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Is this really the time (and I don't mean Christmas) to talk about a Wilson extension—or dismissal?

It's Christmas season and people are awfully busy.  In case you have some down time, though, and may want to catch up on a few posts about the Leafs here that you might have missed recently, here are some links:
  • What I've liked about Kessel's game this season.
  • A neat new audio podcast about the Leafs with Matteo at We want a Cup.
  • What it was like as a "regular" up in the nosebleed greys at wonderful old Maple Leaf Gardens.
  • Are the Leafs one key injury from being an 'also-ran'?

I acknowledge right off the top that I had suggested here last spring that Burke would give Wilson an extension soon after the Leafs finished their regular season.  (To be clear, I was not advocating that the coach deserved a new contract, simply that I anticipated Burke would offer one.)

I simply figured that the team had made strides in the second half of last season and since Burke had routinely said that he had never given Wilson a good enough roster, he would probably extend the veteran Coach—if only for say, a season beyond this current year, maybe.

In any event we all know that that never occurred. 

What did happen over the summer is that Burke made it clear there was no extension for Wilson forthcoming just yet.  He stressed that he had already been very loyal to Wilson, but that things had reached a point where he wanted to see where the team would go at the beginning of the 2011-’12 season before making any decisions.

There have been a few titillating moments this season, times when the masses might have said, “Yes, time to give Wilson his due” and sign that new pact.

Others point to certain notable struggles, including the much-lamented penalty-killing unit, and wonder if the Leafs have the right guy behind the bench—despite improvements in other areas.

Naturally, reports surfaced this past week that, quietly behind the scenes, negotiations are indeed ongoing to give Wilson a new deal.   (Who starts these things, I wonder?  I mean, it either comes from Wilson or someone “close” to him, which I can’t imagine.   Or it comes from a source within MLSE.  I was under the impression the old leaks inside the building were largely gone, so where, again, is this coming from— even if it is true?)

Here’s my thought du jour:  I see no benefit in changing coaches (really, why would they now- what’s the point?  This is a time for stability, I would think, not pulling what Gauthier, for example, is in Montreal and causing no end of finger-pointing (and maybe even a bit of panic).  So for me, that’s off the table.

But an extension?

I just don’t see the point.  Yes, Wilson by every reasonable definition is a classic “lame-duck” coach, since he is in the final season of a contract.  That’s usually accepted in his industry as not a good thing.  I suppose he could feel disrespected by not being given a new deal by now.  But I’m not sure that he has exactly earned an extension, much less what would come with it—a raise.

I mean, yes, there have been moments this season, as I mentioned above, when the team has looked pretty darn good. And, if we’re going to slam the coach when the team struggles then we of course should dole out some credit when they play well for an extended period of time.

But if I were in the decision-maker’s shoes, the right time to address this is would be at the end of the season, whenever that might be next spring.  Not only 32 games into a Jekyl and Hyde season thus far.  Let’s not be knee-jerk one way or the other.  If the Leafs win a few games in the very mediocre, parity-riddled East, let’s not jump up and say the guy deserves a new four-year deal.

Conversely, because they lose a few close games, or a goalie struggles a bit here or there, we don’t need to call for his axing.

I mean, this is hardly a time when emotion should enter the picture.  Let’s see what legitimate progress has been made in the following areas, when it really matters- at the end of the season:

  • Overall coaching strategy; how Wilson matches up in big games against other good coaches
  • How his teams start games (not always good enough)
  • How much ‘push back’ the team shows on a nightly basis (awfully good most nights so far)
  • Can they maintain their habit of fighting their way back into games? (they come back routinely)
  • Yes, the much discussed special team units
  • Goaltending decisions, as in who starts, when
  • How they do in games that actually matter down the stretch. (While all regular-season games—until you are obviously out of playoff contention—are important, the guy has not coached a truly “meaningful” springtime game in Toronto.  I’d like to see how that goes.)
  • Actual playoff hockey.  We all remember that the NHL does hold playoffs every spring, though some young Leaf fans may not have actually had the experience yet.  Let’s see how Wilson does at playoff time.  (That wasn’t exactly his calling card in San Jose with some pretty good teams there…)
Hey, in my mind, this should be an easy team to coach.  Why do I say that?  Well, it’s very young, but they aren’t exactly all inexperienced players.  There are plenty of guys who have already played a lot of games at the NHL level.  But they are young enough—and enough guys are clearly fighting for roster spots and ice time right across the whole line-up—that motivation on a nightly basis should really not be an issue.  Teams like this should not need Knute Rockne to get them pumped every night.  First, they play for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Isn’t that enough?  Second, the franchise hasn’t made the playoffs in almost a decade, so that should be enough to get the legs moving, even when you’re tired.  Third, some of these guys aren’t sure they will even be with the team, or in this league, a year from now.  That would certainly keep my attention when I laced them up every night.  I wouldn’t need a coach to remind me.  (The difference between a minimum NHL salary and playing in the “A” is substantial, eh?)

Finally, personal pride surely drives these guys, as it does with all professionals worth their salt.

So yes, it’s a great job to have, coaching the Leafs- especially with this particular group.  And I expect Wilson to do the job.  I expect him to do a really good job.  He is well-thought of, smart and very experienced—clearly a successful coach at the NHL level.  He has coached internationally and at the Olympics with success, too.

In fact, I would argue that, if he had just stayed away from coaching after being fired in San Jose, and just, you know, kind of floated around ESPN or TSN like every one else seems to do, he would be the kind of “step up” hire many Leaf fans would be dying for behind the bench.

So let’s see what he does the rest of the season.

But don’t get rid of him now, and don’t for goodness sake, give him a new contract that you just might want to tear up by April.  

Leaf management tells fans to be patient.

I say to Leaf management: you be patient.  We can wait 'till spring to re-sign Wilson, when we really know if the team has made progress worthy of an extension.

And if Wilson is ticked and “walks” to go somewhere else, there is no shortage of qualified people who would love this job, and may even bring a better public attitude to -and appreciation for-  the position, in addition to being a really good motivator and/or “x’s and o’s” coach.

So yes, let’s talk about it because it’s fun to, but let’s not make a decision on the coach until we need to—next spring.


  1. There is no doubt Wilson has had success in the past with other teams, and his run and gun offence can be times.

    On paper the top six D men look like a very good NHL defence, but, most nights they don't play that way. So if the talent is there and I think it is, the system they use must be at fault and the author of that system is none other than Ron Wilson. The same is also true for the PK, there are teams with a lot less talent than the Leafs who manage to do a much better job on the PK. Again I would suggest it has to be the system they are using, if it hasn,t worked for 3 plus years its time to change the system.

    I think they should keep Wilson until the end of the season and then replace him with Dallas Eakins. I don't think now is the time to make a change as the teams that have already done so are'nt any better now than than before the change.

  2. It's simple for me now- get the team to the playoffs and get the PK to somewhat mid-range by then or you're gone. Plenty of other fish in the sea, see Eakins, Dallas, Gill, Todd, etc, etc.

  3. I agree with KidK - it's very straightforward. Playoffs are a must, or it's time for someone new. Brian Burke has said as much by saying he thinks the Leafs only need "fine-tuning" now, i.e. they're playoff ready. Part of that will need to be getting the PK to a much higher success ratio, of course. The only wild cards, and potential coach-savers, will be injuries and below-par goaltending.

  4. Peter J...thanks for stopping by with a comment. Eakins' name is one that certainly seems to be "out there" of late...

    KidK...I figured you'd get your man Gill on the ballot...

    Gerund O'....yes, I can't see a new contract (unless one is signed soon) at the end of the season unless the team has at least made the playoffs...