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Carlyle’s extension sends message: this is no lame duck

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle speaks to reporters during his year-end address at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Tuesday, April 15, 2014.

Darren Calabrese/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A lot more went into saving Randy Carlyle than a simple decision that he was, in the words of Toronto Maple Leafs general manager David Nonis, "the right coach for our team."

Some dominoes had to fall the right way, at least as far as Carlyle is concerned, for him not only to hang on to his job in the wake of such an awful late-season collapse by the Leafs but to enter the summer with a two-year contract extension to the end of the 2016-17 season. The main domino was the hasty hiring of Brendan Shanahan as Leafs president on April 11 when word of talks between him and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment chief executive officer Tim Leiweke leaked out.

Once the talks became public knowledge, Shanahan was in an awkward position because of his job as the NHL's chief disciplinarian. So the Leafs had to hire him weeks, if not months, earlier than planned, leaving Shanahan to take up his new job in a market slavering to have the coach fired at the very least.

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But no sensible NHL executive would want to force such a major change less than a month after taking the job. This would leave Shanahan in the position of being tied to a new guy without the proper length of time to assess his new organization and consider what was needed.

Thus Nonis did not have as much heavy sledding as you might think when he set out to convince his new boss that Carlyle deserved to stay. From Shanahan's point of view, the decision buys him time – at least a year – to study the Leafs and form his own opinions.

That is probably why Shanahan did not spend a lot of time looking at the bright baubles on the coaching market. Carlyle was told by Nonis 10 days ago that he could stay if he liked.

But this came at a stiff price for Carlyle. All of the assistant coaches except goaltending coach Rick St. Croix were fired by command of Nonis and Shanahan. That included Dave Farrish, who goes back to junior hockey with Carlyle.

"The game of hockey is a great game, but the business side of hockey is an awful one," Carlyle said. "And this is an awful day for [the] relationship between Dave Farrish and myself."

If Carlyle turns things around, with the help of quite a few roster changes by the look of things, then great, as far as Shanahan is concerned. The Leafs have continuity and all that. If there is another march off the cliff at any point in the season, well, hey, Carlyle is Nonis's guy, eh?

And don't get caught up in the fact Carlyle is under contract for three more seasons, which probably has the Leafs on the hook for something around $6-million (all currency U.S.). Some of the MLSE directors spill that much at lunch.

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The two-year contract extension is a clear message to the players. They are being told Carlyle is no lame-duck coach; the contract security means he has the backing of management, so it's his way or the highway.

This is why Shanahan and Nonis made the right decision. There were too many shirkers last season when it came time to play the hard hockey needed to get into the playoffs. A lot of them need to go and Nonis is planning to say goodbye if he can manage it.

Eleven of the 23 players on the Leafs roster will be restricted or unrestricted free agents on July 1. The turnover on the team could hit 40 per cent, mostly among the supporting cast.

There are three avenues open to Nonis in this regard – the Toronto Marlies farm team, free agency and trades. The pickings are thin with Marlies who can play in the NHL next season: defenceman Petter Granberg, centre Peter Holland and perhaps one or two others. Ditto for the pending free-agent market. Outside of winger Thomas Vanek, who is not likely to look Toronto's way, it's pretty much short-term help.

That leaves the trade market, where you can expect Nonis to be a busy fellow. With the salary cap rising from $64.3-million to around $70-million, depending on the Canadian dollar, more players than usual will be on the trading block.

Nonis will have about $22.4-million in payroll to play with and may have just one pending free agent he wants to keep in centre Dave Bolland. So Leaf fans should tune in June 27 for the NHL entry draft and keep an eye on the Leafs' table.

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About the Author
Hockey columnist

A native of Wainfleet, Ont., David Shoalts joined The Globe in 1984 after working at the Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun and Toronto Sun. He graduated in 1978 from Conestoga College and also attended the University of Waterloo. More

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