Dave Nonis believes in the abysmal Maple Leafs he's built

Dave Nonis believes in the abysmal Maple Leafs he's built

In the words of Boyz II Men: Close your eyes. Make a wish.

Believe this thing you want to happen is going to come true. Believe it with every fiber of your being, every cell in your body. Will it into reality.

Open your eyes.

And … nothing happened. Life still sucks.

Every time Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis speaks about his team, it’s like he’s trying to force everyone into believing this collection of ill-fitting parts, underwhelming players and never-was’s is something better than what they are, which is a sputtering car with a poorly constructed engine that will just work if we can only put a few more coats of paint on it, you guys …

“It’s not that we have players that can’t do it. We’ve seen it,” said Nonis, announcing coach Randy Carlyle’s firing on Tuesday, before citing the one or two games this season when the Leafs carried play.

“I don’t think it’s that they’re not capable. They are.”

Of course you do, Dave. It’s your roster. Well, it’s Brian Burke’s roster, but you were a party to it, and somehow failed upward into the general manager’s gig. You also inherited the coach Burke hired hastily after firing his friend Ron Wilson, who currently looks like Scotty bloody Bowman by comparison. A coach hired by Burke because he has a Cup ring, much like Dan Carcillo does.

Carlyle wasn’t the problem, but he was a problem. He was called “an excellent coach” by Nonis, and that’s true: When taking over a team that has Scott Niedermayer, Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, an in-his-prime Jean-Sebastian Giguere and later Chris Pronger, he’s an excellent coach, like you or I would be too.

When coaching a team of Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk, Jonathan Bernier and Stephane Robidas … maybe not.

He led the Anaheim Ducks to the 2007 Stanley Cup, and to the playoffs in five of seven seasons. He was fired four yeas later, after a seven-game losing streak and at a point where his players had tuned him out.

“This wasn’t about the core not listening to Randy, or anything like that,” said Nonis, after becoming the second GM to fire Carlyle.

“Our consistency hasn’t been there. It’s been trending downward.”

Yes it has, for years, when it was apparent that this was a bad coach with a bad hockey team.

One possesses a melting snowflake longer than the Leafs possessed the puck. One watched in utter amazement as Carlyle gave ice time to Neanderthalic enforcers and chased away skill players like Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur, both of whom criticized the Leafs’ style after their departure. One waited for this defense-minded coach to, you know, mind the defense.

James Reimer bought him more time by back-stopping the Leafs to a playoff berth in the lockout-shorteded season. The floor fell out last season for the Leafs, missing the playoffs by a country mile and sporting a minus-25 goal differential.

Should that have cost Carlyle his job? Of course. Did Nonis and the new regime make that call? Of course not, although there are some conflicting reports about that.

“Randy deserved to come back. He had done enough to come back. I think he’s an excellent coach,” said Nonis.

Ah, but Bob McKenzie writes this:

For now, all options remain open. IMO, No. 1 reason Carlyle not fired in off-season was because TOR didn't see another guy worth 5 yrs/$2M+.

— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) January 6, 2015

Whom to believe?!

Whether he was fired then, now or in the offseason, Carlyle was a pawn on the chess board in front of Nonis; something that could be knocked down before the players or the man who acquired them were sacked.

“The coach is easy to let go. That’s the easy change to make,” said Nonis.

The slightly harder change is shipping out players to improve the team, because, frankly, the Leafs don’t exactly have a roster of desirable acquisitions. Deal Dion Phaneuf? You’re taking on someone else’s problem contract(s) in return, lest the Leafs believe there’s a market for a 29-year-old defenseman making $7 million annually through 2021.

This team is what Nonis made it. Firing Carlyle now is an attempt to show that it’s as good as he believes it is. He’s like a student arguing a misguided thesis, slavishly dedicated to proving it because he worked so hard to write it.

Close your eyes, Dave. Make a wish.

Believe that Phil Kessel doesn’t need a second superstar on the roster like every other successful team in the NHL has. (The Kessel-is-Kane-in-need-of-Toews theory is cliché, but not unfounded.) Believe that Jake Gardner and Nazem Kadri have much more to offer. Believe that Bozak is, on any other team in organized hockey, a top line center. Believe the defense is better than sub-average. Believe the core is championship caliber. Believe David Clarkson isn’t one of the most regrettable signings in the history of the franchise.

Open your eyes. Look at the roster.

“I'm never worried about my own job security,” said Nonis.

Maybe delusion extends beyond his perception of the players.