It wasn’t long ago that the Toronto Maple Leafs were considered by many as a sure thing when it came to this year’s NHL playoffs. The club had placed themselves near the top of the Eastern Conference standings, and looked poised and ready to make a postseason run.
After this past week, things have taken bleak turn in Toronto, and a playoff berth is looking less and less certain.
The Leafs have now lost five straight games, and as a result have tumbled all the way to the last wild card spot in the playoff standings. Their lead over the ninth place Washington Capitals is by just one point, with the Columbus Blue Jackets within two points as well. Obviously, the timing couldn’t be worse. Ironic, really, seeing as a team looking to redeem themselves from a heart-breaking collapse in last year’s playoffs appears to be suffering another one instead, one that may keep them out of the postseason all together.
There’s still time, but not a ton. The Leafs have just nine games remaining in the season, with the first three against the St. Louis Blues, Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings. If you’re looking for opportunities to rebound, you won’t get many when facing two surging Eastern Conference teams and the top club in the west.
The question is, though, if Toronto fails to clinch a playoff spot, despite the fact that they were sitting pretty less than a month ago, will coach Randy Carlyle lose his job as a result?
Would it really shock anyone? Sure, he gave Toronto fans playoff hockey last year for the first time in what seemed like forever. At the same time, we all remember how that turned out. A 4-1 lead in the third period of Game 7 against the Boston Bruins ended in epic fashion, with Boston prevailing 5-4 in overtime. It was a huge blow to the Leafs faithful, and a late-season collapse the following year wouldn’t help matters at all.
Though this is just his third season in Toronto, these types of failures are much more resonant with both the fan base and the front office. Struggling to make the playoffs while trying to build a team is frustrating, but falling apart in the final stretch twice in two years is embarrassing for everyone involved.
Not helping matters for Carlyle is the fact that starting goalie Jonathan Bernier has been out for the past couple weeks due to a groin injury. Backup James Reimer is also taking a ton of heat due to the fact that he’s been in net for all five losses. Simply put, if you’re looking for the wheels here, they’re no longer on the bus.
The natives are getting more and more restless with every loss, and you better believe things will reach a whole new level of craziness if this slump ends up booting the Leafs out of the postseason. There may be some who believe that Carlyle shouldn’t be fired if this indeed comes true. However, hindsight usually takes a backseat in situations like this.
Despite only being on the job three seasons, back-to-back collapses could result in Carlyle receiving his walking papers from the front office. With that in mind, he better do everything he can to get the Leafs out of their funk and into the playoffs. If not, he could be spending his offseason looking for a new job.