MONTREAL - Randy Carlyle didn’t chew out anyone on his first day as new coach of the Maple Leafs, but did eat some humble pie.
Anxious to get off on the right foot with former Ducks’ winger Joffrey Lupul, Carlyle said he’d erred in not giving him a bigger role when both were in Anaheim a couple of years ago.
The air was poisoned earlier this season when Lupul came back through California and said his first line left-wing role with the Leafs would never have come to pass in Anaheim because Carlyle “did not see me as that type of player.” Carlyle felt he handled the question the right way, prior to being fired by the Ducks in late November, but made a further effort in a meeting with Lupul after his first huddle at the team hotel.
“Loops made a comment in Anaheim that I didn’t use him correctly. He was right. I made the mistake — and I said it at that time — we should have put him at left wing in our top six grouping. But you have to remember that he came back from some pretty dramatic back surgery, with a number of infections. We at one point thought he would never play again. That’s a mistake we made, I made it and I take responsibility.
“I’ve talked to Joffrey about it and it’s water under the bridge. He’s a top six forward for the Leafs (66 points in 64 games before Saturday), he’s having a career year and good for him.”
Lupul avoided the media on Friday but was very optimistic about starting a new page with Carlyle after Saturday’s morning skate.
“We spoke last night when he got to the hotel,” Lupul said. “It was short and whatever happened in the past is in the past. I was coming off an injury on a different team in a different situation. It’s a new team for both of us, a new opportunity. We’re going to make it work.”
Though Carlyle immediately started tinkering with the forward lines, Lupul and fellow first liners Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak remained intact.
“We’re a skating-first team and one of the first things Randy said was that he’s not going to switch what was working earlier in the year,” Lupul said. “He touched upon the fact he was in Anaheim when we came through and were playing our best hockey of the year (14-8-2).
“He said there would be a little more emphasis on conditioning now (Lupul had a mock grimace as he recalled Carlyle’s tough practices from years’ past), but that’s part of the game.”