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Nonis: Leafs are ‘capable,’ but also ‘movable’

Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf

In attempting this morning to explain the decision to fire coach Randy Carlyle, Toronto GM Dave Nonis sent two clear messages to his players.

First, he said they were capable of performing the way management expects them to.

“They’re able to, we’ve seen it,” said Nonis. “It’s not that we have players who can’t do it. The game in Boston, for example. They played the way we want to play. They played that way in Minnesota. It’s not that they can’t do it, it’s that our consistency hasn’t been there. ... I don’t think it’s because they’re not capable, because they are. That’s one of the reasons we did this today.”

Second, he said they were movable. And that includes the core players.

“People think that players are set in stone,” Nonis said. “I’ve said before, players are movable. None of them have full [no-move clauses]. ... If there’s a player move that makes us better, then we’ll look to do it.”

What firing Carlyle today gives the Leafs is time. Time to evaluate the roster with a new bench boss, whoever that may be. Time to see how much Carlyle’s much-maligned system and methods were the problem, if they were the problem at all.

The trade deadline is March 2, almost two months away. Though if there’s going to be significant change to the roster, that may have to wait until the offseason.

For now, the futures of practically every single Leaf player remain cloudy. Can Toronto win the Stanley Cup with Dion Phaneuf as its top defenseman? Can it win the Cup with winger Phil Kessel as its highest-paid player?

Not to single out those two, because the Leafs’ problems go well beyond them. Kessel, for example, is one of the most gifted scorers in the NHL. If he’d spent the last five years on the Blackhawks and Patrick Kane had spent the last five years with the Leafs, which guy do you think is more likely to have two rings today?

That said, it always starts with the core, especially in the salary-cap era when there are limited dollars to be spent. It may be that trading Phaneuf and/or Kessel is what’s best for the organization in the long run. Or, it may not be. That’s for fans and media to debate, and management to decide.

Losers of two straight, including Saturday’s embarrassing defeat in Winnipeg that put the nail in Carlyle’s proverbial coffin, Toronto will host Washington tomorrow with assistants Steve Spott and Peter Horachek running the bench.

“It shouldn’t take anything other than seeing what has happened today for [the players] to understand we need to compete,” said Nonis. “They know they have the ability to do it. I’ve seen teams and been with teams that don’t have the ability. The players look at each other and say we can’t do this, we’re not capable. That’s not this group. We need to go out tomorrow and focus on tomorrow night and we’ll go from there.”

Related: It’s not all Carlyle’s fault, but the Leafs’ coach is failing at his job