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NHL: Maple Leafs Are Changing But More Needs To Be Done

The problem in Toronto is that their issues have gone on for so long, there is no quick fix. For this team to return to prominence, there needs to be a large overhaul.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Earlier this week the Toronto Maple Leafs fired beleaguered coach Randy Carlyle, and named assistant Peter Horachek as the interim coach. That means Horachek has the rest of the season to prove himself worthy as a head coach, else he’s auditioning for another job.

Whatever your thoughts of Randy Carlyle – this is an excellent read from Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun about Carlyle away from the rink – he was a bad NHL coach. The good people over at the Pension Plan Puppets blog had a lengthy list of things Carlyle either directly or indirectly caused, and they’re all bad:

  • Carlyle was either teaching the defencemen to give up the defending blue line, or didn’t correct their mistakes over three years. Either way, it was awful.
  • Mikhail Grabovski was bought out, and Clarke MacArthur was left to walk. That’s on the general manager, but Carlyle wasn’t using them properly anyway. How much better would this team be if Tyler Bozak could be their third line center and one injury didn’t force David Clarkson to the second line?
  • This piece is hilarious, if only because it shows across the board that Leafs players improved possession-wise once they got away from Carlyle. And they were better under former Leafs coach Ron Wilson.

I’ll stop there, if only because the entirety of this article could be just picking out where Carlyle went wrong at every turn. Readers can visit the Pension Plan Puppets to get a real grasp on just how bad he was behind the bench.

It’s a new day, though. Carlyle is gone, Horachek is coaching, and the team still has hope for a playoff spot. There are changes that need to be made, though. Here are some areas the Leafs need to improve upon.

Give It Up With Bozak

Tyler Bozak is an average hockey player, maybe.

Bozak became a full-time NHLer in the 2010 season at the tender age of 24. That’s one thing that gets lost; Bozak is not a young guy anymore. He turns 29 in March. Then again, I turn 29 in March, so yes, Bozak is a young and vibrant player.

Anyway, here’s the thing: from 2010-2014, Bozak played over 3,214 minutes at five-on-five with Phil Kessel. He played over 3,793 minutes in total. So nearly 85 percent of Bozak’s five-on-five minutes came alongside one of the most prolific goal scorers alive today. How did Bozak fare? He managed 1.60 points per 60 minutes. For reference, that was the same number was Washington’s Jason Chimera, and less than the now-unemployed Dustin Penner.

First line center? Nope. Second line center? Not on a good team. The Leafs would be wise to test the trade waters with Bozak to see if they can get any sort of return. Or else they’re stuck with a player whose CorsiFor percentage away from Kessel from 2010-2014 (40.2-percent) was worse than Douglas Murray’s was with the Montreal Canadiens last year (41.1-percent).

They Need A True Number-1 Defenceman

This is where I differ with some people. Dion Phaneuf is about as polarizing a player I think there is in the NHL. Sure, now he’s the $7 million dollar man, but what he’s being paid doesn’t make him what he is. See: Bozak, Tyler. So the Leafs just repeatedly trotting him out as a number 1 defenceman doesn’t make him a number 1 defenceman:

This is where the Leafs may have to suffer some pain. Jake Gardiner is good, but he’s not a number 1 defenceman. Morgan Rielly may be, but he’s a couple years away from that at a minimum. If the Leafs don’t want to wait for Rielly to continue to develop, they would have to hit the trade market. It’ll cost them a lot in a trade, so I don’t see this as likely. Morgan Rielly, you’re the only hope.

They Need To Spend Smarter

It may call for the firing of general manager Dave Nonis, but in this cap system, the Leafs have to be much smarter with how they allocate dollars. The Leafs will have Bozak and David Clarkson cost nearly $9.5-million combined against the cap through 2018. In the cap era, teams can’t spend $12-million on their third line, or else they have to save in other more important areas. With the contracts of guys like Jonathan Bernier and Nazem Kadri coming due, they’re already in a hard place.

Nonis probably needs to go. He’s made a mess of their cap situation, and it will take some time to get out. Teams like Los Angeles have been able to get away with cap issues in the past because of guys like Jake Muzzin, Tyler Toffoli, and Alec Martinez being key contributors, and making next to nothing (relatively speaking). There won’t be players like that in Toronto next year, so readers can see that there’s a big problem here.

There are a litany of issue in Toronto, and Phil Kessel is not one of them. Sure, he might not lead a team to a Cup, but most wingers don’t. He needs help, and that’s not in the form of Tyler Bozak.

The team has done well to re-tool their bottom six forwards, bringing in players like Daniel Winnik, Mike Santorelli, and Richard Panik. The new regime – Brendan Shanahan, Kyle Dubas, and others – realize that spending on guys like Clarkson, or even Stephane Robidas, is not the way to build a team.

The problem in Toronto is that their issues have gone on for so long, there is no quick fix. For this team to return to prominence, there needs to be a large overhaul. This process has started, but with the contracts of Bozak and Clarkson, not to mention the oft-injured Joffrey Lupul, it may be a few years before this team gets back to being a feared team in the NHL.

*Some stats courtesy of Hockey Reference, Hockey Analysis, Pension Plan Puppets, and NHL Numbers.

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