Randy Carlyle’s reputation before he landed as Toronto’s head coach was always as being a bit old school.
Rough. Gruff. Tough.
Various other words that don’t rhyme with those but convey similar meaning.
But we haven’t seen a lot of that with the Maple Leafs so far, something that’s come consciously as Carlyle has tried to adopt a friendlier approach, both with his players and the media.
This whole Jake Gardiner situation, however, has clearly irked him a little bit.
Gardiner is up with the Leafs now and will play Wednesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but all of the attention last week on the young defenceman – mainly as a result of his agent tweeting that he should be freed from the minors – brought out some frustration in Carlyle.
He explained at length why the organization made the decision it did, defending that call against some of the criticism the Leafs took for leaving Gardiner in the AHL while the big team struggled.
“He basically did very little before he got an opportunity to participate in our training camp and it showed,” Carlyle said of Gardiner’s recovery from a concussion he suffered in the minors. “That’s not an easy thing to recover from. And we’re asking a player to play at the highest level and we felt he wasn’t up to speed.
“When we did that, we based it upon on what was going to be best for Jake Gardiner’s long-term development versus putting him in a situation where he couldn’t possibly have success at here. The issue is there’s some people around us felt it was too long. And there’s a lot of them in this room.”
“This room” being the small media conference section at the Air Canada Centre, an area that was relatively empty on Wednesday morning given several members of the press were in the dressing room talking to players.
So Carlyle clearly wasn’t a fan of how this all went down in the Toronto media. And it’ll be interesting to see the reaction when something truly gets blown out of proportion or the coverage turns negative on a regular basis.
“I think there was so much white noise that was created about a player playing in the AHL,” Carlyle said. “A young player getting his game underneath him…
“We just felt that Jake had played very well here in the last 10 days. We felt that Korby Holzer, his game has struggled to some degree. And we knew that we were going to recall Jake at some point and we felt this was a decision that would suit our hockey club. I’d like to stress we.”
- Gardiner is going to play on the third pairing with John-Michael Liles, which is where Carlyle used him in the only two games Gardiner played earlier this season. It’s a curious fit given they’re both smallish left shooting blueliners, but Carlyle doesn’t want to break up the Mark Fraser and Cody Franson duo and wants to lean on Dion Phaneuf’s pair in the toughest minutes. It also makes sense to break Gardiner in easy given how long it’s been since he’s played an NHL game.
- Gardiner is a quiet fellow at the best of times, but he definitely wasn’t saying much on Wednesday with a huge crowd of reporters and cameras around him. “I try to stay out of that stuff,” he said. “Everyone wants to be called up as soon as they possibly can… Right now I’m getting a second chance so I have to make sure I play well.”
- One of the interesting aspects of this whole thing is the fact that Gardiner called up Leafs GM Dave Nonis last week to discuss this situation, which isn’t really a common occurrence for a young player in the minors. “I just wanted a more clear picture of things, where they stood and where I stood,” Gardiner said. “It was a good call.”
- Liles went through the concussion and recovery a year ago and was really a different player after his head injury. He said Wednesday that it can take a long time to feel like yourself, even after you’ve been cleared, and that patience is key.
- It’s hard to say how the rest of the lineup shakes out, but James Reimer will start in goal. That likely means Ben Scrivens gets Thursday’s game in Buffalo as part of the back to back.
- Up front, Carlyle has used a variety of combinations in practice the past two days, but expect the Kessel line to remain intact and much of the shuffling between the second and third units. Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul were probably the best Leafs in Saturday’s loss to the Winnipeg Jets, so they likely remain together.