Five Burning Questions for the Toronto Maple Leafs 2014-15 Season

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Five Burning Questions for the Toronto Maple Leafs 2014-15 Season

Heading into the coming season the Toronto Maple Leafs have a series of questions that need to be answered. The answers to those questions will likely dictate whether the Maple Leafs are a playoff team, a playoff contender or a terrible team in a bad conference.

Can Randy Carlyle change?

Head coach Randy Carlyle avoided the axe this off-season and signed a two-year extension, a vote of confidence in his abilities to craft the Maple Leafs into the team management want them to be. That being said, all of his assistants were fired this off-season, an obvious vote of non-confidence. So what can be made of seemingly polar opposite decisions made by the Leafs brass?

Sep 26, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle watches play from the bench against the Buffalo Sabres during the first period at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

First off we can surmise that the Maple Leafs wouldn’t let players think Carlyle was a lame duck coach. The theory there is that players could put in a lack of effort and play poorly and Carlyle would pay the price. Now that theory also assumes that NHL players are juvenile kids who are willing to throw a season away and miss the playoffs on the chance that the team would fire their coach, which is incredibly naive.

What the extension really is is a show of faith, issued at the same time as a warning. Carlyle has to change and adapt to the NHL or he’ll find himself without a job. A contract extension does not mean Carlyle is safe by any means. The Maple Leafs gave their last coach, Ron Wilson, an extension on the 26th of December in 2011. 67 days later he was gone.

So Carlyle will need results to show he’s still the man for the job. At times he’s seemed completely lost, routinely calling last seasons results “mind-boggling” and “mystifying.” He seemed to be a man without answers, but he got another shot to prove he’s the right coach for the job.

To be that coach Carlyle has to adapt.

Apr 5, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle addresses the media in a post game media conference after a loss to the Winnipeg Jets at the Air Canada Centre. Winnipeg defeated Toronto 4-2. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Under his guidance the Maple Leafs gave up the most shots on net in NHL history over an 82-game season. Think about that for a second. This is a team with elite offensive talent like Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri keeping the puck in the other team’s end. This is a team with highly prized defencemen like Dion Phaneuf, Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner. This is a team with Jonathan Bernier playing at an almost Vezina level last year. Expansions teams without that talent didn’t give up those crazy shot totals.

Carlyle’s swarm defensive strategy is flawed and his movement away from it going forward will dictate if he’ll be the Leafs coach at the end of the season.

He also had one of the least used fourth lines in the NHL, relying on the top three forward lines to carry heavy minutes. Near the end of last season, when a historic collapse dropped the Leafs from home ice advantage to the eighth overall pick, several forwards looked tired. How much fresher would they be had the Leafs used a fourth line that could play 10 minutes a night instead of four?

Carlyle also has butted heads with younger players. While Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner have been the favourites, other players like Peter Holland have appeared lost at times as to exactly what their coach wants from them.

Holland played 39 games for the Maple Leafs, scoring five goals and adding five assists over that time. However if you look closer you’ll notice that Holland had eight of those points over a 10-game stretch where he averaged 15:35 a game.

Over the final 18 games he never saw 15:35 in a single game. Jay McClement saw over 15:35 a game 10 times over the same stretch and the Leafs thought so much of him they didn’t offer him a contract.

GM Dave Nonis has given him a much improved bottom six, so Carlyle can’t blame the forwards, and he revamped the defence, so Carlyle can’t blame the defence. Now it’s up to Carlyle to prove he’s an NHL coach.

If Carlyle can’t change, if he’s stuck in his ways and either chooses to or simply can’t evolve, he’ll face the same fate as Ron Wilson. For the record 67 games into the coming season lands on Sunday December 14th, where the Maple Leafs will host the defending Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings.