Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Rocky Tenure Of Ron Wilson

       The news that a lot of Maple Leafs fans have been wanting occurred on Friday with the firing of head coach Ron Wilson.  It is a period of time in Leafs history that will most likely be met with feelings of what could have been.  Wilson was an experienced coach who came to Toronto with promises of playoff dreams and Stanley Cup fantasies.  But when we look back at the four years those dreams have turned into nightmares and the Maple Leafs current play has to be the low point.  When I look back on Ron's time with the Leafs I have to think that a lot of the issues that surround the Leafs may not actually be his fault.  However this could be another example of an organization that could not get rid of the players so they got rid of the coach.
Courtesy Maple Leafs Hot Stove
       Ron Wilson was signed on to coach the Leafs in 2008 when Cliff Fletcher was the Interim General Manager and was signed to a four year contract.  In his first season with the Leafs they finished in tenth place.  His signing caused the rumours in Toronto of Brian Burke coming to Toronto.  Half way through the 2008 season Burke came over and began the re build in Toronto.  The turnover was quick as Burke tried to give Wilson a roster that he could use to create a winning team.  Before Wilson's second season, Brian Burke made a trade with Boston to bring Phil Kessel to the Leafs.  This resulted in the the loss of two first round picks and a second round pick.  A decision that would come back to bite the Leafs as they would finish the 2009-2010 season in 15th place.  This gave Boston the second overall pick in the draft costing Toronto Tyler Seguin.  Seguin has gone on to be a key piece for the Bruins and even won a cup with them in his first season.
Courtesy Macleans
       Heading into the Leafs third season the team was taking more of a shape with their captain Dion Phaneuf in his first full season. Kessel was healthy and the young team was starting to develop  However, with a slump at the beginning of the season, the Leafs were soon out of the race.  After the all star break rookie goalie James Reimer almost got them into the playoffs but the Leafs once again fell short.  However, Reimer was signed to a new contract and Toronto fans believed that they had their goalie of the future.
       Then came the 2011-2012 season.  What many felt was a make or break season for Ron Wilson as coach.  The Leafs had brought in the pieces to make everything work.  Tim Connolly was brought in to be the number one centre between Lupul and Kessel.  The Grabovski - Macarthur - Kulemin line was looking to establish themselves as a solid second line.  John-Michael Liles was brought in to replace Kaberle, Jake Gardiner broke out of camp as a rookie sensation and the look of a solid young Leafs team was there.  At the end of the first month Toronto was sitting second in the Eastern Conference and were well on their way to a great season.  And even after the second month Toronto was sitting in fourth place.  The first two months which had normally spelt doom for Toronto had turned into optimism.  However, like seasons past, the penalty kill was near the very bottom in the league.  What was supposed to be Ron Wilson's strength had turned into a very big weakness.  Soon after the Leafs were showing promise they slumped and headed into the new year in 10th place, 2 points out of 8th.  A long cry from where they were early in the season.  After battling in January Toronto sat in 8th place and were in a spot to control their destiny.
       Then February came.  What would be the death march for Ron Wilson and perhaps the Leafs season.  After going 3-0 to start the month the wheels would fall off.  The Leafs would go on to lose 10 out of 11 games with their one win being an overtime victory in Edmonton.  The players looked like they had lost all confidence and Ron Wilson looked and sounded like a man defeated.  The worst game of the losing streak came at home against Florida.  A 5-3 loss that led to Toronto fans chanting "Fire Wilson".
       It turned out that Brian Burke listened to the fans and decided to let Ron Wilson go.  Four seasons of no playoffs.  A losing record.  A dismal penalty kill.  All factors that led to his firing.  What Toronto fans must realize is that the players need to improve.  There is only so much the coach can do.  The team needs to win the battles, gain some confidence and fight for their lives.  Toronto is now in 12th place in the East.  They are 5 points back of Winnipeg and have 18 games to turn their season around.  I fear that if things do not change there will be a very different Maple Leafs team next year.  Something that very well could be needed.  It will be interesting to watch over the coming days and see if Toronto can turn into a team we can be proud of.

Look out for Justin's blog on what head coach Randy Carlyle will bring to the team.

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