(Ed. Note: Well, here it is. The long gestating Toronto Maple Leafs Eulogy. Usually, we have the fans that hate eliminated teams the most be the ones to remember them fondly. But since the Leafs making the playoffs was such a monumental deal, we decided to go in another direction: Allowing the caustic Leas fans from Pension Plan Puppets to eulogize their own team. Here’s what happens when year of cynicism collides with sudden adoration for a Leafs team that lost in seven to the Bruins.)
By Pension Plan Puppets
Today we say goodbye to the 2012-13 Toronto Maple Leafs.
We come not to mourn their passing, but to celebrate how the 2012-13 Toronto Maple Leafs lived, loved and were led by a great man known as Randolph Robert Carlyle.
The world will long remember these Leafs for their ability to generate quality shots and for limiting their opponents’ quality chances.
Hockey fans, no matter their allegiance, will recall this team for the terror they struck in the hearts of the opposition by playing not one, but two enforcers for a few short minutes each night.
The 2012-13 Leafs will be remembered for changing their culture. They will be, and should be, remembered by the Jack Adams-worthy work of Coach Randy Carlyle.
If Coach Carlyle had to summarize this year’s Leafs in a single word, the word he would choose is “team toughness.”
As team founder Conn Smythe famously said, “if you can’t beat ‘em in the alley, you can’t beat ‘em on the ice” and nothing proves team toughness more than mutually agreed upon fights between fourth liners who barely see the ice (look all the way down to players 25 and 26).
The 2012-13 Leafs led the NHL with 44 fighting majors, and, as Coach Carlyle has taught fans everywhere -- teams cannot succeed in the NHL unless you’re willing to drop the mitts almost every night.
Ron Wilson foolishly demoted Colton Orr and, in the wake of that decision, he was fired and the Leafs failed to make the playoffs. Coach Carlyle, on the other hand, wisely iced not one but two face punchers for most of the season. The success of this approach is evident from the emergence of Toronto’s skill players who blossomed under Carlyle’s pugilistic umbrella to the amazing finish to the Leafs’ season.
Phil Kessel enjoyed unprecedented success this year posting a shooting percentage of 12.5% and scoring 1.08 points per game under the newfound protective blanket of Orr and McLaren. Last year, before the culture changed, Kessel’s shooting percentage was a laughable 12.4% and he scored just 1.00 points per game. Kessel was not alone. Nazem Kadri was able to enjoy extremely high quality shots that produced sky-high shooting results thanks to the presence of Orr and McLaren and the protection that they bring.
The simple fact is: the Leafs play better with two tough guys in the lineup. Playing Frazer McLaren in place of soft, unproductive players like Matt Frattin or Clarke MacArthur is what the Carlyle Leafs are all about -- there’s no one else on the roster who can do what Orr and McLaren can do.
Game 7 – have a look at who was in the press box and who was nailed to the bench. Math nerds said the odds of that outcome was a once in 60 lifetimes event. Guaranteed the Leafs don’t find themselves looking at OT in game seven if Orr and McLaren get more ice time in that series.
The Leafs may wear a Maple Leaf on their chest, but it’s surely no coincidence that one of their longest post-season droughts occurred under an American President and GM who filled the roster with Americans.
Coach Carlyle recognized this deficit and set things right by ensure the Leafs top centre was a good Saskatchewan boy. He went one step further and buried the Belarussian with d-zone starts and defensive wingers. All the coach wanted was more scoring from Grabovski but Grabovski wouldn’t, or couldn’t, deliver.
Coach Carlyle knows that Bozak is the proverbial straw that stirs the delicious drink that is the Leafs first line.
When Bozak was hampered by an injury to his oblique and suffering from a triceps injury that ultimately took him out of the game Coach Carlyle wisely played him more than 20 minutes a night.
Recognizing your best players and putting them in the best situation to succeed is key to helping a team win. Just like taking a time out when the team is under pressure or not playing passively and falling back to protect a slim lead, Coach Carlyle knows what it takes to win and the results are there for everyone to see.
As we look back on the 2012-13 Toronto Maple Leafs, there will be people who like to point out the Leafs’ inability to draft and develop young, contributing players. Luke Schenn was famously rushed into the NHL and has now found success - well, he skates a regular shift in Philly.
Widely derided for his poor rookie season, Jake Gardiner was clearly in over his head with the Leafs. His failures last year were numerous and obvious: he didn't receive a nomination for the Norris, Vezina, Conn Smythe or even the Calder (that annual trophy awarded to the best rookie not from Edmonton). Gardiner's lack of success was another major contributing factor to the Leafs missing playoffs under Ron Wilson.
Coach Carlyle learned from that mistake and developed Jake Gardiner slowly, the right way.
Some people might say that sitting in the press box not playing hockey isn't the best way to develop a player, but those people are wrong and have likely never played or coached in the NHL.
As Detroit fans can assure you, the most important way to develop players is by not letting them play in the NHL. When you don't luck into the Swedish National Team in the 16th round of the draft and players don't wait until they turn 30 before joining your team, you need to take matters into your own hands. That means parking players in the press box until they are a little older; just like opening a package of Peeps that are too chewy and waiting for them to get a little stale. Did we say stale? We meant that those Peeps needed to learn how to play Coach Carlyle hockey by not playing hockey.
Others might say Gardiner joining the Leafs line-up was a major reason why the Leafs pushed their series with Boston to OT in Game 7 (at which point we all blacked out from joy and no one was able to record the result of the game, which is a shame). But those people miss the bigger picture and that’s Coach Carlyle's culture of true accountability. Coach Carlyle has turned this team into a meritocracy.
And everyone knows what a meritocracy is -- if you have talent and make a mistake, you get banished to the press box. If you don’t have talent, but try really hard, it’s all golden. That’s true accountability.
Just as hot, tight, constrictive hockey helmets cause concussions, Carlyle’s approach to accountability created a team that wouldn’t wilt under pressure, a team built on defensive prowess that kept the shots to the outside.
A lock-out shortened season when they limped into the playoffs is all it took for this franchise to re-define itself. No longer will the Toronto Maple Leafs be defined by crushing losses, poor player personnel decisions and unmitigated disasters on the ice. Nope, the Carlyle Leafs have finally changed their culture of the franchise.
That’s what the 2013 Toronto Maple Leafs were all about and it’s certainly what they will be remembered for. There’s nothing else to see here.