March 2, 2012
Carlyle isn't Mr. Congeniality
By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency
TORONTO - At Real Sports, the fancy sports bar owned by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, happy hour has been officially put on hold: This is a solemn time and a time of recovery.
There will not be many smiles with Randy Carlyle as the new coach of the Maple Leafs, least of all from the coach himself.
That’s how Carlyle is. That’s what he does. He is smart and strong and grumpy and stubborn in a way that is completely the opposite of the departed Ron Wilson.
There will be no smiling in class anymore. No talking. No passing of notes. This is a new sherriff, totally unlike the old sherriff: Ron Wilson battled with the media and occasionally with his players. Carlyle won’t have time for such nonsense. He is bottom line, bottom line.
You play his way or you don’t play.
You do what he says or you get buried on the bench. He gives you one of those stares and you want to go home.
Maybe not since Punch Imlach have the Leafs had a coach that would push this hard — and then push just a little bit harder. He won’t accept average. He won’t be happy after many victories. He was like that as a player, a loner of sorts of the teams on which he played. When he played for the Winnipeg Jets, one or two of the Jets players dared to speak to him, dared to become friends. Carlyle had no time for friendships: He was too busy trying to win hockey games.
And now he is the coach of the Leafs, replacing Wilson, and few will shed a tear over this firing, even though it is ill-timed. Wilson had a rather strange existence in his four seasons as Leafs coach — he created fights when there weren’t any, rubbed so many people the wrong way with the way in which he carried himself, and pushed forever for an offensive run-and-gun system which fostered hockey that was good to watch and difficult to win with.
Somehow — and he has done this before — he checked his personality at the arena door. The Wilson who you’d talk to in his office, in a bar or restaurant, or away from the game, could be delightful and funny and full of stories: Folksy, the way baseball managers can be folksy. He just wouldn’t allow himself to be that way in dealing with Toronto’s overbloated media corps. The image that he leaves behind is only partially accurate: I happen to like Ron Wilson, more as a person than a coach, just not in how he chose to conduct himself while running the Leafs.
It wasn’t, as Brian Burke has said, the media’s doing that Wilson was unpopular. It was his I-Win, They-Lost way, his caustic nature. Most fans don’t like or trust media, which is their choice. But in this case, Wilson was less popular than even that.
Some good things happened under his watch, particularly the development of Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul as premier NHL forwards. In fact, it will be interesting to watch how Carlyle uses Lupul: He had little use for him the last he was in Anaheim. Maybe now, when he sees the rest of the Leafs lineup, he will appreciate Lupul now, who has been just about the best Toronto player this season.
In Anaheim, Carlyle won a Stanley Cup using fewer players in regular rotation than any coach in recent memory. He won a Cup with Andy McDonald as his first-line centre, with a kid named Ryan Getzlaf double- and triple-shifting, with Corey Perry just learning. And leaning so heavily on Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer on defence.
He has some forwards to work with here, but he has no Pronger or Niedermayer — and as has been determined lately, the more the Leafs rely on Dion Phaneuf, the more pressured he plays. Carlyle has 18 games to get a look at the Leafs defence and figure out where he goes from here. The strange part about his hiring is, there was no term indicated in the press release that announced the move. He will coach the Leafs for the rest of the season. But it’s illogical to see him as caretaker coach. No doubt he will be here for at least this year and two more — and possibly more than that — under conditions not announced.
The climate couldn’t have changed more than it did Friday night. Beneath the gruff, there was a soft side to Pat Burns. Beneath the blarney, players enjoyed playing for Pat Quinn. There is no warm and fuzzy with Randy Carlyle.
Finally, Burke has his pugnacity and truculence, this time in his brand a new head coach.