If you believe a coach can have a significant effect on the success of a team, then you'd like to see a reasonably healthy team improve as the season moves along. They learn the systems, they get more comfortable, and they become tougher to play.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, once again, were getting noticeably worse under Carlyle, so management made the right decision and threw a rope to a team sinking in quicksand.
Carlyle is out, and the new man - whoever that may be - will be tasked with reversing the trend shown in this terrifying graph:
Yes, the Leafs were starting to hang with an unsavoury crew of teams.
When things are going awry, coaches need to be willing to change. If your breakout is being jammed up when you move it up the boards, well, you may want to look to the middle of the ice in the second period.
This wasn't Carlyle's style. The well-worn expression "the definition of crazy is doing the same thing and expecting different results" couldn't apply more to the ex-Leafs' coach.
There are people within the organization giving him information such as, "Randy, we're not using the fourth line enough, which overexposes our top guys, and renders them ineffective." Yet Carlyle stubbornly persisted, night in and night out, and inevitably, after another loss, there he was, talking about how his players needed to work and try harder, needed to be more committed, needed to up their compete level, and (insert one of a dozen old school hockey buzzwords) more. Randy Carlyle was never shy to pass the buck.
It's interesting to note that the pink slip came only days after Carlyle maybe possibly sorta-kinda deflected the team's shortcomings to the general manager Dave Nonis. After a thumping at the hands of the mighty Winnipeg Jets, Carlyle said:
You don’t always have the luxury to say that you'd like this player or that player or this type of player. That's not the way it works. How it works is you have an organization that provides you with players, and our job, as we've said all along, is just to coach 'em up.
Call it a hunch, but if your job is to "just coach 'em up," you probably shouldn't imply that your roster sucks.
Remember what Paul MacLean said days before he got the axe in Ottawa? (Emphasis mine.)
"All I know is I'm scared to death no matter who we're playing. Whether it's Sidney Crosby or John Tavares or the Sedins, I go day-by-day and I'm just scared to death every day of who we're playing. And sometimes. I'm scared to death of who I'm playing."
You can collapse down the stretch (and in Game 7), you can ignore the advice of others, and you can generally demonstrate inflexibility and bullheadedness for years and keep your job as an NHL head coach. But you do those things and publicly challenge the work of those above you? Bye bye.
Peter Horachek and Steve Spott will take over coaching duties in the interim, which will be interesting to watch. A new leader isn't going to turn that roster into a Cup contender, but when Horachek took over in Florida last season he greatly improved the Panthers' possession game, an area the Leafs struggled mightily under Carlyle. If he can help the Leafs take a positive step there, they may be able to hang on to the last playoff spot in the East, which is where they sit right now.
Carlyle may have the pedigree of a Norris Trophy and a Stanley Cup, but he simply didn't demonstrate an ability to improve the Maple Leafs. His inability to adapt cost the team crucial games in a league where every point matters. His firing should be addition by subtraction for a Leafs team in free fall, desperately looking for another parachute.