Coverage On New Maple Leaf Coach


It’s like being hit by a 2×4:

Haven’t had a single story worth covering in months, so buckle up, here we go. All the coverage of the Leafs firing of Ron Wilson and the hiring of Randy Carlyle:

First, lets go back to the last couple of days when some scribes wrote that Burke blew it and that the opportunity to fire Wilson had passed:

Steve Simmons wrote:

“The right time to fire Ron Wilson — and make a legitimate playoff run — has all but passed for the Maple Leafs.

That window of opportunity, however thin, precisely timed, has been missed by general manager Brian Burke.

You fire a coach in mid-season for a variety of reasons: And yet, so many of those typical reasons have not been evident here. The team hasn’t quit on Wilson. He hasn’t, as some people have indicated, lost the team. The Leafs aren’t the internal mess of dissension that often leads to dismissal. And Wilson isn’t a terrible coach.”

If you believe what was said at the press conference the wheels have been in motion for several days.

Meanwhile, over at the Star, Rosie, The Bus or was it a streetcar, DiManno caps off another brilliant week as a sports writer with this gem of a piece:

“Some people sign organ donor cards and request a further notation on their medical charts: DNR.

Do Not Resuscitate.

I’m thinking, really, it’s better to let go of these Toronto Maple Leafs in this abruptly moribund ’11-12 season, just stand vigil by the bedside and hope for a miracle, perhaps drop by St. Joseph’s Oratory here and pray to Brother Andre, canonized as saint in 2010.

No extraordinary measures, no coach canning, no retroactive impeachment of everybody from the GM to the guy who fills the water bottles. What purpose would it serve at this juncture, except to vent spleen and satisfy blood lust?

Or maybe I’m losing my mind and can’t see the forest for the Maple Leafs falling.”

Besides a license to write, she also gets to travel with team too!

The same type of piece was written over at Yahoo! by Nicholas J. Cotsonika (as opposed to the OTHER Nicholas Cotsonika who writes pro hockey- just kidding):

“Would firing Wilson turn around the Leafs immediately? Would hiring Randy Carlyle or Marc Crawford squeak them into eighth in the East? If they make the playoffs, will they have much hope of upsetting the top-seeded New York Rangers no matter who is behind the bench?

No. So let this play out. If Wilson doesn’t make the playoffs, let him go and let the new guy start fresh.

The Leafs are not the Edmonton Oilers, at or near the bottom of the league for years, gathering elite talents that could rocket them up the standings at any moment. They’re in danger of languishing in limbo, not good enough to be a playoff team, not bad enough to stockpile top draft picks, stuck.

But for years, they were too impatient, trying to make the playoffs at all costs, and at first, Burke was impatient, too. He thought the Leafs were closer than they actually were in September of 2009 and famously acquired Phil Kessel from Boston for two first-round picks and a second-rounder.”

All good points to be fair.

Here are the highlights of the Brian Burke press conference:

“We turned down four first round picks, I think a total of 12 players, every trade we were presented, meant we had to wait and our fans had to wait, You get a first round pick, that’s three years we wait ,and I said no, we think we’ve got a good young group, the second youngest team in the NHL, we think we’ve put some key blocks in place, the blueprint is to win a championship, some people say you need to have your head examined but that’s the blueprint, that’s the goal, so we’ve kept the assets”

Hyperbole or not it’s pretty telling of Burke frame of mind in the deadline. I wonder if the entire management team (bullpen included) felt the same way as the boss.

“After the last home game, it was clear to me it would be cruel and unusual punishment to let Ron coach another game in the Air Canada Centre.”

I wrote after that game how incredibly painful that must have been on Wilson, never really thinking about what Burke thought. Burke has always exhibited a bit of a stubbornness that seems to say the hell with what other people think or do. Hearing the chants of fire Wilson in his arena had to be a dagger to the heart.

“Fans show their emotions in many ways, they cheer, they boo, but the deadliest thing is when a fan votes with their feet and doesn’t come. I would obviously prefer that fans not boo, but I think if you buy the ticket, that’s the right you have, so long as you’re not saying something racist or homophobic or obscene, you can say what you want. I wasn’t going to put Ron through that again, it was hard to listen to, hard to watch, but to me it was clear at that point that the team wasn’t listening, watching the bench, they weren’t paying attention, they weren’t buying it.”

That’s not the same Brian Burke speaking there. To be clear, the they buy the ticket they have the right is not new, it’s the acceptance part that’s new. Compare that with this quote from a Bob McKenzie piece:

“I don’t think some of our fans realize the extent of what Dion has done for this organization, on and off the ice,” Burke said. “Off the ice, he’s done tremendous charity work and more than any other individual has gone out of his way to change the attitude in our dressing room with our players. On the ice, we’re extremely happy with his play. Sure, he could have some more points but we are not scoring as a team right now and Dion’s point totals reflect that. The bottom line is that Dion has wrought a considerable culture change with our team and he’s done it almost singlehandedly. His leadership has been outstanding in every way. Outstanding. So, yeah, when I hear some of our fans boo him, it bothers me. I think it’s disgraceful.”

Burke didn’t endorse or support the fan’s going after Wilson the other night, but he certainly did call it disgraceful either.

” I don’t have to deal with you guys every day, that’s the difference between me and the head coach, the head coach has to come out and talk to the media every day, I have to speak at things like this but I don’t have to deal with the group every day, and I know all the adjectives that have been said about Ron, he’s arrogant, I haven’t seen that in his life with me at all.”

I think this suggests that perhaps coaching this team in this market is not as easy as some people think or suggest. I think coaching at an elite level is hard enough. This is not to say or compare coaching the Yankees in New York or a major US college team as being any easier. I’m suggesting that the Toronto sports media may not be all that tough but in terms of the sheer volume and the presence and repetition involved it wears one down.

“I’ve never had a team fall off a cliff like this before, I’ve had dips, slumps, rough patches, but this is akin to an 18-wheeler going right off a cliff, I don’t know what happened, I was talking to Nick Coletti about this, have you ever had anything like this, and he said no, he follows our team very closely, I’ll leave the Expos out, but I don’t know what is happening. I’m bewildered by it, it’s like someone hit me with a two-by-four, where a team has just flat out gone into free-fall.”

This is interesting in that it suggests that Burke pulled the cord as quickly as he possibly could. Not surprisingly, he gave Wilson every opportunity to play through it and in the end couldn’t take it anymore.

Now the coverage…..

Sean Gordon of the Globe and Mail does a great job putting the pieces together on the timeline of firing Wilson and hiring Carlyle:

“In the interim, Burke ran his decision to fire Wilson and replace him with Carlyle past the board of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment – which is in the process of changing hands from the Ontario teachers’ pension fund to a joint venture involving Bell Media and Rogers.

The same sources said neither Bell nor Rogers was consulted, both companies are said to be wary of becoming involved in decisional matters until regulatory approval is given for the billion-dollar deal.”

It’s funny, some MSMers always complain that the Leafs need ownership that butts out of things. Today’s I’ve read and heard some ask where ownership’s been while Burke’s been able to extend and now fire Wilson.

From tomorrow’s Toronto Sun via Steve Simmons:

“Then Burke, who normally allows his head coaches to pick their assistants, essentially forced Wilson into hiring Scott Gordon and Greg Cronin. Wilson probably should have resigned that day on principle alone, even though he was repaid by getting a severance package in the form of a contract extension. There was a case to be made for replacing Wilson last June and even he saw it coming. The difference between then and now: The Leafs weren’t in free fall and Carlyle was still coaching Anaheim at the time.”

When I met with Burke over the summer he told me that he told Wilson he had to make changes to his staff. He told me the choices where entirely Wilsons. Hmmmm

“The betting here: Wilson has coached his last NHL game. He’d be a difficult sell elsewhere after his Toronto experience. He’s coached 18 seasons in the NHL, and been in the playoffs only eight times. He’s won 47 playoff games in his career. By comparison, Pat Quinn won 41 playoff games in his seven seasons in Toronto, 94 overall … Carlyle’s salary, by the way: Just over $4.6 million for three plus seasons on the job. No wonder he can afford two television sets.”

The only reason I doubt that Wilson is done is that the GM’s in sports are so uncreative and that the old guard continually are involved in a big game of musical chairs. It’s rare that a young up and comer is brought into the fold. As for the money, it’s a lot of dough.

Bruce Arthur of the National Post has a good story too:

“In an unusual move, he then skated them hard on the morning of a game. But at least Carlyle offered public amends to winger Joffrey Lupul for how he was derided and dismissed when they were both in Anaheim, saying he made a mistake, and that it was “water under the bridge.” We will see, of course. The Toronto Star’s Dave Feschuk cited sources close to Lupul as saying the winger was “distraught” over Carlyle’s impending arrival, and Lupul, though he looked shell-shocked at the morning skate, tried to say all the right things about the past being the past.”

Like seeing scribes credit others, good or bad….

Michael Grange at chimes in:

“The Leafs are imploding. Good players are white knuckling their sticks. The confidence of not one, but two goalies seems to have been expertly shattered. Wilson was no longer the man for the job.”

Imploding is a good word for the last couple of weeks.

Over at ESPN Burnside and LeBrun debate the move:

“LEBRUN: I would have made this move a week ago. I think it’s too late now, even with the turtle race that is the Eastern Conference bottom-bracket playoff-berth pursuit. We shall see if I’m wrong in just over a month’s time.”

That’s it for now. I’ll post another update tomorrow, I am sure that Larry Brooks will be must reading tomorrow.


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