Toronto Maple Leafs: 5 Reasons the Ron Wilson Extension Was a Huge Mistake
We fear it for many reasons. It brings with it a sense of shame, embarrassment and heartache.
It also tells a very simple story at the very core—a clear goal was established that ultimately was not achieved.
Although it always pays off to beat the odds by taking the underdog and winning, being the under dog and losing has unfortunately been an attribute of the Toronto Maple Leafs throughout Ron Wilson's reign as head coach.
Sure, there have been improvements made. They are even nine points ahead of where they were this time last year.
There are, however, still serious weaknesses to this Toronto team that make it difficult for naysayers to officially jump on the Maple Leafs bandwagon—and unfortunately for Wilson, most of these weaknesses are coachable.
In light of the fact that the Maple Leafs are now on the outside looking in at a playoff spot nearly halfway through the 2011-12 NHL season, the one-year contract extension awarded to Wilson this past December seems all the more bewildering.
As a move that has already proven to be controversial, let's look at five of the biggest reasons why Wilson's extension was a huge mistake.
Message Falling on Deaf Ears?
One of the most glaring problems that has surfaced within this Toronto Maple Leafs team is effective backchecking—or a lack thereof.
This an unfortunate issue to have because even players whose skill is near the bottom of the talent pool can be refined into competent, hard-working backcheckers—that is, with the help of the right coach.
Ron Wilson has not been a catalyst for change with respect to correcting such behaviour. Could this also be another symptom of the same problems affecting their league worst penalty kill?
Right now the team is just not executing the little defensive details which separate the men from the boys—or Maple Leafs from the Marlies, as it were.
This speaks to a lack of discipline by the players.
If talent isn't the problem, then perhaps it's Wilson's inability to get his team to rally around his vision.
When Nikolai Kulemin became a restricted free agent at the end of the 2009-10 season all eyes were on Brian Burke to get a deal done.
After contract negotiations stalled several times the two parties finally did settled on July 2, 2010. Although it was done in the middle of the offseason, the deal was described as "protracted."
It's a good job Clarke MacArthur is a patient man because he had to wait too. He and Burke finally came to a deal just 15 minutes before the deadline for him to file for arbitration on July 15, 2011.
More recently, Luke Schenn was similarly kept lingering about before his deal was made firm. He signed very early on Sept. 16, 2011—the opening day of training camp for the 2011-12 season.
Burke's track record makes Ron Wilson's contract extension a bit of a curious case.
Have Ron Wilson's contributions to the team thus far warranted a contract extension at this point of the season?
By extending his contract before the Leafs are in a position to even smell the postseason, Wilson appears to have been coddled by Brian Burke.
Ron Wilson has been known to call players out in the media.
He has done it before and he will most certainly do it again.
Granted, when times are tough tempers tend to flare and things might be said prematurely or without thinking of the consequences afterward.
For an example, on Feb. 6, 2011, an obviously frustrated Phil Kessel was asked to address his scoring slump but also hinted at a poor relationship with Wilson and perhaps a bit of discontentment overall.
Wilson later responded defensively to the media and proved he wasn't below taking a few shots at Toronto's No. 1 scorer.
Calling your team out in the dressing room is one thing, but throwing your guys under the bus to the media is a great way to lose the respect of your players and cause division in the dressing room.
Is the Toronto Maple Leafs head coach employing the wrong strategies to motivate his team to get the very best out of his players?
Wilson, who is usually fairly diplomatic—albeit highly sarcastic with Toronto's media circus—might consider treading lightly in the future.
In One Hand, out the Other
Ron Wilson's contract extension could mean that the Toronto Maple Leafs might end up losing out on the perfect successor to replace Wilson, Dallas Eakins.
With Eakins primed for a jump to coach at the NHL level, there won't be a shortage of suitors for his services if the Maple Leafs don't offer him a promotion first.
He talks the talk and walks the walk and that kind of accountability and integrity has earn him his reputation as a true players' coach.
“I always tell players whether we’re in the weight room or on the ice, ‘I’ll never ask you to train, eat or do anything I’m not prepared to do myself. They see a work ethic in me and I think it filters down. It also filters up—I see them working hard in practice, it gets me jacked up.” (via The Hockey News)
He connects and communicates with players on a very real level—the sort of intangibility that fosters the right climate for championships.
But alas, as the saying goes, "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," and perhaps Brian Burke isn't willing to give up on Wilson quite yet just because a more attractive option might be right around the corner.
However, should the Maple Leafs miss the playoffs again this year and lose out on Eakins—if he is snatched up by another team—it will be a very dark day for Leafs Nation.
Given some of the sentiments expressed by die-hard fans during Ron Wilson's tenure as head coach, there probably won't be many sleepless nights if Wilson was to get the axe.
Do or Die
Ron Wilson is now enjoying his fourth year as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs and has still yet to lead them to the postseason.
Perhaps not since the creation of the meteorologist has there been a career backed with such a degree of job security that its avatar can fail for so long and still somehow keep his job.
Granted—he had is work cut out for him when he first took over. The team he inherited was drastically different than the club Brian Burke has since built for him.
And there is no doubting that they are better.
Perhaps Wilson has even had a hand in the improvement, but few would argue Burke has done most of the dirty work.
But if you want to get down to brass tacks, all of that improvement matters not if you can't win championships or even make the playoffs.
Winning a Stanley Cup should always be the end game.
After that, making the playoffs and winning games in general become the measuring stick of potential championship teams.
That said, to guide your team to anything but a chance to play for the ultimate prize is an epic failure.
Not only are you eliminating the possibility to win hockey's most coveted prize, but you're now not even in a good enough position to try.
The fans of this long and storied franchise deserve more out of their team—and if this contract extension means more of the same gruel, I for one will pass on a second helping.