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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