As I've expounded on in this space many times in the past, I'm a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. I've been rooting for the team since I was 4 years old, and most of those 40+ years have been painful to watch.
Of late, the team has sucked with a vengeance, having not made the playoffs since 2004, but things were looking up this season. The team had a lot of young talent, James Reimer appeared to be the number 1 goalie they haven't had since that last playoff run and I dared to dream they might actually make the postseason. Reimer suffered a concussion early in the season and took a while to get back, but the team held it together and as recently as a month ago, they sat in pretty comfortable position in the NHL's Eastern conference.
And then the bottom fell out. The team has lost 10 of its last 11 games and is currently five points out of a playoff spot. Secondary scoring has dried up, the defense is porous and the goalies have no confidence. Finally, after fans repeatedly called for coach Ron Wilson's firing, GM Brian Burke pulled the trigger last night, canning Wilson and replacing him with former Anaheim coach (and Leaf d-man in the late '70s) Randy Carlyle. Burke and Carlyle won the Cup with the Ducks in 2007, and although there were some complaints that Burke should have promoted Marlies coach Dallas Eakins (who has the Leafs' farm club playing well and is familiar with many of the team's young players), I like this choice. Carlyle is tough and demands a lot from his players, and he's a winner. Of course, a coach is only as good as his players, and the Leafs still have a lot of holes on defense and in net.
Wilson was in his fourth season with the Leafs and the team hadn't had so much as a sniff of playoff action. It's certainly not all his fault, but clearly whatever he was doing wasn't working. The Leafs' special teams have been erratic at best and mind-blowingly awful at worst. He just never seemed to click with the team or the town. It was time to move on.
With 18 games left in the season, the Leafs still have a shot at the playoffs, but only if they completely reverse the slide they're in. The odds aren't good, but I'm glad Burke at least made the decision now instead of dragging it out. Carlyle was in a similar position in Anaheim this season, with the team starting slowly and replacing him with Bruce Boudreau. There's talk that Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul, who came over from the Ducks last year and has had a career resurgence, is no fan of Carlyle's, but hopefully those two can work out their differences.
The Leafs are in Montreal tonight for Hockey Night in Canada, which is about as big a stage as you can have to debut as Toronto's coach. Should be interesting. I'm still not getting my hopes up. I know better.