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Gordon, Cronin to join Leafs' bench

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com
Brian Burke sensed the message to Toronto's players was getting "stale." He decided to freshen it up by making some changes.

Burke, the Maple Leafs' President and GM, announced Monday that coach Ron Wilson will have two new assistants for the 2011-12 season. Scott Gordon and Greg Cronin, a pair of former coaches with Massachusetts ties, are replacing Keith Acton and Tim Hunter as Wilson's top aides.

Gordon, who coached the Islanders for two-plus seasons, was Wilson's assistant with the U.S. Olympic team in 2010. Burke was the general manager of that squad.

Cronin recently completed his sixth season as coach at Northeastern University. He previously spent seven seasons in the Islanders organization, including five as an assistant and two as head coach of their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport.

"Stale is a word that doesn't work in professional sports," Burke said at a press conference announcing the changes. "I reached a conclusion that we needed a new look. I reached a conclusion that our players need to hear some new voices."

Burke said he believes Wilson remains the right coach in Toronto, but he won't discuss a contract extension with him. He instead will reserve judgment on Wilson's future in Toronto until he sees how the Leafs play early next season, but he's hoping it'll be a continuation of how they finished this past season.

"I remember back when Bobby Orr was playing and my father being on the roof trying to get the antenna to work so we can watch the game. Watching that parade and hearing about everything that has gone on after they won the Stanley Cup, you think about what can happen here. I don't think there is a better place to have an impact than the one it can have here." -- Scott Gordon

Toronto put itself on the fringe of the Eastern Conference playoff race by going 10-7-2 after the trade deadline.

"I believe Ron Wilson's performance over the last part of the season proves this team still plays for him," Burke said.

He added that Wilson has not reached his "shelf life" with the Maple Leafs.

"When a coach loses his team, there are tell-tale symptoms," Burke said. "The first thing are the snipers, unnamed players take shots at the coach. That hasn't happened since Ron has been here. Second are the agents -- if they think a coaching change is in order, you hear it hourly. Not one phone call like that since I've been here.

"None of the symptoms that accompany this type of illness are present. That's why we're taking this step instead. Ron has proven he should coach this team in the fall."

Burke, though, made the decision that changes were needed after he completed his evaluation of the Leafs' season. He let Wilson interview the candidates and make the final call on Gordon and Cronin.

Burke's only prerequisite was that the candidates must have prior head coaching experience.

"It's the same reason why I like former captains on my team. The players elected this guy the player rep, so I'll take 10 of them because obviously the guy must be a leader," Burke said. "It's the same thing for a coach that has an outlook and more authority than a coach who hasn't developed that yet. It brings authority on the bench and on the resume."

Gordon, 48, was the AHL Coach of the Year in 2007-08 when he led the Providence Bruins to a 55-18-3 record. Recent Stanley Cup winners David Krejci, Adam McQuaid and Tuukka Rask all played for him that season. Gordon also coached in the International Hockey League and the ECHL. The Easton, Mass. native played goalie for Boston College from 1982-86.

Cronin, also 48, led Northeastern to its first consecutive winning seasons since 1993-95. The Boston native was an assistant for Team USA at the 1997 and 2011 World Championships as well as for the U.S. National Junior teams in 1997 and 1998.

Both Cronin and Gordon closely watched the Bruins' run to the Stanley Cup, and it got them dreaming of what the celebration would be like in Toronto if the Leafs ever could win again.

"I remember back when Bobby Orr was playing and my father being on the roof trying to get the antenna to work so we can watch the game," Gordon said. "Watching that parade and hearing about everything that has gone on after they won the Stanley Cup, you think about what can happen here. I don't think there is a better place to have an impact than the one it can have here."

"This Stanley Cup for the Bruins will energize a different population of people in Boston," said Cronin. "If it ever happened in Toronto, I think you'd see four times as many people involved."

Neither Gordon nor Cronin indicated what their tasks will be as assistants, but Burke said the Leafs' poor special teams play was "a catalyst" to making this change. Special teams responsibilities normally fall to the assistant coaches.

Toronto was 22nd in the NHL on the power play and 28th in penalty killing this past season. The Maple Leafs were last in both special teams categories in 2010-11 and have not finished above 24th on the penalty kill since the work stoppage. Their power play has ranked in the top 15 of the League only twice since the work stoppage, but not since a 15th-place finish in 2007-08.

"It's not time to shovel dirt on the two coaches that are leaving. Part of the reason our special teams haven't been better is my fault," Burke said. "We haven't had the players to have special teams at a level where they need to be. The general manager deserves some blame when you make a coaching staff change and I'll take that blame."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl
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