SPORTS

Leafs begin post-Carlyle era: 5 things to know

01/07/2015 11:23 EST | Updated 03/09/2015 05:59 EDT
The Toronto Maple Leafs play their first game since the firing of head coach Randy Carlyle when they host the Washington Capitals tonight at 7 p.m. ET.

Here are five things you should know for the start of the post-Carlyle era in Toronto:

Horachek gets interim nod

The Leafs announced this morning that Peter Horachek has been promoted to interim head coach.

Horacek and fellow assistant Steve Spott were initially tapped to split the job for the Washington game, but the more seasoned Horacek got the nod after running Tuesday’s practice.

The only one with NHL head coaching experience, Horacek was the interim man in Florida after Kevin Dineen got the axe about a month into last season. Horachek went 26-36-4 the rest of the way.

The 54-year-old from Stoney Creek, Ont., served 10 years as an assistant with Nashville, and also has a decade of head-coaching experience at the minor-league level, most recently with the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage last season before he was promoted by Florida.

Like Spott, Horachek did not play in the NHL.

Road test coming

The new head coach will be tested right away. The Leafs are getting just a two-game respite from the road, which has not been kind. Toronto lost five of seven on its just-completed trip, and following Friday’s home game against Columbus the Leafs will be away for nine of their next 11 games.

Not ideal for a team that’s clinging to the final playoff spot in the East, just one point ahead of Boston in the wild-card chase.

Trotz approves

Tonight, Horachek will match wits with his old boss from Nashville, Barry Trotz, who is now Washington’s head coach.

Trotz endorsed his former assistant on Tuesday.

"He's knowledgeable and he's got good balance in terms of player relationships, systems, all that," Trotz said. "He's disciplined, he demands accountability, but he can communicate. Some guys demand accountability and can't communicate. He demands accountability and he gets respect because he communicates."

Permanent ‘process’ started

As for when a permanent hire could be made, Leafs GM Dave Nonis wouldn’t reveal anything during Tuesday’s media conference to announce Carlyle’s dismissal.

"There's a process you go through," Nonis said. "We'll focus on [Wednesday] night then move ahead after that."

Had his Phil

Phil Kessel sure had a day on Tuesday. First, the Leafs’ star forward got the news that his head coach had been fired. Then his former coach, Ron Wilson, went on a Toronto radio show and ripped Kessel for his flightiness.

“You can’t rely on Phil,” Wilson said. “Phil’s problem… is that he is two weeks on and two weeks off."

“When he’s not playing well, he’s a hard guy to get on board and get on your side… He comes and goes and he gets emotional. He lets that affect his game and his relationship with other players.”

Perhaps a little riled by those comments, Kessel later got into a testy exchange with a reporter during a post-practice media scrum.

Kessel took exception to a line of questioning that began with, “It’s been suggested that you’re a difficult guy to coach…” and fired back at Toronto Star columnist Dave Feschuk by saying, “This guy’s such an idiot here” before walking away from the interview session.

Kessel ranks eighth in the NHL with 18 goals this season and is tied for ninth in points with 41 in 40 games. For all the criticism of his “inconsistency,” here are his points-per-game marks for the last three seasons, starting with the current one: 1.03, 1.08, 1.00.

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