It wasn't the shiny glass and steel of Honda Center that made Randy Carlyle feel nostalgic Monday. Nor was it conducting the Toronto Maple Leafs' morning skate beneath the Stanley Cup banner he helped the Ducks win in 2007.
The sight of two people, anonymous to fans but touchstones to him, brought out the mellow side of this gruff, old-school coach when he returned to Anaheim for the first time since the Ducks fired him on Nov. 30, 2011.
"When you meet the parking lot attendant, the guy at the top of the ramp that you know, and he's the guy that used to look after your wife and your kids when you came to the rink and he was always a big happy guy to say hello, it's an emotional time to see him," Carlyle said. "And the guy that washes the cars in the parking lot. I see the players have new cars. Again. I don't see any of the coaches' cars out there."
His tone and humor were lighter than during his days with the Ducks, who dismissed him after winning only three of 19 games. "As we all get older we all seem to calm down a little bit," he said, and for him that means healing the wound inflicted by his firing.
Carlyle, who was hired by Toronto in March 2012, has come to see his dismissal in Anaheim as an occupational hazard, not a personal insult. He was demanding and was replaced by the player-friendly Bruce Boudreau. It's a cycle: Players stop responding to a disciplinarian and management brings in a players' coach. When players tune out that coach's message, he's usually replaced by a disciplinarian, continuing the cycle.
"In this business, if you're not prepared for some of the pitfalls that come with it, you shouldn't be involved in it," Carlyle said. "That's the way it is."
He wondered, for a while, what he could have done better. The answer probably was nothing: Players weren't intimidated by his bark anymore, and he no longer had the stellar lineup he had in 2007. He won one playoff series with the Ducks after the Cup. They've lost the only series they've played since he was fired. With Toronto, he lost a seven-game series to Boston last spring.
"He did a lot of good things for this organization," right wing Corey Perry said. "Being part of the Stanley Cup team and building that team, and everything that I've done in my career so far has been a big help from him and a big thanks to him."
Veteran Teemu Selanne, who credits Carlyle with giving him the chance to revive his career after knee surgery in 2005, remembers Carlyle working desperately to end the team's slump.
"We were playing really bad at that time and I think he did everything what he could to wake the team up. It just didn't work," Selanne said. "I think all players can look in the mirror and say, 'We didn't do our job.'
"Most of the times the coach has to pay the price and that was the case again. It was tough to see him go. He did so much good stuff here over the years. And obviously we won the Stanley Cup together and that's something you're never going to forget."
Carlyle seemed touched by that in a way he wouldn't have shown before.
"The one thing we'll always take pride in is that we, as a coaching staff, felt that when we left this organization they were better positioned than when we came in, and that's all you can really say," Carlyle said. "And what everybody else says about it, everybody's going to have their opinions. ... It's nice to hear when a player supports you and your staff."
Carlyle, who was recognized by the Ducks during the first timeout Monday, hasn't left California behind. He bought a home in Encinitas; one son, Craig, coaches the Junior A San Diego Gulls and another, Derek, runs the pro shop at the Gulls' rink in Escondido. The Ducks always will be a part of Carlyle, and he deserves an honored place in their history.
"I look at it that I was very fortunate to coach the players that were here," he said. "We had a great group of players and we had a lot of things go our way and we had a lot of success, and we enjoyed it. It was great for the franchise, but in reality it's the players that go out there and earn it. The coaches, you swing the gate."
The best part of Carlyle's return was he and the Ducks could look back without anger. They've both moved on. Whether to better things, only the playoffs will tell.
Rules under review
NHL general managers, meeting in Boca Raton, Fla., produced no consensus for changing the overtime format in order to reduce the number of shootouts.
Video replay, a coach's challenge, and goaltender interference were discussed in three groups Monday and will be revisited Tuesday.
"The biggest thing for me is whatever you have to do, get the right call," Boudreau said.
Carlyle said that although more replays might lengthen games, being right is paramount. "Whatever way they can apply those types of calls in those types of situations and not lose the pace and speed of the game, then I think it's a valid point to be considered," he said.