERLINI, BRENDAN  NIAGARA  OHL  LW  6′ 2.5″205 
     9 NYLANDER, WILLIAM  SODERTALJE  SWEDEN-2   C/RW   5′ 11.0″169 
     10  SCHERBAK, NIKITA  SASKATOON  WHL  RW   6′ 2.0″174
     11 KAPANEN, KASPERI  KALPA  FINLAND  RW   6′ 0.0″180
    12  TUCH, ALEX  USA U-18  USHL  C/RW   6′ 3.5″213
    13  FLEURY, HAYDN   RED DEER   WHL  D   6′ 2.5″198 
     14  KEMPE, ADRIAN  MODO JR.SWEDEN-JR.  LW  6′ 1.5″187 
     15 VIRTANEN, JAKE  CALGARY   WHL   RW   6′ 0.75″208 
     16 BARBASHEV, IVAN  MONCTON  QMJHL  C/LW  6′ 1.0″185
     17 LARKIN, DYLAN   USA U-18  USHL  C   6′ 0.75″190 
     18  BLEACKLEY, CONNER   RED DEER      WHL  C   6′ 0.5″192
     19 MCCANN, JARED   SAULT STE. MARIE  OHL  C   6′ 0.25″179 
     20  HONKA, JULIUS  SWIFT CURRENT  WHL  D       5′ 10.5″178

  • 4evrblue

    Yan28 Broll and Devane did see a little action this year. 5 games for Broll which is a good look for a guy with his role in his first pro season. Hopefully next season that will turn into 20-30 and the year after he’ll be here for good. I think he’s gonna be a good one :)

  • 4evrblue

    Great writeup Alec. Especially enjoyed looking back to hear NoNo say the aim was to be better this year and talk about gaining the respect of the league and not being bullied in our own building. Pretty big failure IMO
    Gotta run to work, gonna have a long day of plowing today as we got hit with 20cm last night and are calling for another 20 today. Wish this winter would end already.

  • Great Dane

    To be honest in all the categories where coaching is absolutely essential Carlyle and Co have been an epic failure.

    Leiweke isnt going to accept that, so the coach will get the pink slip. I can’t imagine that there will not be consequences for the players as well.

    Leiweke wants star players for his franchise – he want a Beckham. Therefore players like Weber and Tavares will be targeted by the Leafs and I can only see four to five players that safe right now: 

    Kessel, JVR, Bernier, Reilly and Gardiner (maybe)

  • peterbleafs

    If Nonis really told the board that, it would have come out by now so that is a lie.  The rhetoric now will be a cover your ass rhetoric by Nonis on down.  Im thinking, get lost Nonis youre part of the problem not so much for the roster decisions, those are actually good, but instead not intervening when it was painfully obvious again.

    That got Burke fired, and it should get you fired.

  • Burtonboy

    4evrblue Yan28  Spott seemed to be complimentary of Tyler Biggs yesterday . Said he’s working hard and doing everything he can  to be on the big squad . I was impressed with him on Sunday . For a big big man he can skate really well. Scored a goal too.. The guy is a presence out there

  • Yaknowwhat

    So Nonis thought the team was life and death to make the playoffs? What’s the big deal? Was this news to anyone? As for the offseason signings being evidence of something else…I don’t see that at all…building a team means you add pieces along the way if and when they become available…see Bernier, Bolland and Clarkson…..just because you may think your in tough to make the playoffs doesn’t mean you don’t continue with your work of trying to improve the team longterm…seems others think Nonis should of  had a fire sale at the deadline….what many that at that point and time we were in a playoff position and I am sure Nonis just figured this was a pleasant surprise and to leave things alone….

  • Uncle Otis

    All this Dreger spin cycle can mean only one thing….Nonis is worried about his job.