MONTREAL - Can it be that simple?
Randy Carlyle, when he arrived Friday night as the new coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, sensed the tension in a team that was in a 1-9-1 slide into post-season oblivion. Or, as Leafs GM Brian Burke put it, akin to an 18-wheeler going over a cliff.
Carlyle won his debut behind the Leafs bench Saturday night as his club beat a bedraggled Montreal Canadiens team at the Bell Centre, 3-1.
Carlyle's message to his team?
“I asked them to skate,” he said, “and be themselves.”
So, for one night, anyway, Burke looks good, his decision to fire Ron Wilson having the desired effect.
It is one of Burke's endearing qualities that the only thing grey in his world is his slickly-oiled coif, which gleamed under the lights at a Bell Centre press conference earlier Saturday.
Well, that and his complexion after a couple of rough days in which he fired a long-time friend and hired a slightly newer one..
You pretty much know where Burke stands on any issue and there were moments in his introduction of Carlyle as the Leafs' new head coach when he was refreshingly true to form. The Montreal-based correspondents in the room, so used to the esoteric, vague ramblings of Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier, listened achingly to Burke's soul-bearing and razor-edged opinions.
Burke made it clear that this is no time for rebuilding or moral victories or incremental improvement.
He characterized the decision to fire long-time friend Ron Wilson and replace him with another long-time friend, Carlyle, as a move to “salvage the season.”
Burke said he had the opportunity to pick up four first-round draft picks at Monday's trade deadline, but spurned the opportunities to keep this group together.
I suppose for a team that has not made the playoffs since the lockout, making the playoffs at this point would be quite the accomplishment. If you assume it is going to take about 89 points to make the playoffs in the East (it will likely spike higher as play tightens up and more three-point games come into play), the Leafs will need 23 of the 34 points they have left on the table.
That means Burke's decision to bring in Carlyle will have to have the kind of effect that has happened in just two of the six other mid-season coaching changes that have happened in the NHL this campaign.
In Los Angeles, the Kings went 10-3-5 when Darryl Sutter replaced Terry Murray. That works out to 25 points on the nose.
In St. Louis, the Blues went 12-2-4 with Ken Hitchcock replacing Davis Payne behind the bench. That's 28 points.
In the other four circumstances where coaches were fired -- Anaheim, Carolina, Montreal and Washington -- the results were about the same or worse.
So it is certainly not impossible that Carlyle could come in and “salvage” the Leafs' season, but the odds are not in the Leafs' favour.
Carlyle amounts to Burke's first hiring (wink, wink) given Wilson was put in place by Cliff Fletcher a few months before Burke left the Anaheim Ducks to take over the Leafs. Burke and Wilson were former college roommates, teammates and co-captains at Providence College.
Burke made it sound like he finally had his coach Saturday, admitting that he and Wilson did not quite place the same value on truculence.
“If there’s one philosophical commitment that Randy and I share, it’s I like a rough team and I think if you can point to one thing where Ron and I were on a different page, slightly, it would be that,” said Burke. “I like it a little rougher than Ron does. But that’s the only part we were in disagreement on.”
So now it sounds like Burke has his man.
Thing is, while Burke sold the idea of truculence, the personnel he has put on the ice hardly reflects that to the point the Canadiens -- with their acquisition of Brad Staubitz and the return to health of Ryan White -- were more stocked up on truculence than the visiting Blue Team.
Now, after weeks of the focus being on Wilson and his future, the clock starts ticking on Burke.
He chose to do nothing at the trade deadline and given the struggles of his young goaltenders, maybe that's the area that needed to be addressed to salvage a season.
Each GM gets a couple of do-overs in the coaching department (just ask Bryan Murray in Ottawa, who after a couple of strikeouts looks like he's hit a home run with Paul MacLean) and Burke has now had a swing at the plate.
For one night, anyway, you can colour Burke's big move gold.