SUNRISE, Fla. -- On some subjects -- his relationship with the city of Winnipeg for example -- Randy Carlyle remains inflexible but on others, such as his approach to his players, there appears to have been a softening.
Carlyle is mistakenly labelled old school and while he does cling to some cardinal rules passed down to him from the likes of John Ferguson, he is also extremely adaptable.
A self-described tunnel rat, a nickname children of miners in Sudbury, Ont., hung on themselves back in his coming up days, Carlyle is street smart and capable of seeing which way the wind is blowing and making the right call.
So on Tuesday evening prior to his Toronto Maple Leafs taking to the ice against the Florida Panthers when Carlyle took time to talk to me, there was evidence of the old Kitty and the new Kitty.
First the old.
"This is a Winnipeg thing. It's an old relationship," he said with a smile to a Toronto reporter when explaining he would need a few more minutes for a Winnipeg reporter.
Now the new.
"I want to come to the rink -- and I stole this from Ken Hitchcock when he talked about his new approach -- and not be anywhere near any negatives from the day before," said Carlyle, who developed a reputation for being hard on players while coaching the Anaheim Ducks to a Stanley Cup. "I want to be positive and be about getting better and always from a positive frame of mind. Where before I would drag things from game-to-game around... and I think it's important that's one of the things that I learn and change right off the bat. The players have access to the media and the video, they've watched the mistakes they've made and they don't need a coach to rehash it and continue to bring it up. If there was one area that I could improve in it would be that. Just a different approach to being more upbeat and positive about the work that's going to be done. Less about what happened yesterday and more about what's happening tomorrow. Let's not rehash but let's be positive and see what we can do to improve."
Carlyle is undoubtedly one of the best in-game coaches in hockey. He once told me the reason he coached was because it was the closest he could get to the action of playing after his body and reflexes had betrayed him. Watch him coach -- he's up and down the bench all night. Carlyle is, in a word, involved.
Leafs GM Brian Burke said he and his executive team considered a number of candidates, mostly internal, but they always came back to Carlyle.
"He's a good communicator. He's gruff and he's terse and he's not a man of many words but he's still a good communicator. He demands performance and a high work ethic. He knows how to win," said Burke. "He's a terrific three-period bench coach as far as distributing ice-time wisely, making personnel adjustments and getting line matchups. I think he's as good as there is in the modern era in terms of handling the bench in the 60 minutes of the contest. You can be a GM in this league for 20 years and not have a chance to hire a coach like Randy Carlyle because of the musical chairs. I've had a chance to hire him twice now and I consider myself fortunate."
The task of coaching the Leafs, a storied franchise that has gone 44 years without winning a Stanley Cup, is an undertaking of immense proportions. Carlyle, however, says after consulting with his family and making sure this was the right move for them, it wasn't a hard decision.
"I'm a hockey coach. Right now that's what I do," he said.
Leafs fans should be thankful for that. Their team is in good and motivated hands.
Carlyle says he's fortunate. I'd suggest the Leafs are the lucky ones.
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