Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle has experienced success throughout his long hockey career. The native of Sudbury, Ontario was a Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick in 1976, played in four NHL All-Star Games and won the Norris Trophy in 1981 as the league's best defenseman.
He was a no-nonsense type on the ice and he carries himself in a similar way as a coach. He is demanding, crusty and does not suffer fools gladly. Praise is not heaped on any player readily in Carlyle's world. He has a .565 winning percentage as an NHL head coach, has made six playoff appearances and has won one Stanley Cup in nine-plus years.
In other words, Carlyle has been relatively successful as both a player and a coach. He knows what it takes to be a winner.
Communicating with the media is not a strength. But Leafs fans need to ask themselves if this is vital.
In mid-March, on a night when James Reimer had stopped 28 of 31 shots, Carlyle had stated that:
This did not sit well with the Reimer camp and the goalie himself. He was unhappy that the message was delivered by a reporter, and not from Carlyle himself. The netminder responded with this to the Toronto Star:
"So he said 'I was just OK?' I thought I was good," Reimer said after the loss.
From there, it has been a freefall in the standings for the Leafs. It's a complex situation, but I'm not convinced that the blame should be laid at Carlyle's feet. On that night, Reimer was likely better than OK, but not necessarily good in stopping 28 of 31 shots.
It's a tough, unforgiving business and professional goaltenders are on the hot seat every time they put on the pads. They are judged constantly and have to be at the top of their game nearly every single night.
The Leafs' recent losing streak is a much bigger issue than Reimer's poor play.
Toronto continues to lose the puck-possession battle. But is this Carlyle's system or more the personnel that general manager Dave Nonis has provided?
The Leafs are a transition team that scores off the rush with speed and skill.
Their fourth-liners have not been very good this year. They are incapable of grinding out shifts in the opponents' zone, in the style of teams such as Los Angeles, St. Louis, Boston and San Jose. Tough, defensive hockey that sees forwards cycling down low, much like these teams play, seems to be Carlyle's ideal.
The Leafs are also a young team, particularly on the back end. They create a lot of turnovers and they do a lot of chasing in their own end. No coach instructs his defensemen to do this.
Carlyle's teams did not play this way in Anaheim, but he also had Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer, Sean O'Donnell and Francois Beauchemin.
It was a talented defense, but more importantly, a veteran defense with a lot of experience.
The Leafs have one of the best young goaltenders in the NHL. They have a strong core of offensive players who have some limitations, but there is no denying their talent level.
There are some very good young defenders on the roster in Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly. Cody Franson has been OK, but not great this year.
Dion Phaneuf, despite the criticism of many, has been solid and dependable on many nights.
Is Phaneuf a prototypical No. 1 defender? Probably not. But he's the best the Leafs have got right now and he has not been the reason the Leafs recently lost eight games in a row.
The team needs a better bottom six, they need all of their key signings to be healthy and comfortable, and they need at least two more veteran, dependable defenders.
The latter is not happening this season, but David Bolland and David Clarkson can still make a difference in this attempt to get into the playoffs.
The NHL is a results-driven league. This is no surprise to anyone. Almost all teams are trying to play the same way, with very similar personnel.
The top teams have very good goaltending, smart, puck-moving rearguards, skilled forwards with size in their top nine and hard-nosed two-way players on their fourth line. The top teams build judiciously through the draft and need skaters to play well in all three zones.
The Leafs need a few more of these elements and Carlyle, with his playing days far behind him, is in no position to provide any of this. If the Leafs miss the playoffs this year, it won't be because Randy Carlyle was a poor coach.
Generally, he's done a good job with a flawed roster. He deserves the opportunity to continue to nurture this young defense and have his general manager add some important elements under some serious salary-cap restraints.