Sunday, August 14, 2011

Will Ron Wilson survive the season?

There isn't a coach skating on thinner ice than Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson. His relationship with GM Brian Burke has kept him around this long but without a contract extension he is trapped in a corner. A slow start to the season and his is done. But if he makes it to Christmas then he needs to ride through the Maple Leafs. tradition winter losing streak. That won't be easy.

The signs are there. Burke fired assistants Keith Acton and Tim Hunter. Hunter had been a long term associate of Wilson so I can't see Wilson agreeing with the move. ThenScott Gordon was immediately brought in as an assistant as Wilson’s pick, but one would imagine Burke had some say in assuring pair of new guys had a certain level of experience.

Of course Gordon’s hiring isn’t directly related to Wilson’s potential firing, but it does make things easier for Burke if things don’t go smoothly when the season gets underway. It provides Burke with an interim coach familiar with the team so that a more robust search can take place during the offseason.

Strong finishes do not carry over to next season so let's put that notion to rest right away. The team can easily struggle in the early part of the season. After three season in charge, the special teams are still terrible. In addition, Wilson's tendency to throw his players under the bus by criticizing them in front of the media doesn't exactly create harmony in the dressing room. When Phil Kessel admitted that he and his coach rarely spoke, it was to me a significant revelation. Here was your best player acknowledging that Wilson was a poor communicator and it was coming from a player who rarely speaks to the media. Certainly there is some frustration in the dressing room.

I do believe that Ron Wilson is a good coach and his record speaks for itself. However, he is an old school coach and I don't believe he is very much in sync with his young team. I ran an identical post a year ago with the same points. Frankly I believe the only reason Wilson is still around is because of the strong finish by the Leafs last season but I attribute that to James Reimer and not the coach. If Wilson continues to get decent goaltending and improved production from his centres then he can survive but it really is time that the Leafs move in a different direction. The dressing room culture has been changed but its time to hire a players' coach.

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