Randy Carlyle does not have an easy job. As head coach of the most scrutinized team in the National Hockey League, he has to answer to a horde of media members (and, by extension, thousands of fans) for every decision he makes. If Scotty Bowman from the mid-’90s traveled in time to coach these Toronto Maple Leafs, fans would still be angrily bashing him for every personnel decision he made. It’s kind of like working at McDonald’s and having an entire city question your decision to put 19 instead of 20 french fries in Jimmy’s Big Mac meal. “Don’t you think Fry #20 deserved an opportunity to be a part of Jimmy’s lunch today?”
That being said, many of Carlyle’s decisions have been questionable to say the least. He didn’t exactly endear himself to Leafs Nation by leading the team to a 6-9-3 record when he took over for Ron Wilson last season, and things haven’t improved much so far this season with the Leafs at 3-3. If the Leafs were 6-0, then maybe we could give Carlyle the benefit of the doubt. Here are some players I believe are not being used correctly so far this season, and how these issues can be improved moving forward.
Mike Kostka - Michael Amato wrote a great piece on how the Leafs have misused Kostka, and I thoroughly agree with him. There’s no conceivable reason why Kostka should be getting top-line minutes against the opposition’s best forwards every night. As Michael pointed out, it makes sense for Kostka to be getting power play minutes, as he was one of the leading scorers among defensemen in the AHL during the lockout. But playing an unproven rookie ahead of Carl Gunnarsson, John-Michael Liles and Cody Franson at even strength? I don’t get it. Carlyle seems to have realized this, as Kostka’s minutes dropped from 31 in Saturday’s game against the Rangers to 24 last night in Buffalo, but that’s still too much for my liking. When Jake Gardiner comes back fully healthy, I expect him to take over Kostka’s spot, but you never know what to expect from Carlyle.
Jay McClement - One of the Maple Leafs’ few off-season additions has been stuck in the NHL’s version of purgatory playing with Colton Orr and Mike Brown on his wings. Last night he was promoted to play with Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin, and responded by scoring a goal. The Kingston, Ontario native has been an effective penalty killer and was made an alternate captain after Joffrey Lupul‘s injury. Now he just needs to play with better linemates on a consistent basis.
Cody Franson – You knew this was coming. In only his third game of the season, Franson was one of the Leafs’ best players last night. He scored a goal, added an assist, and consistently jumped into the rush to cause havoc for defenders. But Carlyle still managed to play him only 13 minutes, good for last among Leafs’ D-men. If Mike Komisarek didn’t get fibreglass stuck in his eye, Franson might not have even played last night. This is easily the most puzzling of Carlyle’s moves and don’t expect me to shut up about it until he’s shipped out or playing second pairing minutes.
Colton Orr – Carlyle, along with a good portion of Leafs fans, for some reason still thinks Orr brings value to the lineup. There is a rumour that Leaf management is playing Orr out of courtesy because he only needs 16 more games before he’s eligible for pension when he retires. I really hope this is true. Orr played four minutes last night and three minutes in New York on Saturday. It would take significant pressure off the likes of Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak to ice a fourth line that could actually contribute meaningful minutes. If Mike Brown is out for an extended period of time, Carlyle might be forced to play Orr more anyway. We’ll see how that goes.
How is Randy Carlyle doing so far in your opinion and how would you like him to use his players going forward?