The Toronto Maple Leafs will have a new coach behind the bench for the rest of the season as Ron Wilson has been shown the door. After only one win in the last 11 games, Leafs general manager Brian Burke was left with no choice but to fire Wilson.
Replacing him is Randy Carlyle, who was fired as the coach of the Anaheim Ducks in November. Carlyle had been the coach of the Ducks for six seasons prior and has had playoff success in the past. Both Carlyle and Burke were with the Ducks when they won the Stanley Cup in 2007. That is a big reason that he was brought in and not Dallas Eakins, head coach of the Toronto Marlies.
With 18 games left in the season, the Leafs will be hard pressed to make the playoffs, but with a good winning streak or two and some faltering by other teams, they just might squeak in. The Leafs face some tough opposition in the coming games, but if the Leafs react well to Carlyle’s coaching, it’s not impossible.
The Leafs only hope to make the playoffs is to make it to the eighth spot. It would be nice for them to get a higher seeding, but unless the Leafs go on a 10- or 15-game winning streak, it’s not going to happen.
Carlyle is not the type of coach that will allow the type of play that the Leafs have shown in the past 11 games. If a player isn’t playing up to snuff, he will be replaced. He also has shown that he can with youngsters in the lineup.
While the 2007 Ducks team had players like Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne, players such as Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry were only 22 years old. Even if the Leafs don’t make the playoffs, the Leafs are in good shape for next year if they can acquire some veteran leadership in the offseason.
One of Florida, Winnipeg or Washington will win the Southeast and will take the third playoff spot so that eliminates one of the teams. Buffalo and Tampa Bay only lead the Leafs by one point and have gotten hot at the right time, but whether they can keep their hot play going is a question that has yet to be answered.
All of the Southeast Division teams have had up and down seasons to some point.
Florida has been a surprise but whether they can play well under the pressure of a playoff run is yet to be seen. Washington has been terrible this season according to the standards they have set for themselves the past few seasons. Winnipeg is great at home, but is sub-par on the road and that might cost them as more than half of their games remaining are played away from the MTS Centre.
In the 18 games remaining, the Leafs play the six teams listed a total of six times. It will be crucial to win those games or their playoff chances are effectively gone. Five other games are against playoff teams. The Leafs need to take advantage of the games against the teams they are chasing and the teams below them in the standings.
So the Leafs are in tough to make the playoffs, but if they catch a few breaks and Carlyle makes a huge difference, it is possible. If they somehow get in, Carlyle’s playoff experience could be a difference-maker for them.