Burke: Team fell 'right off a cliff'
Rob Longley, QMI AGENCY
There wasn’t anyone more stunned with the rapid decline of the Maple Leafs than general manager Brian Burke.
So much so that he felt he had no other choice but to fire his friend and former college teammate Ron Wilson on Friday evening.
“I’ve never had this before,” Burke said Saturday at the Bell Centre as he introduced the team’s 28th head coach, Randy Carlyle.
“I’ve never had a team fall off a cliff like this before in my life. I’ve had dips. I’ve had slumps. I’ve had rough patches. But this is akin to an 18-wheeler going right off a cliff.
“I don’t know what happened. It’s like somebody hit me with a two by four.”
So uninspired and inept were the Leafs in their six-game losing streak (and 10 of their previous 11), Burke felt he needed to do something to “salvage the season.”
Carlyle, who teamed with Burke to win a Stanley Cup in Anaheim in 2007, was first approached Wednesday and eventually came to terms on a three-year deal to take the reins of the team he once played for.
Carlyle met with his team on Saturday night and was stunned at their demeanor and lack of confidence.
“We met for close to an hour and the reality was, it was my sense that the hockey club is very, very tense right now,” Carlyle said.
“I feel like the confidence level of the group is probably at a low where my responsibility as a head coach and a coaching staff is to pick these guys up.
“They’ve got to feel a lot better about themselves than they do today.”
Carlyle promises to do it with tough love, a big reason Burke hired him. Known as a rigid disciplinarian, he expects his teams to be accountable on and off the ice and will get his first chance to show it Saturday night here at the Bell Centre against Montreal.
Burke said it was “unpleasant” to give Wilson the bad news, which began with an email for a meeting Friday afternoon.
“I told the players, when a coach gets fired, there’s plenty of blame to go around,” Burke said. “It’s easy to shovel dirt on the coach. Did I give him the right players quick enough, do we have the right goaltenders? I success a share of the blame for this and the players have to as well. Everyone’s got to look in the mirror.”
Burke maintained that there is still time to salvage the season, despite the fact the Leafs are in 12th place in the Eastern Conference entering Saturday’s play.
One other change will see Dave Farrish, a former assistant with Carlyle in Anaheim, replace Rob Zettler here in Toronto.