What Randy Carlyle Is Doing Right with the Toronto Maple Leafs
Sitting with 11 wins and eight losses just 19 games in to the shortened NHL season, the glass is half full in Leafs nation thus far.
Coach Randy Carlyle has brought a brand new approach as the leader on the bench and in the room, and it is getting the best out of the majority of the players on the blue and white roster. Carlyle has been a breath of fresh air and has turned fragile, hesitant players into confident contributors with his communicative approach.
Here are five things Carlyle is doing right so far this season
5. No More Entitlement
Demoting Tim Connolly sent the perfect message to entitled players
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The Leafs' roster has long been riddled with players signed to big contracts, with deep relationships with management, who have underperformed and never been held accountable for their sub par play.
It seemed no matter how many blunders they made on the ice, or how lackluster they performed, they were pencilled in for big minutes the very next game. Mike Komisarek and Tim Connolly were the main culprits last season. When there is entitlement on your roster, it brings down the team's confidence in coaching and management, and it leads to players "tuning out" the coach.
Carlyle set this straight right away coming out of camp by cutting Matt Frattin and Tim Connolly from the roster, as well as keeping Jake Gardiner down in the minors to sharpen his game. He has kept it up so far, and struggling big money veteran John-Michael Liles has recently joined Komisarek in the press box.
The players know that their past and their pay cheque is irrelevant, if you don't keep your game sharp you will not be in the lineup, and it has made for a sharp hockey team.
4. Publicly Protecting His Players
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It was absolutely maddening to listen to former coach Ron Wilson publicly throw his players under the bus at times throughout his tenure with the Leafs. A player hates nothing more than having his deficiencies or poor play compounded by a coach who demeans him in public.
A key to success in a market like Toronto is protecting your players from the vultures that swoop by with microphone and camera in hand ready to finish off a wounded prey.
Carlyle has already protected his players in the media by taking the heat for early losses, including their last loss to Ottawa. He has also taken responsibility for some of Dion Phaneuf's early struggles by saying he was playing him a little too much. Carlyle has since reduced the captain's minutes and Phaneuf has bounced back of late.
Players certainly need to be coached and pushed but Carlyle prefers to do it behind closed doors in the sanctity of the Leafs room, and that has been a huge positive under his watch.
3. Improved Team Toughness
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When was the last time the Toronto Maple Leafs led the league in hits and fighting majors? A quick history check says never and that is where the Leafs sit today.
Part of it is the personnel that he and management have inserted in to the line up, such as the rejuvenated Colton Orr, tough guy Fraser McLaren, and hit leader Leo Komarov. Solid and nasty defenseman Mark Fraser never got a look under Wilson, and has been a huge addition down low in the Leafs zone.
The other factor is what he expects out of his players when they do get in the line up. The message is clear; pay the price, go to the dirty areas and lean on your check and you will be in good standing with the man who runs the show.
The truculence has been there this season and Carlyle is the man who has brought it out.
2. Line Combo Chemistry
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If there is one thing above all else a coach can do to get the best out of his team it is recognizing chemistry and putting the right players together for maximum success of the roster.
A good example of a failure to do this is a look at Adam Oates in Washington earlier this year when superstar Alex Ovechkin was playing on a line with Jay Beagle and Joey Crabb while passers Niklas Backstrom and Mike Ribiero played with others.
Carlyle has constructed some offensive depth on the Leafs this year with his line combinations and has not juggled things too much from there.
James van Riemsdyk has found great chemistry with Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin were excellent together before Frattin went down, and the way he has moved Jay McClement up and down the line up has been extremely effective.
It's one thing for a coach to recognize who should be in the line up, but it's another thing to find chemistry once those spots are filled and Carlyle is hitting both with great success.
1. Open Communication with Players
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Back in the old days of hockey, a coach held power and control over his players like a king controlling his kingdom. The players, no matter how big the star, were simply pawns who didn't need to be treated with respect.
It's not that way anymore, not in today's NHL. If you want to get the most out of your talent, and have the players tow the line, you better communicate with them and treat them like men.
If a player is not in the line up or not getting the ice time he feels he deserves, tell him why and what is needed to get it back on track and he will appreciate the feedback. If you keep him in the dark and just let him sit and stew, the mind game could ruin that player and prevent him from performing to his potential for the remainder of the year.
Carlyle uses the straight up approach, and it leads to respect for the coach whether you agree with his call or not.
Dwight Wakabayashi is a contributor to Bleacher Report NHL Toronto Maple Leafs and a Featured Columnist with Bleacher Report UFC.
Follow him on Twitter at wakafightermma