By Anthony M.
It’s somewhat surprising the way things have turned out for head coach Randy Carlyle, especially given the recent news coming from the Toronto Maple Leafs. The signings of James Reimer and Jake Gardiner say a lot about the future of the Leafs’ bench boss. Carlyle struggled to get the entire team to buy into his system last year. Visibly frustrated with the lack of reception, it’s no secret Reimer and Gardiner were the two players who Carlyle butted heads with the most. The relationship got so volatile that both players were publicly chastised on separate occasions by season’s end. Now that Reimer and Gardiner have re-upped their contracts, it’s clear neither man will be taking the brunt of any sort of blame for the teams potential inefficiencies this coming season. While Reimer and Gardiner were on short leashes last year, it’s now Carlyle who finds himself with a little less slack. Whats more, his supporters in Toronto have seemingly vanished since management’s remodelling. That being said, it seems Carlyle will get the opportunity to regain control of his team. I, for one, am thoroughly interested to see if he will adapt to the new direction the team is headed in and become a driving force behind its future. I’ve maintained the argument that the Leafs are much stronger in terms of depth, so assuming they’re successful, we’ll have to pay close attention to see what differences (if any) there are in Carlyle’s coaching style.
Assuming Carlyle does adapt, one question of considerable interest remains: can the relationship between coach Carlyle, Reimer and Gardiner be mended?
Yes, but only if certain things happen first. Among them, Reimer needs to acknowledge his roll as the official backup goaltender for the Maple Leafs. After signing a modest contract worth $4.6 million over two years, Reimer made it clear that he expects the opportunity to compete for the starting position. I have no doubt Reimer, will one day be a starting goaltender in the NHL, but as long as Jonathan Bernier is with the organization and healthy, it’s unlikely to happen in Toronto. If ‘Optimus Reim’ can settle into his roll avoiding the ambiguous 1A/1B debate, both sides will be the better for it. In addition, he should take advantage of the opportunity playing behind a goaltender who has spectacular positional play and rebound control. Reimer at times struggles with puck control and should benefit from the continued partnership with Bernier.
In a sit down last month with SportsNet’s Luke Fox, former Leafs goaltender Curtis Joseph commented on the tumultuous relationship between Carlyle and Reimer. He also believes it can be salvaged.
“Coaches have short memories, too. Just like goalies. Trust can be regained. You can make mistakes and get benched, then have some great shifts and get your ice time back. The Maple Leafs can bring back Reimer, no question”.
As for Gardiner, after looking at the stats, Carlyle wasn’t far off in expressing his concern with the young defencemen. Last year, Gardiner had 68 turnovers. His 33 takeaways give him a minus-35 differential, good enough for worst out of all Leafs blue liners. On a side note, as a proponent of Tyler Bozak’s potential, I feel the need to point out that Bozak led the team in the takeaway/turnover department at 49-24 making him a plus-25. That’s 9th out of all NHL centremen last year and 23rd overall… but I digress. The two will need to meet halfway: Gardiner needs to be allowed to pursue his offensive tendencies, but he also needs to acknowledge his defensive deficiencies. Carlyle, a former Norris Trophy winner, might have some wisdom to pass onto the youngster. Coming into the first of his new five year contract, Gardiner has the opportunity to assert himself as an offensive defenceman who isn’t a defensive liability. The next two years will be key for his development.
All in all I can live with Carlyle retaining the head coaching job in Toronto, provided he adapts to the change before him. What do you think: has Carlyle’s time with the Leafs come to an end?