TORONTO - Ron Wilson said he was the happiest person in the NHL on Tuesday.
After being named head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the 53-year-old Wilson said he was fulfilling a dream. "This is an unbelievable day for me," he said during a news conference at the Air Canada Centre. "The last couple weeks have been very exciting."
Wilson was fired last month by San Jose after the Sharks lost to the Dallas Stars in the second round of the playoffs. He succeeds Paul Maurice, who was fired in May after missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.
"Obviously if you lose your job in the league you often wonder if you'll get another opportunity," said Wilson. "The furthest thing from my mind at any point in my hockey career wat that I would have an opportunity - ever - to coach a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs with their incredible history."
Wilson travelled to Toronto on Monday to finalize the four-year deal. The Maple Leafs finished 12th in the Eastern Conference with a 36-35-11 record last season, missing a playoff spot by 11 points.
"I view the Leafs as a team in transition," he said. "It's going to require a lot of work and a lot of attention to detail."
Wilson was joined by interim GM Cliff Fletcher at the news conference. The Leafs are still searching for a permanent general manager and Wilson is confident he'll get along with the person the team eventually hires.
"It's putting the pieces of the puzzles together," he said. "There's no exact way to do it."
Wilson is hoping to turn the Leafs into playoff contenders within two years.
"As a coach, you just want to put yourself in a position to knock on the door," Wilson said. "And if we can be knocking on the door in two years, I think that will be a tremendous accomplishment. Then we've just got to knock the door down."
Wilson, who was born in Windsor and raised in Fort Erie, Ont., before moving south of the border, has a career NHL coaching record of 518-446-127 in stints with the Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Washington Capitals. The former U.S. college player spent parts of three NHL seasons with the Leafs in the late 1970s.
Rumours persist that Wilson's hiring will set the stage for Anaheim GM Brian Burke to enter the picture once his deal expires with the Ducks next summer. Burke and Wilson played together at Providence when they were younger.
Wilson, who is a dual citizen, played for the U.S. in three world hockey championships and has coached the Americans in various events, notably the 1996 World Cup of Hockey title and 1998 Olympics.
Unlike his stops in Anaheim, Washington and San Jose, Ron Wilson finally gets to coach in a hockey-mad market. He feels he's up to the challenge.
"I've coached three teams in the National Hockey League and each team I've had to come in and kind of start underneath the radar and work my way up," he said. "I feel I've accomplished those things."