The Problem With Leaving It Up To The Players

ANAHEIM CA - OCTOBER 13: Randy Carlyle head coach of the Anaheim Ducks looks on from the bench against the Vancouver Canucks during their game at Honda Center on October 13 2010 in Anaheim California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Bob Murray's comments to the OC Register today aren't really surprising. 'He won't be firing the coach; he'll consider major trades if things continue.' It's the same "it's up to the players" message that defined last season, when Murray was finally forced to kibitz in the sermonizing coaching process by giving a direct speech to the team, a speech whose effects lasted slightly longer than the time served on Lindsay Lohan's first jail sentence.

Randy Carlyle's coaching style makes it easy to blame the roster. He needs his players to perform for his system to succed, so he has expectations of every player. When they fall short of those expectations, he tries someone else. The depth chart is written in dry erase until the players prove themselves Sharpie-worthy.

And players have been Sharpie-worthy for Carlyle over the years. Players like Rob Niedermayer and Sammy Pahlsson were glued into defensive positions in the depth chart despite both being tried in offensive situations in their early days with the Ducks. Francois Beauchemin, acquired through the scouting and forceful persuasion of Bob Murray, rose to become the most reliable pairing partner (other than Chris Pronger) in Scott Niedermayer's tenure as a Duck. These players, players that met the challenge of Carlyle's expectations, make it easy for Bob Murray to point to Carlyle's Stanley Cup and say, 'see, it isn't Randy.'

But then you look at last year and the expectation that Ryan Whitney could be Chris Pronger, the expectation that James Wisniewski could be what he was in Chicago (with a soupçon of Beauchemin) for 24 minutes, not to mention a host of hopes for players that no longer don the black and gold. And then you wonder how a management team that found success betting on longshots and two sure things (Pronger and Niedermayer) can suddenly complain that the roulette wheel is no longer taking suggestions.

That's not to say that there isn't a legitimate beef with the players. There absolutely is a lack of effort, and a coaching change isn't the panacea for the roots of those ills. But since when are we surprised that Ryan Getzlaf is undisciplined or has trouble engaging himself in a hockey game? The players are who they are, and the hopes that they can be someone else are going to be long odds every year, especially with 25 year-olds.

That's also not to say that there isn't a legitimate beef with the general manager. To use a chess analogy, Randy Carlyle expects his rooks to behave as rooks as much as he expects his general manager to put actual rooks on his chessboard. Last year, the coach was trying to protect his king with two bishops (Whitney and Wisniewski), and now, watching them playing so well on their respective teams, (used the way they were intended and the way they had been successful in their pre-Ducks careers), you can almost hear Murray say, 'woops.' He skimped on the free agent D market, going older and much more meat and potatoes this year. So far, he's getting what he paid for.

And finally, that's not to say there isn't a legitimate beef with the coach. At some point, Carlyle is going to have to prove himself without a full complement of chess pieces on his board. What good is a coach who can only win you a Stanley Cup with one of the best defensive defensemen of his generation, one of the best offensive defensemen of his generation and a laundry list of players good enough and coachable enough to meet lofty expectations?

If we assume that Bob Murray made all the right moves building his roster this past offseason and that the players are holding back Randy Carlyle's dominant coaching abilities (and that the world is flat, while we're at it), then of course it's time to talk trades. Don't get me wrong, I think trade talk is a threat, a coaching tool to further motivate the players and identical to trade threats last year. But as threats go, it's a very credible one.

A recent tweet by Eric Stephens had a pro scout defining the Ducks as 'old' and Getzlaf's recent play as 'brutal.' That probably leaves Ryan and Perry as the most valuable trading chips (the former more likely if you believe that Murray entertained offers over the summer). So, a trade has the potential to make this team better, in addition to whatever motivational advantages it has. Does it have that potential because Murray built a swiss cheese defense and because Carlyle has shuffled his forwards to death and kept their collective production (and trade value) stagnant? Nah. Can't be. We've already assumed those "excuses" aren't the problem.

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