Top Shelf: Leafs finally let go of Carlyle

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Philadelphia, PA ( - Whether they would like to admit it or not, every NHL head coach is forced to measure up to external expectations.

People from outside the organization like to voice their opinions about what direction the team is heading in and those folks will keep speaking their minds as long as there are teams battling for the right to lift Lord Stanley's Cup.

The frequency and volume of those extraneous noises depend largely on where your franchise is located. In this regard, few places get louder than Toronto.

The din is so loud that even though Randy Carlyle was fired from his post with the Maple Leafs, it could take a while for the ringing in his ears to subside.

Carlyle was let go by the Maple Leafs on Tuesday morning despite having his team in a playoff position at the time of his termination. But since this is Toronto we are talking about, it would be a big stretch to call Carlyle's dismissal a surprise.

After all, many people were shocked Carlyle was even allowed to enter 2014-15 still serving as the head coach. Rumors of Carlyle's demise began not long after he took the job in 2012 and for a while there it seemed like general manager Dave Nonis' only job was ensuring the public that Carlyle's job was safe.

When Toronto installed Brendan Shanahan as team president and alternate governor in the spring, it always seemed like Carlyle was living on borrowed time even if the new boss retained his services for the start of 2014-15. Even though he won a Stanley Cup title during his time with Anaheim, Carlyle's track record of making the playoffs once in three seasons with the Leafs was hardly impressive and Shanahan eventually would want to hire a coach of his own choosing.

There also was a great deal made of Shanahan's hiring of advanced statistics wunderkind Kyle Dubas as the club's assistant general manager and none of the talk boded well for Carlyle.

The 29-year-old Dubas may have current GM Dave Nonis looking over his shoulder with his arrival in Toronto, but the hiring definitely spelled doom for Carlyle. Not that Dubas has the power to hire or fire coaches, but Shanahan's interest in the young stats guru was not a good sign for coach Carlyle.

Prior to the hiring of Dubas, the Leafs were considered to be one of the NHL's worst offenders when it came to paying attention to advanced stats. Nonis would disagree with that assessment but even Shanahan alluded to the Luddite culture in Toronto when he said "I believe we have people in our organization who have maybe been afraid of certain words and certain information."

Before Shanahan arrived and invited Dubas along for the ride, Carlyle would have a tendency to be dismissive when somebody broached the subject of analytics and how they related to his team's success, or lack thereof. It wasn't just that Carlyle didn't like what the numbers were saying about his team, he didn't seem to take any stock in them at all.

A month before this season began, however, Carlyle began speaking about analytics in a very different way. It doesn't take the Oracle of Delphi to figure out the new arrivals in the front office may have swayed his thinking a bit.

"Everyone talks about puck possession and we haven't been any different," said Carlyle in September. "We just haven't done a good enough job of it. There's all this craze about analytics and to say we haven't used analytics would be incorrect."

Alas, Carlyle revealed his interest in analytics too late to save his job. But most of all he needed to do better than a 21-16-3 record through the first half of this season to keep his spot behind the bench. If Toronto was leading the Atlantic and not merely holding onto the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference then maybe he could've lasted until the end of the season.

Sadly for Carlyle, he wasn't able to get this team to play at a high enough level to save his job. And even if he did get Toronto in the playoffs, a first-round exit might have gotten him a pink slip as well. His standing with the Maple Leafs was so tenuous that only by blowing the doors off the outside expectations would he have been able to stay on as head coach.

The Toronto hockey news cycle will spend a brief time picking apart the Carlyle firing and the ensuing fallout before moving on to the next big topic of conversation -- who will take over for Carlyle?

For now the answer to that question is assistant coaches Peter Horachek and Steve Spott, who will take over the reins on an interim basis. But until Toronto announces the official replacement for Carlyle, the hockey media will have a field day trying to figure out what Shanahan has up his sleeves.

So, basically it's going to be a several months of speculating whether or not Mike Babcock will leave the Detroit Red Wings and take the Leafs job. That may very well happen if he is unable to agree to an extension with the Wings, and it would be a hire nobody could argue with due to Babcock's standing as one of the most respected hockey coaches in the world. And like Carlyle, he would come to Toronto with a Stanley Cup-winning pedigree.

But like Carlyle found out, having a Stanley Cup title to your credit will not keep the media in Toronto from making your life difficult.

It's just life in the big city.