Randy Carlyle has been fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Even as the Leafs currently hold the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, Carlyle has, during his tenure, made the Leafs one of the worst teams in the league defensively, in spite of a roster with quite a bit of talent. His tactics and his player usage have seen the Leafs routinely outpossessed, outshot, and outchanced by ridiculous margins. Stellar goaltending has been the crutch upon which his Leafs teams have leaned.
Their cumulative Fenwick number has, since Carlyle took over, plummeted in dramatic fashion:
The Toronto Maple Leafs from 2008 (Wilson hired) thru today (Carlyle fired) in one chart. pic.twitter.com/WkK9W9Smpb— SkinnyFishman (@SkinnyPPPhish) January 6, 2015
So Carlyle fired, and replaced with just about anybody, is good for the Leafs and bad for the Lightning because a division rival will almost certainly improve with this coaching change. Even assistants Peter Horachek and Steve Spott taking over on an interim basis should, at minimum, give the Leafs a dead cat bounce in the season's second half. While they might not be a threat to challenge for the Atlantic Division this year, there's another reason Tampa Bay Lightning fans should be worried: Steven Stamkos.
The Lightning superstar and captain is signed in Tampa through the 2016 season, but you'll recall the now-infamous "Tweetgate" from the summer after he favorited a pair of tweets that linked to rosterbating pieces dreamcasting him as the Leafs' prodigal son, destined to return to his hometown to play once he hits unrestricted free agency.
Regardless of the validity of the claims in some of those pieces, leaving Tampa and signing with Toronto is absolutely a possibility for Stamkos, and only he knows how likely or tempting that option is. What we can say with certainty is anything that improves the Leafs situation from now until he is extended (or theoretically traded, if Steve Yzerman feels he will leave) improves their chances of luring him away. Randy Carlyle ran the Leafs into the ground. It's safe to say playing his style of hockey, as opposed to the fast-paced, dominant puck-possession style Jon Cooper runs in Tampa, would not be attractive to Stamkos. What is attractive is the impressive supporting cast Steve Yzerman has built around his captain; the Lightning have a very talented, very young core that will likely have a Stanley Cup window that lasts years, perhaps even Stamkos' entire prime of his career if he chooses to stay.
If winning a Cup is the most important thing to him -- rather than playing for his hometown team -- then Tampa Bay staying competitive in the East while the Leafs flounder is the best case scenario. Unfortunately, with Carlyle gone, the Leafs might finally make some headway with a roster that does feature a lot of talented players.