If you spend any time on Toronto Maple Leaf focused websites you have probably envisioned an angry mob at the doorstep of Randy Carlyle, torches and pitchforks included. I have often been the one showing up with a can of kerosene, adding fuel to the already roaring inferno.
Ignoring the futility of strongly worded e-tirades addressed and delivered to nobody in particular, the performance of the team in the last season and the first quarter of the current one makes such sentiment particularly useless. I’ve never personally entered the dressing room of any professional hockey team — however I’m willing to make a statement on the nature of athletic morale — a winning team is a happy one.
Every non-injury or suspension related piece of footage that comes out of the Leafs’ dressing room right now is absolutely infectious. Players are laughing and razzing each other between interviews, Phil Kessel is… Kessling. It’s positively delightful. I don’t intend to rain on that parade (perhaps parades shouldn’t be mentioned, let alone planned and subsequently rained on), but things haven’t always been this way.
Anyone remember a few years ago when a reporter went into the Toronto dressing room on clean-up day and basically attacked Dion Phaneuf‘s position as captain after a monumental late season collapse? While many at the time agreed that went too far and believed that the “do you owe the fans more” question was poor journalism and an unfair question to be asked of Dion, it was not dissimilar from the fan discourse of the time.
That came right on the heels of a period of Leafs’ history where the most common statement made in Torontonian hockey discussions was “blow it up” as if professional athletes were Iranian testing facilities and the fans were conservative radio hosts.
Toronto is currently a respectable 14-9-2, sitting at a playoff spot without too much pressure from below, not withstanding tonight and Saturday’s games facing the Buffalo Sabres and the Montreal Canadiens.
Last year’s game 7 OT loss to the Boston Bruins was a major victory in the sense that the series went to overtime of game 7 against the Big Bad Bruins. At the beginning of the season absolutely no one would have predicted that the Leafs would have made it that far, aside from perhaps Dave Nonis and the rest of the organization he helped Brian Burke build.
You can argue with Randy’s questionable unscientific view on concussions. You can question why he insists on dressing at least two bench-beached brawlers on a nightly basis. You can fight with fact that he (arguably) misused Mikhail Grabovski and favors less skilled “gritty” players like David Clarkson and David Bolland (both of whom I enjoy to watch, but you can’t argue that they’re more skilled than Grabovski).
You cannot ignore their record.
For the next few years so long as the Maple Leafs remain consistently okay under bench boss Randy Carlyle he probably won’t be going anywhere soon.