MONTREAL — That desperate cheering you hear in the background is coming from the CBC head office in Toronto, where they are rooting for the Maple Leafs to earn a playoff spot.
Like it or not, the Maple Leafs drive the ratings on Hockey Night in Canada and the public broadcaster would like to go out with a bang before the NHL national rights move to Rogers next season.
As it stands now, the Canadiens are the only Canadian team assured of a playoff berth. While the Canadiens have a following across the country, the big numbers are in Toronto. The Leafs are still trying to claw their way into a wild-card spot, while Ottawa and Vancouver are long shots with one week to go.
There are likely to be major changes in Toronto and Vancouver if those teams don’t make the playoffs. The key question in both cities is: Who do you fire?
Coach Randy Carlyle is on thin ice in Hogtown, where the Leafs went out like lambs in March with an eight-game losing streak. Carlyle can point to the loss of goaltender Jonathan Bernier as a factor in the defeats, but how do you explain the Leafs’ loosey-goosey style that has Toronto goaltenders feeling like targets in a shooting gallery.
And the bean counters at MLSE won’t be happy with general manager Dave Nonis if they miss out on playoff revenue after overpaying free-agent David Clarkson with a seven-year, $36.75-million contract.
In Vancouver, GM Mike Gillis seems to be trying to save his own job while preparing to dump head coach John Tortorella.
Gillis took to the airwaves Thursday and suggested Tortorella’s defensive style is to blame for the Canucks’ decline.
“When you have an entire team’s level of performance drop off there has to be reasons for it,” Gillis said on Team 1040.
“I want us to play an upbeat, puck-possession, move-the-puck-quickly, force-teams-into-mistakes, high-transition game,” he added. “And I think we have the personnel to do it and if we don’t have the personnel to do it they will be changed.
“That’s my vision. That’s how I believe you are going to win in the Western Conference and the National Hockey League. Look at the top teams in the West. There isn’t a lot that separates any of the teams in the West, but the top teams play that way. That’s the way we played, and in playing that way we made a lot of enemies, but we had the success that we wanted to have. And that’s the style that we are going to get back to and that is the way I want to see our team play.”
It should be noted that it was Gillis who gave Tortorella a five-year contract last spring after firing Alain Vigneault. Tortorella has been around the block a few times and Gillis should have been aware of his coaching style before hiring him.
Vigneault, who replaced Tortorella with the New York Rangers, will be going to the playoffs this season. Vigneault was coaching the kind of hockey Gillis is looking for when he guided the Canucks to the Stanley Cup final in 2011. Vancouver had the third-best record in the Western Conference last season, but Gillis fired Vigneault after the Canucks lost in the first round of the playoffs.
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