'We're just embarrassed': Leafs coach Randy Carlyle

Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle gives his year-end update on the performance of the Leafs....

Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle gives his year-end update on the performance of the Leafs. (DAVE THOMAS/QMI Agency)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:29 PM ET

If Randy Carlyle is still coach of the Maple Leafs next season, he’ll have a mountain of work ahead.

“I’m here today,” he joshed with reporters attending Tuesday’s wrap-up press conference, when asked if he was worried about his job status following the March/April collapse. “In this business, you take on the responsibility of wins and losses, put your best foot forward, be honest and forthright with people.

“That’s what we’ve tried to do as a coaching staff. Decisions will be made whether this person or that person will not be back, but I’m not the one making them.”

Carlyle did not speak to the media the day before on locker clean-out day as he held one-on-one exit meetings with players. But upsLANCE HORNBY

Toronto Sun

Randy Carlyle has a better grasp of what went so wrong with his hockey team and even has ideas how to fix it.

But it’s likely too late to reverse the course of change now flowing through Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment before the white water gets to his office.

“Decisions will be made whether this person or that person will not be back, but I’m not the one making them,” Carlyle said Tuesday at his season wrap-up. “In this business, you take on the responsibility of wins and losses, put your best foot forward, be honest and forthright with people. That’s what we’ve tried to do as a coaching staff.”

Yet the message that resonated so loud and clear in a 48-game playoff season of 2013 fell on deaf ears in a dressing room with a flawed dynamic. 

In the news conference introducing new MLSE president Brendan Shanahan on Monday, CEO Tim Leiweke and Leafs general manager Dave Nonis came down hard on the team that had lost its will, along with 12 of its final 14 games. Lack of leadership, character and a losing culture kept coming up in both the questions and answers on Monday and part of that will reflect badly on Carlyle. 

The coach had one-on-one exit interviews to conduct Monday, conveniently keeping him out of sight from the big Shanahan party upstairs where his future was discussed. 

“Shanny and I have had a conversation in terms of ‘hello, what’s going on, how ya doing?” Carlyle said. “But nothing like a formal sitdown.”

Carlyle should get a chance to give some input, even if it’s just for the edification of the new prez and Nonis in choosing a replacement. Monday was also for Carlyle to pick his players’ brains and fathom how they fell in just 30 days from a threat to finish second in the division to 23rd in the NHL. Was he tuned out, or are the Leafs on another frequency?

“I don’t know if you can say (the coaches’ message) wasn’t getting through or being ignored. We were behind the bench, the first goal would go in and the shoulders would shrink. That was the sign. There was no push-back. Shifts after goals are the most important. But our response was very minimal.

“We’re not asking players to do something they haven’t done before in junior or the American Hockey League. You have to play and you have to compete on the defensive side of the puck, with commitment. And we did not want to do that on a day-to-day basis. That’s where are struggles were.”

Carlyle, not known as a buddy-buddy players’ coach, said he had some interesting conversations with each Leaf as they said their summer goodbyes, some certain not to return.

“No one felt good about what has happened,” he said. “There were some suprising things that come back,  things you wouldn’t imagine and things that are consistent.

“What would I change? I’d be hard and fast on some decisions early in the season, be (more) committed to doing them. But those are things that are best suited to stay inside.”

It did became apparent that captain Dion Phaneuf’s palace guard were not able to galvanize the room as the losses mounted.

“There is going to be a lot of investigating and assessing at different levels and leadership will be one of them,” Carlyle said. “In the course of the season, we have meetings with the leadership group and not just the captains. We break our groups up and meet with them on a regular basis, along a six- to eight-game schedule, so it’s not just one person we ask questions of, or expect to be leaders. 

“When you go through a situation like this, there is going to b a lot of dissecting taking place.

“The last 30 days were tell-tale,” said Carlyle, whose warnings that poor defensive play would haunt the team became a self-fulfulling doomsday prophecy. 

“We lacked an ability to get inside and compete, specifically on the defensive side. And you look at our offence nd special teams, too. That’s where the difference in the game is. We didn’t win any of the special teams battles in close hockey games.

“We seemed to have lost our mojo.”

Too late to get it back this season, but someone else might be heading the search party next September.

YOUTH IS SERVED

When Randy Carlyle was asked about some of the more lively exchanges he had with players during Monday’s exit meetings, he cracked a smile.

“One example,” he said. “A young defenceman (we’ll call him Jake Gardiner for fun), playing a rover style of hockey at the start versus more conservative at the end of year, felt the leash afforded him early in the season was not as long as the one at the end. The coach said ‘if you’d have played longer (in the NHL), you would’ve had a longer leash’. It was a chicken-and-egg thing.

“It was kind of a surprise who he compared himself with in the league. That was shocking”.

But Carlyle objected to the notion that a big Leafs roster upheaval was needed after missing the playoffs.

“There is some youth on this team that we’re bringing along. Those things are always part of the equation. We have two defencemen in Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly. Now we’re going to say they don’t belong? Nazem Kadri is a 23-year-old centre who had 50 points. Go through the stats and see how many other 23-year-olds had 50.”


Check out highlights from Carlyle's press conference. Click here for a mobile-friendly version.


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