TORONTO – Randy Carlyle entered the dressing room of the Maple Leafs practice facility Monday morning to an unusual and almost eerie silence.
There was no music pumping from the stereo system, nothing but the uncomfortable quiet of a team in midst of another memorable late season collapse. "That's a sure tell-tale sign," he said of a group in shock, down in the dumps from a losing streak numbering eight games, one that has the club's playoff hopes dangling from the thinnest of threads.
Carlyle took the day to inject a little life into what remains of those hopes. He also did a fair bit of teaching, directing, and informing, tweaks to "things that we think that are very easily correctable". He implored his forwards to "turn your [butt]" to protect the puck and adjusted the positioning of Jay McClement and Tim Gleason during one particular defensive zone drill.
Carlyle may be coaching for his job in these final six games of the regular season, but beyond the uncertain question of the head coach and his status for next season is the roster retooling that seems likely to take place under the direction of GM Dave Nonis and his management team this summer.
With 10 players up for free agency – including half the forward group and two top-four defenders – and the core deserving of some scrutiny after another collapse, plenty of change could and probably will be coming to the Leafs.
Note: *Restricted Free Agent | **Unrestricted Free Agent
Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, Dion Phaneuf, David Clarkson, Joffrey Lupul, and Tyler Bozak are all locked up until the summer of 2017 and in some cases beyond. They constitute the Toronto core along with Morgan Rielly and Jonathan Bernier and the far less secure but high upside duo of Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner.
Considering their place in three straight collapses – all of varying degree – and ongoing struggles to defend, adjustment to the group has to be considered with only Kessel, van Riemsdyk, Bernier and Rielly seemingly off the table this offseason.
Luke Schenn, once a cornerstone of that group, was jettisoned after the meltdown in 2012. Mikhail Grabovski faced the same fate via compliance buyout after Game 7 last spring.
Will the summer ahead bring with it more change to the building blocks of the organization? Is a 1-2 centre punch of Bozak and Kadri strong enough to be a force in the East or are upgrades needed down the middle? Is there enough two-way stability to the current top-six (all signed long-term, save for Kadri) with little in the way of youth on the way? Can Clarkson be redeemed in year two of a whopping seven-year contract? Might the organization buy him out? Is a trade even possible? Can Lupul be a part of the solution at age 30 and beyond that?
Is the core, generally speaking, good enough to win as constructed or is a major or perhaps minor tinkering required?
Beyond that core is the looming free agent bunch, of which Bolland figures to be the most intriguing.
The 27-year-old began his Leaf career with a bang, posting six goals and 10 points in October. But a serious ankle injury kept him out nearly five months and muddled his status in the process. There's value there, but at what price and what term? Can he stabilize the club at centre ice or is there a better fit elsewhere, perhaps 28-year-old Paul Statsny, also entering unrestricted free agency for the first time?
Then there are the likes of Mason Raymond, Nik Kulemin, Jay McClement, Troy Bodie and Paul Ranger, all also unrestricted. McClement is useful if employed in a fourth line role, and Bodie has certainly earned himself another contract with an energetic presence. The others all have question marks with price point and fit among the concerns.
That's the entire group of bottom-six forwards, all in question to return next season.
None of the three restricted free agents are certain or maybe even likely to come back next year with Jake Gardiner the likeliest of a bunch – by a good margin – that includes Cody Franson and the all-but-gone James Reimer.
Toronto's defence should be the top priority for upgrade followed by a forward complement that has plenty of holes in the bottom ranks (size, strength, defensive commitment among the issues) with question marks up top and down the middle as well.
Nonis would be hard-pressed to bring back Carlyle if the Leafs do definitively fumble away their once certain playoff chances, but he'll also have to give a long, hard look to a roster that's proven (in conjunction with that coaching staff) to be flawed and in need of improvement.