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Maple Leafs fire head coach Randy Carlyle

New Toronto Maple Leafs' coach Randy Carlyle is seen during a practice at the Bell Centre in Montreal on March 3, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

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.

“One of the things — and you’ve all heard me say it since training camp — was that we need to see some level of consistency,” Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis said at a press conference on Tuesday morning.

“I think we’d all agree that we’ve had some good periods, some good stretches, but I don’t think I can stand here in front of you and say that we’ve been consistent. … We just felt at this point this was the right time to make the change, and move ahead, and try to get this team back playing like we have played for periods this season.”

Nonis said the team the team was “trending the wrong way right now.”

“We felt we had to make the change today because of the direction the team was trending.”

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.

“We’ll approach how we’re going to handle head coach duties for the rest of year over the next couple days,” Nonis said at the news conference.

Nonis said Carlyle’s dismissal was not a sign that the Maple Leafs were looking ahead to next season.

“We did this to try to improve our group,” he said. “This isn’t throwing in the towel. We feel this team has a chance to do some good things, and today was the first step in trying to push our team back in that direction.”

Nonis thanked Carlyle for “all of his efforts, which were significant,” adding that “he is a good man and a good coach. He’ll be back in this game quickly.”

Nonis said he told Carlyle he would be relieved of his duties on Monday night, adding that Carlyle “was disappointed but professional.”

“He is a very intelligent man. He understands the game, he understands our situation.”

Nonis also said while the coach takes part of the responsibility, “we all have to take some of the responsibility.”

More on Carlyle’s tenure with the Leafs

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, 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.