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Have we seen Ron Wilson at his best yet?

As we all watch the Leafs play their most inspired hockey (in a meaningful time frame) since probably the end of the 2003-‘04 season, something keeps coming back to me:

Have we seen Ron Wilson at his best yet behind the Leaf bench?

I raise this because, if we believe that coaches have an impact on team and individual player performance, and I do, if you just look at the final “results” from Wilson’s first three years in Toronto, his time here may well be judged a failure.  If, despite this wonderful push, the Leafs don’t quite make the playoffs this spring, that will mark the third straight year under Wilson that they fell short.  (Seven years overall, but who’s counting?)

We could, on the other hand, say, “He has the team playing really well now...they're the third-best team since the All-Star break” and suggest his patience, teaching and leadership has helped this young squad turn the corner.

I think back to his time in Anaheim, Washington, and San Jose.  At each stop, he spent about five seasons, if I’m not mistaken, and helped lead Washington and San Jose in particular to a degree of success.  He took the Caps to the finals, and has seen his teams have fairly deep runs in the playoffs.  He had a very talented team in San Jose, and while they never made it to the finals, they were a certainly a powerhouse squad under his tutelage.

Wilson critics can point to his not having “won a Cup” despite many years in the league and many opportunities.  Pat Quinn faces the same scrutiny.  But like Quinn, Wilson has had undeniable  success  in the NHL and also, not unimportantly, at the international level—World Championships, World Cup, and the Olympics.  We tend to dismiss those major international accomplishments when they don’t help us make our case, but use those successes or failures (for players and coaches) when it works to our advantage.

In any event, Burke has continued to re-make the car during Wilson’s entire time behind the Leaf bench.  That was (and remains) a necessary process, and through the roster changes the Leafs have not quite met expectations—until now.

The penalty-killing has been a sore spot during a lot of Wilson’s tenure, and the power play not much better, at least on a consistent basis.  And those things are often attributed to coaching, though surely personnel has something to do with it.

As those of you who follow this site well know, I’m not a fan of Ron’s rather acerbic and dour ways with the local media when asked questions he doesn’t like (which are many).  It’s not that I care, it just makes him look constantly unhappy, which is a shame when he has one of the best jobs in the entire sporting world.  Whatever- it's his life, his choice.

But as a coach, I just sense that we have not seen Wilson play with a full deck just yet in Toronto.  And for that, and other reasons, it seems logical that Burke will extend Wilson as soon as this season is over.  He has hitched his wagon to Wilson so far, and the roster tinkering continues, as it must.

I believe that Burke wants to see (not only because he thinks it’s the fair thing, but because he believes Wilson is actually the right person to lead this team) what the veteran coach can do with a better roster, which is now beginning to slowly take shape.

And, so do I.


  1. I agree that we haven't seen the best of Ron Wilson yet. The team is starting to play really well - surely we have to give him (and his staff) praise for that if we give him the blame for poor performances.
    It seems teams take on the energy of the coach. Pat Burns' teams were feisty like he was, Quinn's teams kept complaining like he did, etc etc. Wilson seems much more relaxed now than at the start of the season, (he actually smiles during press conferences!), and I think it's reflected in the team's performance.

  2. I think what were seeing is what we saw last year, players not listening to him so much and Tim Hunter taking over more coaching. A TO friend of mine pointed out how much more Hunter is talking to players in situations Wilson used to, and how what Wilson says, "So and so needs to do" isn't being done (Schenn, Phaneuf, Grabovski are all playing to their own tune, for example, Optimus too).

    Not sure what kind of positive credit Wilson has earned, with players tuning him out but winning. The Florida game was an example.