The Toronto Maple Leafs are past the halfway point of a shortened NHL season, and find themselves somewhere they haven’t been since 2004: the playoffs.
After a series of management changes, beginning with the firing of Head Coach Ron Wilson last week and the recent firing of General Manager Brian Burke, the Leafs have seen many changes in their locker room. These changes have not divided the team, but rather brought them closer together. The Leafs now occupy a seventh-place spot in the Eastern Conference, tied with the respectively eighth- and ninth-place New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils. A lot of factors have contributed to the team’s success, including the outstanding play of younger players like Cody Franson and Nazem Kadri and the stable goaltending of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens, which the team lacked in past seasons. But the team attributes the bulk of their success to the player-oriented coaching style of their esteemed head coach, Randy Carlyle.
Carlyle arrived in Toronto a year ago after guiding the Anaheim Ducks to a Stanley Cup championship in 2007 and cementing his status in the NHL. As he enters his first full season with the Maple Leafs, there have already been some changes both inside and out of the locker room that haven’t gone unnoticed. Carlyle treats his players with the respect they deserve, and has motivated them to improve their performance on the ice by trusting them with a spot on his roster.
Coach Michael Keaveney of the UTM ice hockey team believes that it is the role of the coach to be attuned to the needs of his players in order to promote growth. “If the players don’t feel appreciated or motivated, they won’t play their best,” he said. The statement holds true for the Maple Leafs, whose breakout star, left winger Nazem Kadri, has praised Carlyle for his guidance and concern over the course of the season.
Keaveney likens the Kadri-Carlyle situation to that of Alex Ovechkin and Bruce Boudreau, whose relationship earned the Russian winger an MVP award and three consecutive 100-point seasons. “Bruce Boudreau was really able to get the most out of him, and he had some really big years,” he said. “It’s been a tough time for Alex [Ovechkin] without him.” This remark was in reference to Ovechkin’s role having diminished over the past two seasons following Boudreau’s departure.
Surprisingly, the excellent work by Carlyle comes during a season that many were forecasting would be abysmal. The importance of team management in dictating a team’s success is becoming more apparent than ever.
Of course, the players will still need to do well in their own respect if Toronto is to stand a chance this year, and not all fans think management plays such an important role. “The management needs to give the resources to the coaching staff to win, whether it be practice times, equipment, or the right players,” said Keaveney. “The coaches can only do so much; they don’t play the game.”
“I don’t think the change in management has helped as much as people think. You can’t attribute winning or losing to a coach or a general manager. I think it all boils down to leadership, and the Leafs have one of the worst possible captains in the league,” said Kyle Kuczynski, a third-year history and political science major and centre for the UTM hockey team. “[Players] should be able to handle any type of coach.”
Others believe the coach’s background provides them with the experience necessary to guide the team. “Carlyle is a Norris Trophy-winning defenceman, and cares more about the defensive zone, which translates into good offence and wins games,” commented Rory Bourgeois, a teammate of Kuczynski’s. “Coaches need to know when to be tough, and when to let the players enjoy the game.”