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The Toronto Maple Leafs new coach skates with Tyler Bozak at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Saturday. (Graham Hughes/Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)
The Toronto Maple Leafs new coach skates with Tyler Bozak at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Saturday. (Graham Hughes/Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Sean Gordon

The inside story behind decision to can Wilson, court Carlyle Add to ...

Afterward, the team bus returned downtown to the Bell Centre so the players could change out of their equipment – Wilson was the last member of the Leafs to leave the visiting team’s dressing room sometime around 5 p.m.

It was around then that he received an e-mail from Burke, who had been in Boston attending the Sloan Centre Sports Analytics conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was boarding a plane to Montreal.

The message asked him to meet with Burke at 8 p.m.

By the time they talked, Carlyle was already in Montreal – sources say he arrived after midnight on Thursday – and at 10 p.m. the GM and the new coach met with the team in a conference room at the Vogue.

In the interim, Burke ran his decision to fire Wilson and replace him with Carlyle past the board of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment – which is in the process of changing hands from the Ontario teachers’ pension fund to a joint venture involving Bell Media and Rogers.

The same sources said neither Bell nor Rogers was consulted, both companies are said to be wary of becoming involved in decisional matters until regulatory approval is given for the billion-dollar deal.

It’s believed Carlyle signed a deal that will keep him in Toronto for the remainder of this season and the three following years – which is a year longer than Burke’s contract.

Should the team not perform up to expectations, the Leafs could find themselves in the same situation Burke inherited – with a coach, Wilson, who was hired by his predecessor.

The main question, however, is why Burke reached the decision when he did.

Why wait until the team had gone into a 1-9-1 swan dive?

Part of the answer to that question is that Burke has never seen a collapse that bad, and on Saturday he implied that he didn’t quite know how to react.

“Two-and-a-half weeks ago we were sitting in the eighth spot, up comfortably. I don’t know, I’ve never had this before. I’ve never had a team fall off a cliff like this before in my life. I’ve had dips, I’ve had slumps, I’ve had rough patches, but this is akin to an 18-wheeler going right off a cliff. I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life, I don’t know what happened. I’ve never experienced this,” he said. “I was talking to Ned Coletti of the Dodgers yesterday, and I said ‘have you ever had anything like this in all your years in baseball?’ He follows our team very closely, he said, I’ll leave the expletives out, he said ‘I have no idea what’s happening’. I’m bewildered by it, it’s like somebody hit me with a two-by-four. I’ve never had this before, where a team just plain, flat-out, went into free-fall.”

Burke’s clearly betting that by bringing in Carlyle, the 2007 Stanley Cup-winning coach when the two worked together in Anaheim, that the ship can be righted quickly.

The odds are stacked against the Leafs – they remain five points out of the running and according to a statistical modeling website have a 12 per cent chance of reaching the post-season.

At minimum, they’ll need to put together something close to an 11-5-2 run in their final 18 games, because of the complicating factor of overtime points, that might still not be enough.

And this is a team that has issues that will need to be ironed out urgently.

While Carlyle, a former Norris Trophy-winning defenceman whose long playing career included stops in Winnipeg and Toronto, can surely help address the team’s defensive-zone shortcomings.

But it’s an open question whether he can help sort out the Leafs’ spotty goaltending, which has been a source of consternation for fans and the subject of countless television panel shows over the past two weeks.

It’s an article of faith in pro hockey that inconsistent goaltending is a huge drain on confidence – and Carlyle observed that after his initial meeting with the team, his main priority is to restore some semblance of confidence.

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