Toronto Maple Leafs: Who is to Blame for This Poor Start?

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The Coaching Staff

Oct 21, 2014; Uniondale, NY, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle coaches against the New York Islanders during the first period at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Under Ron Wilson the Toronto Maple Leafs were not a good team, but under Randy Carlyle this team has not played any better. When Carlyle was hired a lot of people were excited but also skeptical of whether he still had anything left in the tank to get the Leafs back on track.

So far the only credible thing that Randy Carlyle has done is get the Toronto Maple Leafs into the playoffs in a lockout shortened season. However, the argument can be made that if Ron Wilson was the coach the Leafs would have made the playoffs. If that was an 82 game season we probably would have seen the same collapse. James Reimer and Ben Scrivens had to be spectacular because the Leafs were out shot most of the time. In the lockout shortened season they won 21 games when they were out shot, they had 26 wins in total that season! Luckily for the Leafs they did not have to deal with a collapse that season… Oh, wait!

Oct 26, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf (3) congratulates forward Dave Bolland (63) after scoring against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

So what happens in the off-season; Randy Carlyle gets his gritty forward in David Clarkson and Dave Bolland. Mason Raymond played surprisingly well for the team who needed it after they sent Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur packing. Even after these changes the team still gave up a lot of shots with the coaching staff not being too concerned about it until it was too late.

Was the problem the assistant coaches? The Leafs brought in Steve Spott who was a decent coach in the OHL and with the Marlies. They also brought in Peter Horachek who worked with Barry Trotz in Nashville to build a good defensive team. So far neither have helped Carlyle turn the Leafs around so far.

This season the coaching staff has a chance to get it right and avoid making the same mistakes that they made last season and so far it has actually gotten worse which takes a lot of hard work to do. The players are standing around, the forwards do not fight for the puck, the defencemen are slowing down in the defensive zone when they go for the puck allowing the opposition to come in and steal the puck, and the defensive zone coverage allows clear cut chances in the slot with no pressure.

Here is an example:

The Toronto Maple Leafs are in Detroit’s zone in overtime, Tyler Bozak loses the faceoff with Niklas Kronwall holding the puck in the corner. Phil Kessel has a chance to go into the corner and pressure Kronwall into making a play but he does not. The Red Wings get out of their zone getting into the Leafs end easily. Jake Gardiner has a chance to make a play on Kronwall along the boards but all he does is stick out his stick giving Kronwall time to find Henrik Zetterberg for the one-timer. Cody Franson is caught looking at Kronwall leaving Zetterberg with time and space to get a perfect shot off. Franson should have put pressure on Zetterberg instead he skates backwards inviting Zetterberg to do his worst and as a result the Leafs lose.

Does the coaching staff tell the players to be soft on the play, or is it the players refusing to do what the coach says?

Nov 8, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul (19) congratulates forward Phil Kessel (81) after a goal against the New Jersey Devils in the third period at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated New Jersey 2-1 in an overtime shoot out. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Randy Carlyle finally decided to change the lines around for the first time, but it is still not certain whether he will continue to use twelve forwards and six defencemen. Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul were promoted to the top line with Phil Kessel, while David Clarkson joined the second line with Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk, you can read more about that here.

If Randy Carlyle thinks that the Leafs can go through an entire 82 game season with a lineup consisting of eleven forwards and seven defencemen then it might be time to let him go. It is not a viable option for the forwards that have to take on the extra minutes and for the defencemen who have to split out the minutes. Yes it is easier on the defencemen but the only reason why you should dress seven defencemen is because you do not have the twelve forwards available to you.

Oct 28, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Buffalo Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers (57) tries to get by Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Stephane Robidas (12) and forward Matt Frattin (39) during the first period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Leafs currently have thirteen forwards on their roster, Carter Ashton and Matt Frattin have been sitting in the press box because Randy Carlyle does not trust them on the fourth line. However, if you do not play them then you do not know how they will turn out. Brendan Shanahan would probably want the younger players to get more ice-time win or lose so that they he can get an idea of how they play.

Unfortunately Randy Carlyle is fighting to keep his job so he will put the lineup that gives him the best chance to win. If it means playing seven defencemen then so be it. At this point he does not care about developing and seeing what players like Matt Frattin and Carter Ashton can do with more ice-time because he will not put his job on the line for it.

If Carlyle wants to keep his job he will have to be patient with the recent changes that he has made. If he continues to juggle his lines the players won’t develop chemistry with one another. So far he has not done much to make this team better and it will only be a matter of time before someone else is brought in to get the job done.