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.
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.