Dan Maloney’s style as a coach was no-nonsense — as opposed to all those coaches who embrace the nonsense, I suppose. Old-school is a term often associated with Pat Quinn when he coached Toronto, along with hands-on and (not a compliment) outdated. Was he a tastemaker? Because that’s a word you often run across when you look up old Leafs’ coaches to try to discern what their style might have been behind the bench. Punch Imlach Joe Crozier, Mike Murphy, Pat Burns, Ron Wilson were all called tastemakers in their time, strange as it — unless — no, okay, sorry, my mistake, that should be taskmaster.
Which makes more sense. Taskmaster. Oh, and yes, Quinn was also no-nonsensical, I’ve just found, as was Burns and Wilson, too. Murphy was a master motivator. “I think I’m a player’s coach,” said Tom Watt in 1991. If you look up Punch Imlach’s biography at the Hockey Hall of Fame, along with the phrases looked like a genius and one of the most successful bench bosses of all time you’ll find ongoing belligerence and harassed and bullied and enormous rift. Red Kelly believed in the power of pyramids. Dick Irvin had an accent-on-speed philosophy when he coached the Leafs. I’m not sure whether it defines a coaching style or not, but Hap Day used to say, “If you score two goals, you should win.”
Is it too early to be trying to define Randy Carlyle’s coaching style in Toronto? After 13 days, six games, and just one win, the numbers would seem to suggest that not as successful as hoped might be the way to go. He certainly sounds like a master of tasks, though it doesn’t seem to be common usage these days. Remember, Carlyle still does have Stanley-Cup-winning in his quiver of coachly adjectives — assuming, of course, that he keeps his adjectives with him, stored in an old archery satchel. “I wanted to find a coach that matches my intensity level,” Brian Burke said when he hired Carlyle the first time, in Anaheim, in 2009. “I hate to lose. I know Randy hates to lose as much as I do.” He was looking at the time for a coach who favours “an aggressive style,” and I’m guessing that hasn’t changed, either. “The Ducks will play a high tempo, aggressive forecheck, puck-moving style,” Carlyle said when it was his turn to talk. “That’s what we’re about.”
This is pretty much in line with what we heard when Carlyle was hired two weeks ago, heading into his first Leaf game in Montreal — a win, as it turned out, to gladden the hearts of a team and its city. On Hockey Night in Canada we learned that Carlyle was straight-talking. Glenn Healy said that as junior he’d been a dressing-room needler, which sounded interesting, though that’s all we got on that before Healy went on to say Carlyle wanted a truculent team. “One of the most stubborn line-matching coaches,” contributed Jim Hughson. Cassie Campbell alluded to his detailness.
Not quite two weeks later, the team and its loss-hating coach appear to looking to beyond this season and the playoffs they almost certainly won’t make. “A team that couldn’t defend is now one that can’t score,” Damien Cox was writing in The Toronto Star yesterday, “and the switch in coaches and strategies seems to have left the team utterly paralyzed rather than energized, a club now unsure whether to go forward or fall back, attack or retreat.
“It’s gone from a team that had some swagger to it to one that looks as though it can’t wait for the season to end.”