TORONTO - In a perfect hockey world — one in which the National Hockey League owners and players weren’t doing potential long-term damage to the game that both sides apparently love — Randy Carlyle would have spent Wednesday in Stirling-Rawdon, Ont., with the Maple Leafs, preparing for that night’s pre-season game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
But with the NHL lockout wiping the Kraft Hockeyville celebration match off the schedule, along with every other exhibition game, Carlyle is stuck in neutral and found himself at the MasterCard Centre, intently watching the Toronto Marlies practice.
With both sides on the NHL front locked in stubborn mode, the sight of Carlyle watching over the Marlies as they complete training camp and open the AHL regular season on Oct. 13 is bound to become a familiar one.
And though it would be easy to say that Carlyle is hanging around because he has nothing better to do, there’s a little more to it.
“It’s all part of getting to know the youth of your organization and the depth players who have become available to you,” Carlyle said. “There are probably some players in the American Hockey League that would be on our roster. You always try to get a gauge on where some of the younger kids are, from the limited amount I was able to watch them last year in the AHL playoffs, and now watch them on a day-to-day basis here. It is all just trying to be a sponge and see what kind of personalities these individuals have.
“You would be foolish not to be here and not to participate to some degree. We have made it a mandate from the (Leafs) coaching staff that we want to have someone here on a day-to-day basis. We want to have a presence throughout the camp.”
It’s a bonus for Carlyle that he has a relationship with Marlies coach Dallas Eakins, one that goes back to the days that they were teammates with the Winnipeg Jets in 1992-93. As such, Eakins perhaps can take the defensive philosophies of Carlyle and apply them with some more understanding than he might from a man he doesn’t know. And it’s paramount that Eakins realizes Carlyle is there to aid, not step on his toes.
“I love it,” Eakins said recently. “Randy had such a great influence on me when I was a young player. And I had the great benefit and honour of playing on the same team, even though I was an extra part. He treated me well and he taught me how to be a pro. Now, to have an old teammate and a guy you really looked up to around to hash out system stuff and sit up in the stands and talk about plays or players, it makes it fun. It is great for me, for our assistant coaches. He is so passionate about the game. There is so much attention to detail, but at the same point he has such passion for life, that it is fun having him around.”
During the 2004-05 lockout, Carlyle was coaching the Manitoba Moose of the AHL and had the benefit of visits from Marc Crawford, who was coaching Manitoba’s NHL parent, the Vancouver Canucks.
The presence of Carlyle and other members of the Leafs coaching staff — assistant coaches Dave Farrish and Scott Gordon watched from the stands at the MCC on Wednesday as well — isn’t lost on the Marlies, especially those whose aspirations to play for the Leafs will be realized.
“When their season is going, they can’t see you,” defenceman Korbinian Holzer said. “They can see you every day now and it’s a good thing for the players. We can show what we can do on a daily basis, and the coaches see where there is room for improvement.”
Just don’t figure on seeing Carlyle go behind the Marlies bench. That’s Eakins’ domain.
“I won’t,” Carlyle said. “This is Dallas’ opportunity here. I am not here to coach the Toronto Marlies. I am here to help Dallas if he has any questions and to support him.”