TORONTO - Randy Carlyle has been fired as coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The move by the NHL team came on the heels of a brutal road trip during which the Leafs lost five of seven games and showed little signs of being able to snap out of its struggles.
Carlyle longed for answers to the Leafs' defensive and possession problems early in the season, and his team showed flashes of success, but he was relieved of his duties 40 games into the season with Toronto 21-16-3 and in fourth place in the Atlantic Division.
"I want to thank Randy for all of his hard work and dedication," general manager Dave Nonis said in a statement. "It's never an easy decision to make when changing your leadership but our team was not trending in the right direction and we felt an immediate change was necessary."
Assistants Steve Spott and Peter Horachek will run the bench for Wednesday's game against the Washington Capitals, the first in the post-Carlyle era.
Carlyle went 91-68-19 in 188 games as Leafs coach over parts of four seasons.
Carlyle was thought to be on a short leash, understandable given Toronto's collapses the past two seasons. Last year it was a stretch of 12 losses in the final 14 games that knocked the Leafs out of playoff contention, and in 2013 it was the memorable Game 7 loss to the Boston Bruins.
After Brendan Shanahan was hired as president in April, he evaluated the coaching staff and decided to re-sign Carlyle and fire his assistants. Carlyle got a two-year extension, but the final season of it was a team option.
Asked about Carlyle before the season, Nonis said the idea of a "short leash" is no different than it has ever been.
"How a team plays is always a reflection of your coach," Nonis said the day training camp opened. "At some point you look at how the team plays and you say, 'Is a coach having the impact that's needed?' I don't really think that matters if a coach is on a one-year or a two-year deal if you don't think he's getting through."
Blowout losses in November seemed to symbolize that, but a 9-1-1 run following a couple of embarrassing games got the Leafs back on track. Losing five of seven on the road trip, and repeating the same kind of mistakes that have plagued the team before, marked the end of Carlyle's tenure.
Carlyle, a native of Sudbury, Ont., replaced Ron Wilson with 18 games left in the 2011-12 season. Wilson was fired following the infamous "18-wheeler going right off a cliff" losing streak named for then-GM Brian Burke's quote.
Carlyle and the Leafs made the playoffs in the lockout-shortened 2013 season before falling behind three games to one in the first round against Boston. They came back to force a Game 7 and led 4-1 with 11 minutes left before losing in overtime.
In 2013-14, the Leafs were easily in a playoff spot when goaltender Jonathan Bernier suffered an injury. They lost eight in a row in regulation and dropped 12 of their final 14 games.
Carlyle's job appeared in jeopardy then, but Shanahan decided he wanted some time to evaluate the team. The final decision came with his firing, the fourth NHL coach this season to get the axe.
Paul MacLean of the Ottawa Senators was first, then Dallas Eakins of the Edmonton Oilers and Pete DeBoer of the New Jersey Devils.
Carlyle won the Stanley Cup as coach of the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.
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