Maple Leafs Coach Not Untouchable

Funny, I made the point in story the other night and then in a reply to a comment early this am, and now Tim Wharnsby is saying the exact same thing:

“Ron Wilson has been an untouchable when it comes to criticism in his first season as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. But does the veteran bench boss deserve some disparagement for his club’s recent struggles? Wilson remarked several times prior to and in training camp that he expected his team to improve as the season progresses. But what has transpired has been exactly the opposite.”

Is Ron Wilson to blame? No. Does he deserve some of the blame? Yes. He said over and over again, the team would be better in December then it was in October. Was it? No. He said it would be better in February then it was in December. Is it? No. I don’t think better means winning more games by the way. I think better means playing better. I think the answer to the question remains the same regardless of the definition of better. Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with how things are going. I stand up tall and say I am rooting for this team to nose dive to the bottom of the standings. Having said that criticism is fair in this case.

Let’s look at a couple of things:

1. goaltending- for whatever reason it is worse this year then last. Wilson’s fault- no.
2. Jason Blake- better, Wilson’s credit- 100%
3.Tomas Kaberle- worse- Wilson’s fault? I think so. I think the Wilson way worked for blake and blew up for Kaberle
4. Matt Stajan- better, Wilson’s credit- 100%, again the Wilson way worked for Matt
5. Luke Schenn- better then expected- Wilson deserves a ton of credit for his teaching of this kid
6. Special Teams- I dont have time to look up the pp numbers (hint hint) but I am guessing they aren’t great compared to last year- The penalty killing is dead last! This is Wilson’s team and his systems. He is on the hook for this.
7. Conditioning- Some of you may disagree with this, but Wilson took over in June. There was plenty of time for him to look at and change the off season regiment. Can he control what players do when away? Of course not. He has had these guys all season. To be complaining about their lack of conditioning now is hollow.
8. Work ethic- Same answer is above. We are in the middle of February. This is Wilson’s group. If the team isn’t practicing hard, it’s his nut. He has run a full training camp and more then half a season of practices. There are some guys he has reached and others he hasn’t. A coach has to be smart enough to know that no two buttons get pushed the same way. He has said he he knows he has to treat Grabovsky differently then Schenn yet he seems to be losing a lot of patience with Grabovsky of late….

“The Maple Leafs, who play Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Air Canada Centre tonight, were a surprising 12-12-6 out of the gate. But they have laboured through a dismal 8-13-4 stretch in their past 25 outings.”

I don’t think wins and losses are indicative of much this year. Again it’s more important to look at how the team is playing.

“Wilson has indicated all season he would rather have his players utilizing their speed and focusing more on offence than defence. But the Leafs need more structure in their game. That has been evident in their penchant for individual play rather than swift puck movement lately. Is a coach not responsible for his team’s positional play in its own end and the state of the penalty-killing unit? Both areas are in horrible shape right now.”

See, that I agree with 100%. Those are things that should be getting better and not deteriorating as the season progresses.

“The Leafs have stopped moving the puck out of their own end and through the neutral zone like they did in the first 10 weeks of the season, and they have committed way too many turnovers in critical areas of the ice. The penalty kill ranks dead last. Instead of improving these elements of the team, Wilson seems content to depict himself as a “we win, the players lose” type of coach.”

These are things Wilson should be judged on (as any coach is). I also have said this before, that the problem I see with the Burke/Wilson combination is that in a lot of cases the coach views himself as a member of the team it is the locker-room vs. the management. The coach fights for his players etc. This doesn’t mean the coach and gm aren’t getting along it just means that there is a difference. In the Leafs case, Wilson, at least externally paints a picture of Burke (and his major league roster size management team, complete with a full bullpen) and Wilson vs. the players. For now, I think it is ok. I just wonder how long it will work if the type of progress he predicted/promised is still missing.

Interesting times leaf fans. Burke has yet to do anything that has garnered any criticism (even calling out Antropov and Toskala is ok in most books). Wilson, it seems, and justifiably maybe at seeing the start of the beggining of the end of his honeymoon.

You can read Wharnsby here

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February 14, 2009 11:27 am

I am not ready to throw stones at Wilson yet. I think it is a question of personnel, which he and Burke will better address as we approach the trade deadline and the off-season, and an issue with motivating those players considering the way they are losing games. I understand motivation is the coach’s job to some degree, but these guys simply don’t seem to understand they are playing for their jobs in Toronto. Grabo, Toskala, and, to a lesser degree, Kaberle, are playing their way out of Toronto. Mayers and Hollweg are all but gone. I think the mantra of “we will be better as time goes on” should be enforced next year when Burke and Wilson have an opportunity to get the personnel they want to play the system they want. Looking forward to the deadline, I think the message to Leaf players and fans will be loud and clear by then.

February 14, 2009 12:27 pm

A group of young guys that are losing a lot can still play hard and try to compete every night if they think they’re part of a long-term project (like LA, maybe Phoenix).
Not to make excuses for the players or Wilson, but I suspect it’s hard to motivate them to play hard and buy into a system when at least half of them know they likely aren’t going to be around next season, or maybe even in a month. At the beginning of the season, especially after a reasonably good start, maybe some of them thought that they could surprise people and have a good season? Once Burke was hired though and the season started to slip away, you can tell the uncertainty about their future has affected their play.

Also, the horrid play of Toskala has been a huge part of the problem. For every goal that was scored as a result of a defensive breakdown in front of him, there’s 2 more softies that he should have had. He’s been the biggest surprise and disappointment this season, hands down.

The abysmal penalty kill though is definitely a black mark for Wilson. There’s just no excuse for it.

February 14, 2009 1:01 pm

This season is not about systems, it’s about determining what assets you have. Wilson isn’t preaching defense, the Leafs are playing run and gun offense to determine what skills their forwards have and to expose their defense to see how they react and gauge their ability to handle tough situations. This roster is in no way set, Burke has publicly stated that only Grabs, Schenn and Mitchell are untouchables, meaning EVERYONE else is potentially gone by next year. Once the full rebuild is complete in 2-3 years then Wilson will be standing up for HIS players and we’ll see a much more defensive minded team with two top lines that provide offense. It’s not rocket science, it’s just Burke’s method.

February 14, 2009 3:14 pm

The trade deadline can’t come soon enough. Clearly the media are in desperate need for some easy content to riff on.

One of the Sutter’s once said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that 90% of successful coaching is having a good goalie.

If Toskala plays like an average goalie this season, this discussion likely doesn’t happen.

Had Fletcher signed a competent back-up last July, this discussion likely doesn’t happen.

The Leafs are going to suck even worse next year. Given the noise out there now, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the media bring the fire-Wilson to a crescendo by November 2009.

blue with age
blue with age
February 14, 2009 3:52 pm

I think that its pretty clear that if you live by the sword, you die by the sword. I have also noticed that everybody, including the coach, and this despite his predictions that it will get worse before it gets better, is finding out that sucking is not as much fun for the person/team/entity doing the sucking. Yes, he plays with minds and this may not go over well with some players. But I think he is finding out who it works with. My concern is the risk of a shitty outcome. I am willing to give him enough rope, but if comes time to hang him, we will be back to square one again in a year or two.

February 15, 2009 1:27 pm

@Mf37 I agree that they might be worse next year but I think by the middle of the year they should be turning the corner as the team closer resembles the mold both Burke and Wilson have in mind. I guess a lot hinges on what happens the trade deadline and off season. By the beginning of next season, we should have a clearer picture of what and what not this team is capable of.
Call me a sucker but I believe them when they say they have a long range plan and if you analyze some of their moves or lack of, you can catch a glimpse of it once and a while.

February 16, 2009 8:28 pm

2008-2009 19.7PP%
2007-2008 17.8PP%
2006-2007 17.7PP%

2008-2009 78.2PK%
2007-2008 78.5PK%
2006-2007 80.0PK%

The Meatriarchy
February 17, 2009 7:13 am

I agree w MF37 the media will start calling for this guy’s head next year. For no other reason than they hate him. Witness how easy a ride Paul Maurice got last year because he was the master of the media friendly press conference.

Also look for a constant meme of FIVE YEARS WITHOUT A PLAYOFF APPEARANCE to start showing up next year.

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