ANAHEIM — My favourite description of Randy Carlyle the National Hockey League head coach came from Jason Blake, the little winger who was a Duck near the end of Carlyle’s first tour in Anaheim.
“It’s not your coach’s job to be your friend,” Blake said of Carlyle. “But there’s a difference between that, and being like your enemy.”
The thing about players is, no matter how keen their survival skills, Father Time eventually renders their body obsolete. They go away and never come back, while coaches can go away, reshape themselves, and come back more than once.
Today’s Randy Carlyle is not yesterday’s Randy Carlyle. At least, not all the time.
“Today’s player wants to know why you’re doing something,” Carlyle began on Saturday, the off day between Games 1 and 2 in this Western Conference Final. “Before … you didn’t have to explain yourself on a day-to-day basis. Today’s player, you always have to (answer for) them, the ‘Why?’ Explain it and explain it.
“If it’s as much as moving a player off the power play unit. Or moving a player away from his partner who he has historically played with (read: Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf). All those little things you have to do on a much more regular basis today, (compared to) 10 years ago.”
It’s not been an easy transformation for a Norris Trophy defenceman who captained both the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Winnipeg Jets. In the latter city he played for coach named Tommy McVie, whose old school ways rubbed off on Carlyle.
“There are two places never to make a drop pass,” McVie used to growl at his charges. “At home, and on the road.”
“I like Tommy McVie!” Carlyle said Saturday, smiling broadly as the conversation went back and forth from the old school days to today.
He just can’t be like Tommy McVie now, and everyone in hockey gets that.
Carlyle was the head coach of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks back in 2005-06 — yes, when they were still Mighty, purple helmets and all — when a couple of rookies named Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry were called up form the Portland (Maine) Pirates. Those two got the rookie treatment from their head coach: “Rookies are here to be seen, not heard, and all that sort of stuff that’s gone by the wayside,” Carlyle said.
They won a Cup in 2007, but like every coach, Carlyle’s gig grew stale. He ended up in Toronto, where the many internet geniuses who grade coaches decided the game had passed him by.
As it turned out, having a litany of backup goalies and not nearly enough talent up front had more to do with his failings in Toronto than how many five-on-five offensive draws were meted out to the ever-oppressed Nikolai Kulemin.
Today he is back in Anaheim and in charge of a genuine Stanley Cup contender. Two of his go-to people — two team leaders at the other end of the new, walk-you-through-my-decisions Randy Carlyle — are those two kids from Portland: a couple of Olympic vets and NHL All-Stars named Getzlaf and Perry.
They’re a vastly different duo today than the one he left behind five years ago.
“Oh, for sure. They’re way more mature,” Carlyle says. “But you have to remember, when I got hired here, that was probably my support group to bring me back. Those are the things that came out in the wash. You don’t know that right away, but you hear, and you figure out that those are the people who supported me to come back.
“I’m indebted to them. We have a much different level of respect that’s borne out over the years.”
Today, there are two sides to the man who will likely become the first to both play and coach 1,000 NHL games (he’s coached 786 regular season games thus far, and played 1,055).
“He’s still very hard in terms of what he wants from players, and the discipline you need to play,” said Andrew Cogliano, another holdover from the early years. “But he’s much more approachable this time around. If there are things you want to get off of your chest, I think he’s easier to approach. To figure it out.
“When you’re younger and you make mistakes, there’s a sense now that you can work through those details (while still getting ice time). Back then? That wasn’t going to happen.”
That’s all well and good. But on Saturday afternoon, when Cuddles Carlyle sat down with his power play unit — which is 0-for-20 and hasn’t scored since Game 2 of the Edmonton series — don’t think he won’t have some pointed, old school words for an under-performing unit.
“Oh yeah,” he guaranteed. “It just can’t be an every day occurrence.
“You have to change,” he said. “It’s not the same.”