TORONTO (AP) — Randy Carlyle was fired as coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday following a road trip in which the team lost five of seven games and showed few signs it would regain the promise from earlier in the season.
The dismissal comes after 40 games, with Toronto 21-16-3, fourth in the Atlantic Division and holding one of the two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference. The Maple Leafs have struggled on defense and played erratically.
“I think we’d all agree we’ve had some good periods, good stretches, but I don’t think I can stand here in front of you and say that we’ve been consistent,” general manager Dave Nonis said at a news conference. “We just felt at this point this was the right time to make the change and move ahead and try to get this team back playing like we have played for periods this season.”
Assistants Steve Spott and Peter Horachek will be behind the bench for Wednesday’s game against the Washington Capitals. Horachek ran the first practice since the firing. Nonis did not indicate if or when the Leafs might hire a full-time head coach. Horachek and/or Spott could handle the job for the rest of the season.
Carlyle, who was informed of management’s decision Monday night, went 91-78-19 in 188 games over parts of four seasons. He won the Stanley Cup as coach of the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.
He is the fourth NHL coach fired this season. The others were: Paul MacLean (Ottawa), Dallas Eakins (Edmonton) and Pete DeBoer (New Jersey).
Last season, the Leafs lost eight straight in regulation and 12 of their final 14 games to fall from playoff contention. When Brendan Shanahan became president, he and Nonis reviewed the organization and chose to fire Carlyle’s assistants and give him a two-year extension. Even in hindsight, Nonis said that was the right move.
“Randy deserved to come back,” he said. “I think he’s an excellent coach. You don’t coach over 700 games without being good at it. Good coaches get let go and unfortunately today we had to do that and it has nothing to do with the summer or whether or not he was the right guy. He was the right guy to bring back and unfortunately today this was the right decision for our team.”
The Leafs were routed by Buffalo and Nashville in consecutive losses in November, raising concerns that Carlyle’s job may be in danger.
Following those losses and a controversy about not saluting fans at Air Canada Centre after a victory, the Leafs went 9-1-1 to surge into a playoff spot. Recently, some old problems began to creep up, especially on this 2-5 road trip.
“It’s been too much of a roller-coaster,” Nonis said. “It’s not that (players are) not capable because they are. It’s not that they haven’t done it because they have. That’s probably the biggest reason, or one of the biggest reasons, for the change today.”
Carlyle succeeded Ron Wilson with 18 games left in the 2011-12 season. Wilson was fired following the infamous “18-wheeler going right off a cliff” losing streak named for then-GM Brian Burke’s quote.
Carlyle and the Leafs made the playoffs in the lockout-shortened 2013 season before falling behind three games to one in the first round against Boston. They came back to force a Game 7 and led 4-1 with 11 minutes left before losing in overtime.
In 2013-14, the Leafs were easily in a playoff spot before goaltender Jonathan Bernier was hurt. They lost eight in a row in regulation and dropped 12 of their final 14 games. Carlyle’s job appeared in jeopardy then, but Shanahan decided he wanted time to evaluate the team.
“He’s a good man, a good coach,” Nonis said, “and he’ll be back in this game quickly.”