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Dave Nonis, senior vice-president and GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, speaks to reporters at the Maple Leafs' practice facility in Toronto following the firing of head coach Randy Carlyle on Tuesday, January 6, 2015.

Darren Calabrese/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The fact the Toronto Maple Leafs parted ways with their coach on Tuesday wasn't a surprise. They had two wins in their last seven games and deep rooted defensive issues that weren't going away.

The only real surprise was that it took this long.

When the Leafs hired new president Brendan Shanahan back in April, with the team in the midst of a season-killing 2-12-0 collapse, many believed that would be it for Randy Carlyle.

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It should have been, as he was an easy and deserving target. But he had advocates in the front office and a newcomer trying to get the lay of the land was now in charge.

Had Shanahan done a deep dive into the wreckage of what came before, he would have witnessed Toronto showing little improvement under Carlyle's leadership in that or any season. In fact, their defensive issues became demonstrably more pronounced as the years went on.

The same had happened in his last place of work – with the Anaheim Ducks – as well.

But pressed for a decision on the coach, Shanahan ultimately saw keeping Carlyle as a way to buy some time. He could see more. He could see who became available. The on-ice results would be a casualty.

So Carlyle got a two-year contract extension, taking his deal to 2017, with the final season at the Leafs option.

"At the end of the day, we felt that Randy is still a respected, talented head coach," Shanahan said back in May in a guarded vote of confidence. "But for whatever reason, the mix was not working and the message wasn't necessarily [getting through] – not due to any one person's fault."

Now Toronto will be paying Carlyle until the end of next season, the first tangible misstep Shanahan has made in his eight months on the job.

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It essentially wasted half a season.

What keeping Carlyle really cost the Leafs was a chance to evaluate some of their players they need to make decisions on in a more effective system.

As it is, almost everyone looks bad. The young players aren't developing. The veterans are (mostly) stagnating and playing as individuals.

And still far too many players are spending too much time sitting on the bench or in the press box watching the carnage unfold.

Carlyle's continued unwillingness to play his fourth line was one glaring example of the disconnect going on within the organization this season, especially after Shanahan preached a four-line approach all off-season.

This was a group that wasn't on the same page and having a coach who was only interested in riding his "top" horses into the ground in order to save his job each night wasn't meshing with some of the things management wanted to see.

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The reality was they couldn't instigate meaningful change with a coach who had shown no ability to enact any over the years.

The Leafs dressing room on Tuesday was telling. Players hardly seemed surprised Carlyle was gone. Yes the team was 2-5-0 in its last seven games, but the bigger issues had become ingrained the previous season – through two long losing skids defined by an inability to play in the oppositions' end for any length of time – and they knew it.

Their answers were perfunctory. There was little emotion.

That's the sign of a saga that had gone on for far too long, for all parties.

What Shanahan really wanted was a free year to make a long-term decision on who his coach would be. But the problem was that meant leaving everything in an ugly stasis, set to play out much the same way it did a year ago.

No one would get better. Just older and more disillusioned with playing in Toronto.

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At least by firing Carlyle now, he still gets a chance to turn things around, with the added benefit of being able to have some influence from the management suite.

Even if it comes 40 games too late.

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