As expected, the Toronto Maple Leafs made changes to their coaching staff on Thursday, announcing that assistants Dave Farrish, Scott Gordon and Greg Cronin would not be returning to the team for the 2014-15 season.
That's it. Those are the changes. In other words, Randy Carlyle will not be not returning.
Rather than firing him, as many expected, and most in the Toronto fan community called for, the Leafs have instead extended him for two more years.
(Now, that doesn't necessarily mean he'll stick around for two years -- he could be fired early next season, for all we know -- but next year would have been the last year of his contract, and we all know that hockey's developed this weird rhetoric where coaches simply can't coach to the fullest extent of their abilities without knowing they get a full year of free money if they're fired. As with many of hockey's grand traditions and ideals, this one doesn't hold up to the incisive, destructive power of the word "why", but let's just go with it.)
"I don't blame the assistant coaches for what went wrong," Dave Nonis said, which is weird, since they were fired. And as for Carlyle, here's how he came to the decision to retain the embattled head coach:
“It was important, after a disappointing end to the season and the arrival of Brendan as team president, to conduct a thorough review of the organization as we continue the work of building a winning tradition and culture for the Maple Leafs,” Nonis said in the Leafs' release.
“That process started with the head coach, and as we analyzed it, we decided together that Randy Carlyle was the right person to lead this team. In Randy we know that we have a leader who has enjoyed a high level of success as both a player and a coach, including a Stanley Cup championship. It was important that the positives Randy brings to our team were not overshadowed by a finish to the season that we all must take responsibility for."
I think I speak for many when I say that I'd love to hear what, exactly those positives are. The Leafs have been a defensive tire fire under Carlyle, outshot and outplayed regularly, yet stealing wins thanks to the prodigious stylings of Phil Kessel up front and James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier in goal.
They fell apart late this season, as many predicted, but rather than viewing that horrible finish as a return to earth after a run of unsustainably good luck, the Leafs appear to have interpreted it as a run of unsustainably bad luck after playing the way they can. That's a drastic misread, and it doesn't bode well for next year, when, barring some major changes, which don't seem likely for a cap-strapped club like Toronto, the Leafs will effectively look and play the same. That's baffling.
It's also belies Tim Leiweke's talk of a culture change, and the horse he rode in on, named "accountability", when he took over as CEO and President at MLSE at the beginning of the season. To wit, from the Toronto Star:
The evening’s theme was “accountability”— MLSE’s accountability to the fans to create a culture more about that Leafs religion into which Sustronk was baptized. But less about the cult-like following often associated with one of North America’s most beloved franchises, which sells out every game, for many years with no signs of winning in sight.
The evening was part of Tim Leiweke’s arrival as the new president and CEO of MLSE. He told about 2,000 season ticket holders and other Leafs fans gathered in a sectioned-off lower bowl of the ACC that the now-annual event is part of the new culture he promises to create.
How, after selling the fans on accountability, two years of Randy Carlyle's lottery hockey earned him a third is anybody's guess.
Either way, it's safe to say that if he doesn't scratch himself a winner this time around, there won't be a fourth.
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