The Cult of Carlyle: The Aftermath of Regime Change in Leaf’s Nation

1 and 0. That’s what the Leafs are now. At least, that’s what they- the team, the media, and even the fans- would have you believe. And what’s more, there is some validity to that line of thinking. Mostly because our suspicions about the Leafs under Wilson seam to have been true: they were preforming under the level they are capable of preforming and it was at least partly because of coaching.

We know this because Carlyle, after his first full practice as Maple Leafs’ bench boss, effectively said the team is out of shape. A rink-side report has it that he may have called them “weak and worthless”. He mentioned that, from now on, they will be defense first, attack second. And that if a player, say Phil Kessel (because he did) is the first man in on the forcheck, then he will have to make an attempt to retrieve the puck. Wow, what a novel idea?He also said he is generally honest, and will tell his players when he has a problem with them…

It’s understandable why he has arrived to as much fanfare as he has; he is the anti-Wilson. Whether or not that is actually beneficial for the team has yet to bare out, but, eventually it will, in the form of wins or losses. However, it’s hard not to be a little enthused as a fan to hear a coach who has more to say to his players than “let’s go!” (RE: Ron Wilson after every Leafs’ goal against). It ia also hard not to be a little excited after seeing the noticeable change in the team’s effort between Ron Wilson’s last week and Carlyle’s first game.

I don't think he's saying "let's go"
I don't think he's saying "let's go"

Life After Regime Change:

A coaching swap’s most immediate and dramatic effects are also typically the most trivial and fleeting. The sudden rise in compete level, the seemingly tighter checking more responsible play, the sudden turnaround of previously ineffective players (see: Mikhail Grabovski), these things tend to subside after a couple of games; everything reverts to the mean.

The most significant changes that follow a coaching change are actually changes in personnel and personnel usage. For example, Connoly has been immediately swapped for Steckel. Tim Connoly, who is perhaps the Leaf who, this season, has lacked a clearly defined role more than any other, may have just found his place: 4th line duster/ powerplay specialist.

Of all the players at practice yesterday it was Schenn and Komisarek who sounded most enthused. This might be because their roles have also been clearly defined: hurt people. I have a feeling that Carlyle will continue to play Komisarek instead of Franson, and we may just see a Mike Komisarek revitalization project. Yes, you read that correctly. Temper that prediction with the fact that he has been absolutely dusty as a Leaf thus far, but I think it could be a possibility. Or maybe he’s gone after this year. In the minors? Bought out? Traded? (Hey, if Gomez can get traded, anyone can. He’s the new Gretzky. In improbability of tradability only.)

Herein lies the rub: Carlyle will probably not take us to the playoffs this spring. He will instead use this time to determine who he likes and who he doesn’t like and he will make it known to Brian Burke. We will, I think, probably get something closer to the team Brian Burke said he was going to build three years ago. Remember top-six, bottom-six? What did we get? Middle 9 shitty 3? Or just 12? 12 guys playing hockey, with hard to determine identities beyond a few players.

So, my prediction is that the bottom six will be focused on playing physical and shutting down the opposition. Steckel, Lombardi and Connoly did an alright job of that against Montreal. My guess is that tonight’s third line of Armstrong-Steckel-Kulemin will be closer to what Carlyle wants long term for his third line.

Tonight will not only test strength and chemistry of our new third line, it will test what kind of change Carlyle replacing Wilson will have on this team for the rest of the season.

The Specter of the Bruin approaches. It’s gruesome visage peers through the windows of the ACC, it’s hulking figure casts a vast shadow over Leafs’ Nation. The terrified townsfolk feel that only through the steadfast courage of our new fearless leader, Sir Carlyle, can we be spared. And the thought of his leadership emboldens us and his ragged motley crew against the invaders. Whatever, it’s not that far off.

We need this. The team needs this. And if they get it, I’m sure the Cult of Carlyle will have a few more followers. Soon it may rival the Cult of Burke. And rest assured, if Burke, as has been the status quot throughout his tenure, fails to make a significant off-season improvement, it could outlast him.

The Long Goodbye: In The Nadir of TML’s Season, When Does the Coach Get Fired?

Ron Wilson is on life support. And Brian Burke, his organizational next of kin, holds the executive power to end his suffering, and ours.

Somehow, it doesn’t feel real, it is as if we suddenly found ourselves in this nightmarish predicament, in the middle of a lucid dream of which we can’t determine the beginning or foresee the end. Astonished, because “Leaf’s Nation” was convinced that this year, like so many years before it (hint, hint), ‘was the year‘. However, I’m afraid it is not the year. And this defeat is more painful than all the others of recent memory; because this year, unlike all those others, it was actually conceivable that the Leafs were on their way to their first play-off birth of the post-lockout era. Instead we will most likely be the only playoffless team of the epoch thus far, making us, in one sense, the most futile franchise in the NHL.

Drink that in Leaf’s Fans. It is a bitter and harsh blend. Nevertheless this truth seems unavoidable; it stares at us plainly, almost daring us to disagree. Much like an according truth presents itself to Brian Burke: Ron Wilson can be the coach of this team no longer.

It is not a matter of  so called X’s and O’s. It is not about fit, or history, or media savvy (of which he apparently has little), it is now about perception and timing and what so obviously appears to be a dire need for change.

Unfortunately a GM can’t fire his team, it is the Coach’s burden that he is the most easily replaced in times of trouble. Still, I do not mean to suggest that the choice is an arbitrary one. In the NHL’s recent past, coaching changes, even late stage coaching changes, have proven to be effective. Only a short time ago were the Penguins languishing in 10th place (sound familiar?) and playing far below their potential when a coaching change with 25 games left saw Dan Bylsma take over, and we know how that went (in case you don’t, they won a cup).

So why not give it a try? I have not heard a convincing argument to the contrary. It cannot get any worse than it is; there is no chemistry to be broken up, there is, as it stands now, no real hope of making the playoffs without a dramatic, near miraculous change in the team’s approach to the game, which, I think, can only accompany a coaching change.

Perhaps the best reason to fire Wilson now is the obvious appetite for it. Strategically Brian Burke is already, to borrow an appropriate phrase of winter vernacular, skating on thin ice. Why not make the move that everyone, fans and pundits included, agree on? Why continue to alienate yourself with blustery, stubborn foolery? Loyalty, I’ll admit, is admirable. However stupidity is not.

How much longer can Leaf’s managment sit idly while fans loudly clammour for Wilson’s termination, while sitting in the stands no less? The Leafs brass has talked an awful lot about distraction playing a roll in their failures of late, is this not a significant, and luckily, a removable distraction? I understand that Burke does not rule by consensus, and I agree with that premise, after all Brian Burke is far more qualified to run a hockey team than I, or any other writer or fan is. Regardless of that, it does not take a race car driver to understand that driving slower will make you lose a race, it’s an intuitive fact. While not being quite as intuitive, the decision to replace the coach now, at this team’s lowest point of the season,with seemingly no other recourse, is rather obvious.

While Burke sits by Wilson’s bedside, too afraid and forlorn to desist the extraordinary measures maintaining his half-life, we, the passers by, those in the waiting room, find it hard to watch. When will the doctor come along and just explain it to him? He’s going to die anyway, in fact, he’s pretty much already dead.

One Point Out.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/hockey/leafs-beat/leafs-trade-talk-hits-frenzied-levels/article2305299/

“I don’t know? Am I?”. No, Luke Schenn was not answering as to whether or not he had been traded; he was answering as to whether or not he’d be a healthy scratch for last night’s game against the Senators, although many would have you believe it’s the same thing. As the Globe and Mail writes it, trade talk in Toronto has hit a feverish frenzy, and, like usual, it is Kadri and Schenn who are being talked about.

After last night’s heartbreaking loss to Ottawa, mutual combatants in the so-called “Battle of Ontario”, the perception that a trade might be coming has been dialed up a notch or two. So goes the reactionary leg-twitch of Toronto’s collective sports-nervous-system. No less reactionary, I might contend, than Wilson’s treatment of Jonas Gustavson, who after winning four straight (including two shut-outs) lost a couple and was inexplicably benched for an unavoidably must win game.

No less reactionary than Nazem Kadri being sat after going 7 games with only 1 point, or Mike Komisarek being  scratched after adjusting slowly coming off a long-term injury. This kind of shortsightedness is, unfortunately, the bane of “Leaf Nation”. A moniker close to “Kiss Army” in ridiculousness.

Still, we should not be surprised by this philosophy,like shit, it rolls downhill: Brian Burke, in his first press conference as GM of the Toronto Maple leafs, said that he was “not interested” in a five-year-rebuild such as the ones undertaken by the Stanly Cup winning Penguins or Blackhawks. He wanted to “build on the fly” like the Flyers have been able to do twice now, almost seamlessly.

You may have noticed however, that three years into his tenure, it might be a five year rebuild after all. This made all the more bitter by last night’s loss to the Ottawa Senators, themselves architects of a remodeling-on-the-fly.

Nevertheless, I’m not arguing, though it may appear on the contrary. A five year rebuild sounds fine to me. Perhaps an about face is needed, where Burke, like his baseball counterpart, can preach patience to his fans, that while the taste of disappointment still rests ruefully on their tongues, the next bite, or even the bite after that, will be all the more sweet.

However, we will not get there by benching anyone and everyone who has a bad night or two, or by juggling the lines at the first sight of danger. Young teams like the leafs have to be allowed to fail so they can learn from their failure. If only someone had let them do that two years ago when failure was unavoidable.

But alas, here we are; it is January and the Leafs are out of a playoff spot. They are a little out of sorts,  looking over their shoulders and in their rear-view-mirrors for the specter of a trade. One that, more than likely, will never actually come. At least not the one we’re all expecting. We’ve all become Ahab, obsessed over our “white wale of a trade”, selfishly expecting Burke to launch a hail-Mary when he might have already done it a couple times (See: Lupul and Phanuef).

But, like everything in Leaf-Land, those previous hail-Mary trades go out of favor faster than you’d think, and fans who only yesterday loved Phanuef and Lupul will call them garbage today, and treat them as such (“get rid of em!”). Such is life in “Leaf Nation”. All our knees tired and  soar from constant jerking. Oh dear. I said knees remember. Then again, what are we to do? Everyone knows when you love something it is hard to be clear headed, especially when it is in danger. We just love this team too much. Quite frankly, it’s become an abusive relationship. They hurt us and we just keep coming back, and, even worse, we apologize for them! We try to convince ourselves that they’re actually great, if you’d only get to know them. Just give them a chance!

——————————————————————————————

You’ve no doubt noticed I never wrote about that Cammalleri trade. In the end I looked into it and all the drama has been distastefully exaggerated. I will say though, in degrees of reactionary thinking, that trade ranks up there with the Leafs.

Good day everyone, I’ll be back when that big trade comes down the pipe.

J.

And I’m Back! Mixed Gym Bag: Jays Off-Season and Leafs Trade Rumour-Mill

Yes, it has been a while. I missed you too. Let’s skip the pleasantries and get down to brass tacks, shall we?

The Jays’ Off-Season: Win or Lose?

It’s hard to say. It cannot be called a total failure, because that would require a detriment to the team; they would have had to take a step back. In total, this is essentially the same team as last year, despite a few minor roster changes. Is that good enough? In the almost two and half years Anthopoulos has been GM of the Toronto Blue Jays he has preached patience above all else. It appeared, at least for a while, that his call had been heeded, but then again, what choice did Jays’ fans have?

His dumping of Vernon Wells’ contract earned their trust and their respect. And he proved himself clever by signing Yunel Escobar when the league-wide perception seemed to be that he would be a problem child for any team. However, a certain tension in the air around The Fandom of Toronto appears to suggest that their patience is beginning to run thin. This is, ultimately, a matter of perception. The perception at the beginning of this year’s off season was that The Blue Jays were finally going to spend some money and make a push for the playoffs. Fans had dreams of Yu Darvish and Prince Feilder dancing in their heads. Not Together. And not actually “dancing”.

For some reason or another Anthopoulos and the Jays’ PR squad let the sports media be dominated with stories about their bid for Yu Darvish, and how they were perhaps first in line to sign that promising pitcher. Then talk of “price parameters” cropped up and Darvish became linked inextricably to the Texans and it seemed like everything in Jayland was back to normal. It would be another team with some talent, a decent record, but lacking the financial clout to make it happen in the megabucks world of the MLB. So no, it is not a win. But, that does not necessarily make it a loss either.

Something Afoot In Leafland?

Well, if you listen to the blogs, talking heads, and newspapers, The Toronto Maple Leafs are eternally on the verge of a megatrade or a coaching change. All the time. No exceptions. Even in the off-season, a trade for a superstar centre or power-forward is always not far off. In this climate you do not need silly, paltry things such as facts, or even reason, to start a heated discussion about the Leafs. Many leaf fans live everyday under the presumption that players such as Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf will be suiting up in a blue and white sweater by the end of the season.

This is because they are constantly told that. The following are players rumoured to be coming to the Leafs in the past couple of years that I can remember off the top of my head: Steven Stamkos, Zach Parise, Jeff Carter, Chris Drury, Jordan Stall, Rick Nash, Bobby Ryan (several times), Ryan Getzlaf, Ales Hemsky, Dustin Penner, and JVR (twice). Oddly,  neither Dion Phanuef nor Joffrey Lupul were ever, to my knowledge, rumoured to be going to the Leafs before they were in fact traded here.

While it is possible that Luke Schenn is traded for JVR (please no), or maybe Carl Gunnerson (even worse) bloggers and journalists know they are not being fact-checked, and that it is good enough to merely imply such an impending trade to have your piece read. Nevertheless, I will say that recent roster moves have implied a trade may be coming. However, I somehow doubt it will bring the unquestionably-first-line centre the Leafs so desperately covet.

I’m back tomorrow to talk about Mike Cammalleri and media access in the NHL.

Polite Musings on a Monday, from Brampton.

Insert obligatory apology for the time that has elapsed between this post and my last here. That has become a constant refrain unfortunately. Nevertheless, I come baring gifts.

I’m not here to expound on recent events. I will not subject you to intense, yet inane rambling, while I froth at the mouth and type frantically with my mandible claws (I rather like imagining myself as a rabid-raccoon-writer, at least in those kinds of moments). I’m just going to give you some music to listen to.

First up is Memoryhouse. This is not the first time I’ve blogged about Memoryhouse, but this may be the first time I’ve posted anything brand-spanking new, in the traditional cannon of music blogging. The following track is the b side of a single due out electronically tomorrow, and expected to be released physically in December. The song is called Heirloom.

CLICK:

heirloom

Next is the A side. The song is called Caregiver.

CLICK:

caregiver

Like all the Memoryhouse I’ve heard, which, granted, is not a lot, these songs are dreamy and inherently nostalgic pieces with a kind of lateral or circular motion. They certainly don’t swell and climax in a linear way, in the same sense that bss and lcd songs tend to. Nor do they edge along in a dispersal of sound like a lot of lo fi music is trending towards right now. These songs have an accessible narrative, and what seems to be a familiar construction, coupled with their dreamy, undercover lo fi sound makes them keenly unassuming. And still interesting.

Mean+Lady+-+Indian+Sun

mean-lady-stirring-gently-among-the-birches-a

Sorry but I couldn’t find files for these tracks, or good links so I just linked you to pages on which you can play the songs. Both are by a Delaware duo called Mean Girl. Enjoy.

By Day’s End:

We will have a new mayor. That mayor might be Rob Ford.

By days end, we will have a new mayor. That mayor might be George Smitherman.

Baited breath… only the sound of a thousand clicking fingers in Gerstein Library accompanies this cold, numb dread… No epiphany arrives, only boredom and apathy. The choice between the two no longer seems worthy of debate or distinction. We will either be ruled by Ford or Smitherman, and if you are expecting change in this city, you are shit out of luck. Let me explain why.

I’m not going to write an article about Rob Ford  The Buffoon. It’ s been done. I will not even waste time motivating a claim that intellectually he is unfit to be mayor of the fourth largest metropolitan area in North America. It’s been done. What I will try to put forward is the notion, that constantly battling with city hall and its councilors will result in a short, ineffective term as mayor.  As for Smitherman, the man used to be a cocaine addict… that I will say.

While Rob Ford, one thousand pounds of barbecue sauce, does appear to embody conservative change in city hall,  his attitude will probably make his goals impossible to achieve. Regardless of whether or not it is a good system, I daresay it is not, our municipal government is constructed in such a way that each city councilor has the same voting power as the mayor. The mayor generally amasses power by accumulating the votes of many councilors, incubating himself with all the necessary power to have a more linear rule. Note, I say ‘he’ because Toronto has never had a female mayor. Unfortunately.

What does this all mean? City councilors are needed. They are, for any mayor, even Rob Ford, a necessity. They are the most direct contact the municipal government has with its citizens. As a councilor, Rob Ford understood this. Does he understand it now I wonder? Or will he, if he wins today, the probability of such an event being undoubtedly high, change his philosophy on the role of a councilor? I think he will attempt to work around this truth, which is an attempt to bypass the very architecture of Toronto’s municipal government. This might be an admirable thing in some respects. I don’t think many people would argue that our current system is all that effective. And if they were to argue such a thing I’d venture to say they would be wrong. Here is a small example that speaks to why one would  be incorrect to think our councilors make up an ineffective government.

A friend of mine who was, until very recently, an employee of the much beleaguered Green Room, told me that Lab (an excellent bar on Brunswick Avenue) did not have their patio license renewed. I inquired as to why, “Adam Vaughan” was his response. At first I thought he was trying to be funny. He didn’t laugh, though he did elaborate. He told me that a shop owner in the area was good friends with Vaughan, best friends even, and he had asked him to stand in the way of their patio renewal. According to my friend this was ‘so his yuppie friends could drink coffee and talk without having to listen to drunk people’ (I’m doing a bit of paraphrasing here). Now this is hearsay evidence to say the least, third hand information, but if it is true (and I think it is) it elucidates my concerns with City Hall’s effectiveness. Rob Ford, apparently, wants to put an end to all this. No more entitlement! No more favors! Oh, and also, HIV is only a threat to queer men and heroin addicts. Sorry Rob, I know that’s a bit of an old one now.

To be fair, some of the things Ford has said are hard to argue with. The reigning in of expense accounts for example. I doubt many of the ‘average voters’ would take exception to such an initiative. However, it might be pertinent to note that Rob Ford is independently wealthy, and when I say ‘independently wealthy’ I mean ‘comes from money’. It may seem a trifle rich to his councilors, when, as mayor, he begins preaching conservative spending, or when he motions to limit expense accounts. It will certainly introduce an interesting vignette of Torontonian politics: A hostile, embattled mayor squabbling with a  posse of upper middle class councilors over their lunch money. This might be politics in Toronto only  a few months from now.All because of a sudden groundswell of conservative sentiment. Angry white people. Classic.

Conservative ground swells have always piqued my interest. Oftentimes they occur in unlikely rungs of society. There is a common misconception the conservatism is the policy of the working man , the blue collared folks. Perhaps this is socially true, but economically, where conservatism lives and dies, it is ludicrous to argue that lower taxation, free markets and the out-sourcing of labor are to the benefit of the working class voters. This is the part of Conservative ground swells I find most interesting; the political movement is introduced at the bottom, builds through the middle and levels out at the top, the exact opposite direction conservative economic policies tend to maneuver.

Rob Ford will not win this election by securing the wealthy yuppie-yorkville vote, nor will he capture the heart of the downtown core. He will win the suburbs. Etobicoke, Rexdale, Scarborough etc. And whether or not that is a good thing for those subdivisions remains to be seen. The most admirable thing Ford has done, from my perspective,  does in fact take place in Rexdale. He coaches an inner-city football team, and by all accounts, he’s done a great job.

Football is arguably the most political sport commonly played in North America. Every position possesses a highly specific skill-set, and is required to complete a task that on the surface appears to be simple, but is always complicated by the moment, by the game. How will Rob Ford play the game? That is the most important question we will have to ask ourselves, and him if he win. Because, at least in some aspects, City Hall is  a political game, and as in football, when you disregard and limit the roles of your teammates, when you try to put on a show for the fans, when you get greedy and start switching the plays, you lose. Every time.

I think Rob Ford will lose. The election? probably  not. He’s still the odds-on-favorite. It’s the game, the fight with city council, where he is most definitely the underdog. And in that fight, no matter who wins, we lose.