It seems to irk Randy Carlyle, just a little bit, when he is labelled a “defensive-minded” coach.
But he’ll quite easily defend the grinding style of hockey his Toronto Maple Leafs are playing, which focuses on collapsing around the goalie in the defensive zone and keeping opponent shots coming from the perimeter.
“If you win, nobody gives a rat’s a--. That’s a fact,” says Carlyle. “They fire coaches when you don’t play sound defensively and you don’t have success. What would you do?
“You would adopt a defensive system and you would want to try to implement something that gives yourself a chance. That’s what everyone is trying to do. When you get into a game, you want to give yourself a chance to win. Don’t beat yourself.”
One year after replacing Ron Wilson as coach of the Maple Leafs, it’s evident there is more to the Carlyle method than a tenacious defence. Look no further than the success he has had with two players: Nazem Kadri and Colton Orr.
Kadri was Wilson’s whipping boy, portrayed by the former coach as a mistake-prone talent and another one of those entitled Ontario kids. Orr was a dinosaur to Wilson, who managed to convince former GM Brian Burke — who loves the bruisers — of the same thing.
Neither player is associated strongly with the word defence. Both are thriving under Carlyle. Kadri is among the team’s leading scorers. Orr is playing a bigger role in addition to that of resident enforcer. Carlyle believes in them and plays them to their strengths rather than exposing and deriding their weaknesses. He’s found them roles and made the most of them.
“He’s an intense guy,” Kadri said of Carlyle. “It seems like he’s always working, finding new strategies. He certainly knows the game, that’s a great thing about him.”