Despite just one regulation win in their last 15 games, Dave Nonis re-iterated that he is committed to both Randy Carlyle's coaching staff and to supporting the team's young players, particularly Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner. Speaking Thursday on TSN 1050 Thursday, the Leafs GM also touched on the questions surrounding the team's leadership and the struggles of his big-name free-agent signing.
“It's not from lack of effort from the coaching staff. Randy didn't get stupid overnight, he's a heck of a coach,” Nonis said, pointing out that he felt the Carlyle-led staff was the biggest reason the team broke it's nearly decade-long post-season drought last year, adding that rumblings about his job security are “completely unfounded.”
The GM, still in his first year on the job after taking over on January 9 from Brian Burke, named “consistency” as the team's biggest concern 36 games into the season.
“It's not that we haven't seen high-level play from them, it's that it hasn't happened on a 60-minute basis very often, and it hasn't happened on a nightly basis and that has to change if we want to turn this around."
Despite the ongoing struggles, Nonis has been encouraged by the play of the Leafs' youngsters, particularly on the back-end.
“One of the bright spot of our slide has been the play of our young players,” Nonis said, noting that Gardiner and Rielly “are the future of our team.”
The decision to keep Rielly was one the Leafs' brass had battled with all season, but with the 19-year-old demonstrating that he was one of the team's “top two or three defenceman over the last five games,” the choice was made to allow him to develop his game in the NHL.
“His play dictated that he was going to be (with the Leafs moving forward),” Nonis said, while also mentioning that he expects both Rielly and Gardiner to keep playing on a regular basis.
Furthering his commitment to the team's youth, Nonis made it known that the Leafs are going to have to live with the mistakes made by players like Rielly and Gardiner if the team wants them to develop properly.
“There's very few young defencemen in this league that don't make mistakes, particularly one's that are offensive minded like Jake,” Nonis explained. “Jake has a bit of a gambler's mentality and that's what makes him special and what makes him dangerous and it also causes some turnovers.”
Asked about whether he has explored trade possibilities, Nonis said he is having discussions but is not willing to pull the trigger on deals which would negatively impact his team's future.
“If the moves available are going to hurt your team long-term, then there's absolutely no reason to make any of those moves.”
Regarding questions about the team's leadership, Nonis gave his captain a strong vote of confidence, while also saying the loss of veteran centre Dave Bolland may have had a bigger impact than many thought.
“Dion has probably played the best hockey he has as a Leaf, this year,” Nonis said. “The one guy that I think we've really missed in terms of how he plays the game in terms of what he brought to us early on is Dave Bolland. He was a catalyst early on for our team and I think a lot of the players were following him.”
Touching on his big free-agent acquisition David Clarkson, Nonis explained he isn't expecting the $5.2-million-a-year winger to replicate the 30-goal season he had with the Devils in 2011-12, but does need him to provide something more than what he has demonstrated thus far.
“We need David Clarkson to be David Clarkson. I don't think he's a 30-goal scorer, we said that when we signed him. We need him to be hard to play against...he needs to be himself, he can't do more than he's capable of.”