Sunday, March 4, 2012

Leafs Re-energized Under Carlyle

Ladies and gentleman, it has finally happened.  Brian Burke finally severed the cord with his friend and college roommate, coach Ron Wilson of the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Frustrated fans of the team have been calling for his head, pleading for a coaching change to try to shake up a listless team that was mired in a slump that had seen them win only one game out of the past eleven.  I almost felt bad for the guy, as the hateful chanting from the stands came through with out any sense of remorse that they were calling for a man to lose his job.  So for starters, as a fan of the team, I would like to apologize to Ron Wilson for the way he was treated near the end of his tenure.

However, that is not to say that his firing was unwarranted.  Wilson's time as head coach saw him guide the team to two average seasons, both hovering around the .500 mark.  I'm excluding his first season from the picture, because that team was god damn terrible.  Even the great Scotty Bowman couldn't have led that team to the promised land.  However, in my opinion, this years edition of the Leafs has the talent and the grit to make the playoffs - something leafs fans have been pining for, for a long six years.  

The team started the season really well this year, prompting Burke to give Wilson a vote of confidence with a one year contract extension.  Despite a massive pile of injuries, the team was still plugging along at a solid clip, bouncing around between 8th and 5th in the Eastern Conference.  That is, until the calender rolled over to 2012.  It was around this point that the wheels started to fall off of this proverbial wagon.  The latest slump was the result of a team that had utterly checked out on it's coach.  There was no effort, no passion, no heart and more importantly - no wins.  See ya later Wilson.  With 18 games left in the regular season, the Leafs underwent a major change.  

Enter Randy Carlyle.  The former Ducks bench boss was Burke's coach when he was GM of the Anaheim Ducks.  The Carlyle - Burke connection produced a Stanley Cup in Anaheim, and the hope is that they can rekindle that magic in Leaf land.  The familiarity between Carlyle and Burke will hopefully make the transition very smooth (with only 17 games left in the regular season, it damn well better be).  His first game behind the bench was a 3-1 victory Saturday in Montreal, and the outlook for the team was promising.  They were skating hard and defending well - two things that were rare during the previous losing streak.  With games against Boston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia this week, it will become a lot clearer just where the Leafs stand. 

Wins are hard to come by this time of year.  If the Leafs hope to end the playoff drought, they have to find a way to beat teams ahead of them in the standings.  Carlyle will have to work quick to instill his system in the team.  He should have a grace period with the media and fan base, but when you're coaching in the 'center of the hockey universe', that period is extremely short.  Praise will be abound if Carlyle can reproduce his past success in T.O.

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