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Wilson Knows How To Win

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Brian Burke is right when he says he won’t fire Ron Wilson because of  the Leafs lacklustre season.


Nor should he.

It’s not like Wilson isn’t a proven winner or a young prospect with a bit of minor league experience. The only question that matters with a coach is simple enough. Can he win?

Remember winning seasons? Wilson has nine of them. He is the only coach to push the Washington Capitals, a team not as good as the current Caps, into the Stanley Cup finals.

Five-hundred and sixty eight times his head has hit the sack with the pleasant echo of a win ricocheting between his ears.

Is Ron Wilson qualified to coach the Maple Leafs? Well, consider he is using the same penalty-killing and power play setups he deployed to startling success in his other stops, I’m thinking yes. Does the fact that the Leafs have only managed an atrocious 68.6 percent speak to the carpenter or the materials?

Wilson’s last San Jose team was third in the NHL in goals against. The years before the Sharks were tied for second. The Leafs 3.43 aggregate is dead last by a healthy margin.

Again, the craftsman or the wood?

Besides, this is the second year in what, admittedly as been a long string of Leaf rebuilds.

Burke is in his first full season as GM and while he has improved the team on paper, the Maple Leafs have definitely underperformed. They are breaking in a new goalie and a handful of players, Mikael Grabovski and Luke Schenn come to mind, have hit the wall. Those same players thrived last season so it’s probably safe to assume the issue hasn’t been Wilson’s sudden ineffectiveness, but rather the normal push and pull of a young professional learning the ropes.

Mostly, the Leafs aren’t good enough right now. Not by a longshot. Individual elements, Mike Komisarek coming back, Jonas Gustavsson finding his legs and Phil Kessel finding a way to activate that funny red light atop the net will improve things. But no matter the brave talk from Burke, facts are facts.

“I don’t fault the coaches at all for where we are,” Burke said recently. “There is not going to be a coaching change here.”

Burke left out one word.

Now.

You already know that Burke and Wilson go back to when both were playing for Lou Lamoriello at Providence College. But when a radio reporter, the Fan590’s veteran Howard Berger suggested some would think the friendship would save Wilson’s job, Burke said “some people would be idiots if they thought that.”

Good for Howard for asking a question that his listeners want answered. But friendship has nothing to do with it.

Remember this truth. If coaches were only fired with cause, Al McNeil wouldn’t have been fired after leading the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup in 1971. Every coach gets hosed. Of course their firing wasn’t fair. But neither was the firing of their predecssor.

How cold blooded a business is this?  When the Flyers fired Bryan Murray in 1989, they brought in his brother Terry to take over. That’s cold.

Do you think for a second Brian Burke wouldn’t let Wilson go if he thought it would help?

Would he sacrifice his standing with his employers, the players and the city in order to protect a coach who has already attained everything shy of a Stanley Cup?

Wilson doesn’t think so. He says he has kept cordial relations with officials in every place he has worked. He knows the gig.

“If Burkie thinks the best thing to do is to change coaches, I would expect him to act professionally and do it,” Wilson said.

And someday, he probably will. Wilson is an old-school hockey guy. He doesn’t quit and if you want him gone, it will take a shovel of indeterminate size.

It’s very likely Brian Burke will someday after to fire Ron Wilson. The only thing that would ease the pain of doing that is the knowledge that it came a few years after a Stanley Cup parade.
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