Many people are hesitant to embrace change. To accept that something you have grown comfortable with is beginning to transform and evolve is a terrifying thought. One reaction to this situation would be to try and educate oneself as best as possible as to the direction things are heading in. When it comes to hockey, there is a wide divide occurring that many are refusing to admit the new (and it’s not even new, but that’s another article for another day) angle holds any validity. Some fans are burying their heads in the sand and being adamant that things are still the same and the old guard mainstream media guys have reached the point where they are in full out war against how NHL hockey is being looked at (more and more) in 2014.
Just going to such lengths to mock and attempt to undermine these concepts of hockey understanding alone is enough to demonstrate how the war isn’t even happening anymore. The war is over. Guys like Steve Simmons, Damien Cox and David Shoalts have already lost. They lost the moment the 2013-14 Toronto Maple Leafs failed. They lost the moment everyone finally accepted that Randy Carlyle has been getting by with shadows and magic since January of 2013. The clock has struck midnight on magic 4th liners/bottom pairing defensemen and fighting to swing momentum. People who have watched teams like the Los Angeles Kings, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks and St.Louis Blues dominate by using every single roster spot available to them and focusing on individuals who could actually contribute in more than one way have been aware of this for a while now. People who stood by and said Carlyle’s team allowed shots but not quality ones or that third line centres were the identity of the team have begun to awaken to the reality that perhaps they were wrong.
I’m not sitting here saying that one way of looking at hockey is right and the other is wrong. I’m sitting here saying that it doesn’t make any sense, in any way, for someone to absolutely dismiss a concept because they don’t think it’s valid. That is even more relevant when one is an individual paid to break down a particular sport. Fans don’t need analytics to tell them that this Leafs team has been a horror show all year. Watching the Leafs get outplayed every night has not been fun. They were aware that a problem was there all year. However, guys like Simmons, Cox and Shoalts are now claiming that they knew all along this team would fail, their eyes told them. Funny, none of their articles said so. They are now clinging to things like leadership, character and integrity as to why this Leafs team failed. They still strongly sit in Carlyle’s corner. They insist that Carlyle is the right man for this (or any) team. They do so, because Randy Carlyle represents everything they firmly believe in when it comes to hockey.
These are men, who over the past few weeks, have begun holding up their resume and saying they’ve covered hockey for too long for it to have past them by now. The problem for the Leafs isn’t that they lack guys like Dave Bolland, Leo Komarov, Mark Fraser or Tim Gleason. This isn’t a team lacking in players who will smash a stick to fire up the troops. They are lacking both talent, and an individual who refuses to dress capable players on his third and fourth lines. Good teams play the most talented players and that’s how they succeed. Are third line energy guys, defensively capable centres and bottom pairing defenseman valuable? Absolutely. They could be found at any time though on the scrap heap. They are not players who are worth $4 to $5 million dollars a year and they are not guys who are the identity of a hockey team.
Coming to the realization that these things are true and that the game has passed Carlyle by is something that guys like Simmons, Cox and Shoalts are incapable of admitting. The realization of that would force them to acknowledge that it has passed them by as well. Therefore, here we sit: the Leafs will miss the playoffs for the 8th time in 9 years and the old guard argue that the time has arrived for the Leafs to overpay Bolland (like they did with Clarkson and Tyler Bozak) and trade emerging talent like Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner because they don’t have “it.” What is it you ask? It’s the ability to doll out cliched answers and act like you have been there before. Kadri takes a penalty and he’s selfish. Dave Bolland takes a bad double minor against Detroit, at home, in a must-win game and he’s trying to fire up the team. If you are liked in this city by the old-guard of media then you can do no wrong (like Carlyle). If you are different, in any way, your character is questioned. Production is secondary.
The vicious circle of trading away young talent instead of developing them and insisting and holding up easily replaceable depth guys as role models is one that needs to end in Toronto. Having dinosaurs like Cox, Simmons and Shoalts shape that narrative in this city is something that needs to end as well. Carlyle failing is a massive step in undermining their credibility. Having success with a coach that refuses to play enforcers and slow-footed defensive defenseman (something the Leafs alone have proven is detrimental to success in 2014) will go a long way in showing that just like Carlyle, the old guard way of looking at hockey lacks depth and substance. Carlyle’s largest failure was an inability to adapt and evolve along with the rest of the NHL. He will soon be dismissed for this. I’m curious to see what will happen to his acolytes in the Toronto media scene as they are following the same path Randy did.