Randy Carlyle was relieved of his coaching duties with the Maple Leafs on Tuesday, ending a 3 year run that was not without controversy. Although he posted a 91-78-19 record and led the Leafs to their only playoff appearance since the lockout, critics frequently pointed to the Leafs absurdly high PDO numbers as evidence that their rise was mostly driven by puck luck. And while Carlyle inherited a team that finished their last full season under Ron Wilson as a plus possession team, Toronto’s puck control quickly deteriorated under his leadership, and the club wound up recording 3 of the 10 worst seasons in Even Strength Shots Against Per 60 while he was in charge.
In spite of these defensive struggles over Carlyle’s tenure, many people still insist that the Buds’ issues aren’t Carlyle’s doing, and that team leaders like Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel failed their former manager and never truly bought into what he was selling. Some are even suggesting that the Leafs need to launch a rebuild, even going as far as to recommend trading a 27 year old forward who’s 20th in 5v5 Pts./60 over the past 5 years.
If we dig a little bit deeper, however, it becomes evident that Phaneuf and Kessel not only bought into Carlyle’s system, but also suffered from it. When Carlyle took over from Ron Wilson on March 2nd, 2012, Phaneuf and Kessel had respectively recorded Scoring Chance For Percentages (SCF%) of 50.8% and 51.3% for the 2011-2012 season. After Carlyle got behind the bend, both players SCF% dropped by 0.8% over the remainder of the year, and things only got worse beyond that. Looking at the difference between Wilson and Carlyle’s terms paints a clear picture of just how bad things were under Carlyle for the Leafs two biggest name stars (data via war-on-ice.com).
Phaneuf and Kessel aren’t alone in feeling the effects of Carlyle. Over at Pension Plan Puppets, draglikepull estimated last May that Randy Carlyle was lowering the Leafs possession numbers by roughly 5.2%, an enormously negative impact for a man who kept his job for nearly 3 full years on the basis of a single playoff appearance.
In fact, the length of time Carlyle spent holding his team back is what’s really most surprising. Using data from war-on-ice.com, I found each player that played at least 300 minutes for Carlyle’s Leafs and any other NHL team, and calculated the average difference in Corsi For % between when the player was on the Leafs and off the Leafs. I then compared Carlyle’s average Corsi impact to all other coaches who were continuously employed over the same period Carlyle was with the Leafs.
There’s not a single coach who comes close to being as much of a drag on possession as Carlyle was, and in fact Todd Richards was the only other coach who kept his job over the same period while bringing his players possession numbers down by more than 1%. Carlyle’s numbers can’t be explained by losing some of his top possession drivers either, as the average Relative CF% of the players in our sample was -0.18. Even if we limit our sample to those players who posted a negative Relative Corsi over their time with the Leafs (i.e. the players who were worse than their teammates under Carlyle) we still see that he causes about a 7.2% drop in their possession numbers.
It’s not just possession though. Carlyle’s supporters have always argued that the defensive style he preaches forces shots to the outside, and that the high save percentages that the Leafs’ netminders have put up are a direct result of that defensive style. But if we run the same exercise as above with Scoring Chance numbers, we see that this isn’t the case.
Players under Carlyle saw their Scoring Chance numbers drop by roughly 5.6%, a number that is once again completely out of line with other bench bosses across the league. If Carlyle actually had a system that focused on keeping opponent’s to low percentage areas and enhanced the number of high quality shots the Leafs were taking then his effect on Scoring Chances should have been muted compared to his influence on possession. But the numbers don’t agree with that, only 2 of 16 players who played sufficient minutes with and without Carlyle over the last 3 years got better under him.
The question that remains, however, is when Carlyle gets his next shot at an NHL head coaching job. Teams often feel safer turning to a coach with a Stanley Cup ring, as the inherent risk of going with an unknown with potential too often pushes teams towards someone with known flaws. The Leafs, for their part, have at least finally recognized that Carlyle is not going to lead the team in the direction that it needs to go. They’ll now have the rest of the season to evaluate whether a roster that many (including myself) thought was an improvement over prior years is actually enough to allow them to compete going forward.