Carlyle rolling up his sleeves
LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
|Leafs coach Randy Carlyle is setting out now to put new Leafs 'template' into action. (QMI AGENCY)
TORONTO - As Randy Carlyle gazed around the draft tables on Friday night, there was no avoiding a stroll down Memory Lane.
This was Pittsburgh, site of his career year and Norris Trophy in 1980-81. On one side was the Anaheim Ducks group, with many names he shares on the 2007 Stanley Cup. On the other was the reinstated Winnipeg franchise, where he played for the Jets, coached the city’s AHL team and influenced countless hockey people there for the better part of two decades. At the far end of the floor were the new champions, the L.A. Kings, whom Carlyle faced many times in his California days.
But making an impact behind the Maple Leafs bench is his current and biggest challenge, a high-stress job that has burned out a long list that includes Hall of Famers. Carlyle’s grace period as coach ended April 7, the last of his 18-game mop-up role for Ron Wilson. His own watch officially began the past few days, inputting on player personnel such as the James van Riemsdyk trade, huddling with his assistants to set the training camp agenda and meeting No. 1 pick Morgan Rielly.
He keenly watched the AHL Marlies’ run to the Calder Cup final this month and, in less than a week, he’ll be looking in on the Leafs’ prospect camp. But when real camp starts after Labour Day, so will the reality that Carlyle hockey will require a Carlyle-style team, of which the Leafs are not, in mind or body.
“If you look at the playoffs, that’s what we’re trying to duplicate,” Carlyle said. “We’re trying to play that hockey for 82 games. “Obviously, there is a new coaching staff in place (Carlyle and right-hand man Dave Farrish, with Wilson holdovers Greg Cronin and Scott Gordon), a staff that demands a higher brand of defensive hockey. We still want to skate, to be a forechecking team. That doesn’t change.
“Are there areas in which we can improve? Obviously. There are going to be staples of our game, and players became aware of that when the change was made.”
The template Carlyle says he wants in 2012-13 was discussed in detail by the staff on Wednesday, including how the current roster can best be utilized, with further meetings planned in August and early September.
“We’re going to assign responsibility (roughing out lines and defensive pairings), talking about how we can prepare our team for a higher level,” Carlyle said. “We’re also going to create our own template for the staff (such as who will be in charge of special teams), what systems we have to play to change what we did in the last games of last season.”
Carlyle kept his composure on the bench as the Leafs lost 12 of his 18 games, but the wheels were already turning in his head for 2012-13.
“In the playoffs, there weren’t a lot of goals scored off the rush,” Carlyle noted. “We want to play a different brand of hockey, not so much a rush team, we want to be able to grind teams. If you can grind teams, you can create more time with the puck, thus you draw more penalties, create more scoring chances and you’ll wear down the opposition.
“Playoff games were played tight to the vest, but the pace of games was still up there. You’ve got to be able to move the puck, get in on the forecheck and create more offensive time. Our mindset has to change.”
To that end, the Leafs underwent a significant shift with van Riemsdyk joining the band on Saturday in a trade for defender Luke Schenn. On the day he fired Wilson, general manager Brian Burke acknowledged the need to tailor the team up front to reflect what he and Carlyle crafted in Anaheim. Saturday’s acquisition of van Riemsdyk was a vital first step.
“Randy will figure out where he plays,” Burke said of van Riemsdyk. “I envision him in the top six, on one of the power play units. We’re not big enough up front.”
Burke wants to position the Leafs to maximize what he believes will be a trend this coming year to keep play moving. Certainly, by playoff time, referees were more lenient on allowing battles for the puck to be settled without reading to the letter of the law.
“No matter what happens, someone is not going to be happy,” Carlyle said of past officiating trends. “Twenty guys will agree with the call or there are 20 who say: ‘How could you possibly miss that’?
“I think the standard of officiating created post-lockout has been a positive for the game. But the work ethic demonstrated by the teams has been one of playing up the neutral ice more and a lot less space in the middle. That’s what has really changed, everybody putting as many people back in defensive zones, five guys in that quadrant.”
If Carlyle can put life into the Leafs, Toronto’s table will be a desired destination at future drafts.