Ron Wilson Fired: Tough, but Necessary Move for the Toronto Maple Leafs
If you ask an NHL general manager a question, be prepared to take his answer with a grain of salt.
Back in late February, when Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke was asked about a potential coaching change, he said he was "not contemplating a coaching change" (via Pierre Lebrun on Twitter).
Of course he wasn't contemplating a coaching change—he had likely already made up his mind.
A sure sign that a team has quit on its coach occurs when multiple players start speaking out publicly against him.
Speaking out against one's coach can also be a sign of friction between him and the player doing the complaining, but not necessarily a sign of lost faith from the team as a whole.
For instance, defenseman Marek Zidlicky, formerly of the Minnesota Wild, was unhappy with his head coach Mike Yeo's treatment of him and made his displeasure known. Shortly after, he was traded to the New Jersey Devils.
However, we've seen zero tell-tale signs that Wilson had fallen out of favour with the players.
Right up to the time he got dismissed, the Leafs stood by their coach and shouldered the blame for the team's recent struggles.
Was firing Ron Wilson the right move?
MacArthur earlier today: "No one in the room’s thinking it’s [Wilson]. Everyone in the room’s looking at themselves..."— Jonas Siegel (@jonasTSN1050) March 3, 2012
Ron Wilson seemed to tolerate the media and that did not win him any popularity contests in Toronto. He was often curt and dismissive in his replies.
During games, it was rare to see him emote, whether the Leafs had just scored a massive goal or if they had just let one in after a major defensive zone meltdown.
To the average observer, Wilson seemed to lack intensity and passion behind the bench.
The players know best, but he did not do himself any favours by acting the way he did.
Right up until the end, Burke defended his former roommate at Providence College, saying it was not a coach's fault if the GM didn't put together a good team for him.
Compared to recent years, this year's Leafs are undoubtedly superior. On paper, they're a playoff team.
It was speculated that Wilson had lost the ears of his team, which was supposed to explain their current slump.
However, it was pointed out to the speculators that it's been the same team under the same coach all season long, through the good times and the bad.
Wilson cannot be blamed for losing in years past because the team simply wasn't good back then.
It's possible he can't be blamed for losing so much this year either. It's entirely possible that the players are to blame for not rewarding their GM's faith in them with effort.
The fans were getting restless in Toronto, though, chanting "Fire Wilson" at the Air Canada Centre during the recent match against the Florida Panthers.
Brian Burke will never admit to being influenced by fan or popular opinion, but you've got to wonder.
Even the deep loyalty he had for his good friend was not enough to survive the tension that almost four years of losing created.
If you believe the players, then the players themselves and not the coach are at fault for their current woes.
Of course, you have to take a grain of salt with whatever players tell you as well.
They're notoriously good at spouting clichés and saying what you want to hear.
"Oh, we can't get too down on ourselves. We just gotta keep pushing and not feel too sorry for ourselves. It's tough, but we just gotta battle through it."
The trade deadline came and went without any changes made to the roster, so the only way to shake the team up was to fire the coach.
It reeks of desperation and could actually backfire quite horribly if the Leafs manage to claw their way back up to ninth place.
At this point, nothing else could've lit a fire under their behinds.
Wilson had to go and Carlyle was an obvious candidate for the job given the fact he and Burke won a Stanley Cup together back in 2007 with the Anaheim Ducks.
One point of concern of the hiring of Carlyle is his history with Leafs winger Joffrey Lupul. As the astute James Duthie of TSN points out, Lupul was traded away twice during Carlyle's tenure with the Ducks.
When he was traded to the Leafs, Lupul felt the Ducks had given up on him due to his injury. The coaching staff there also felt he couldn't play left wing because he is a right-handed shot. As such, he was forced into a roster spot that did not suit a player of his talents.
Carlyle and company have likely had generous helpings of crow given Lupul's career rebirth, all the while playing left wing, with the Leafs, so perhaps that bit of their past is behind them.
If the Leafs want to make the playoffs this year, Carlyle will have to put in a Hitchcockian effort and his players will have to respond.
Leaf fans may be wondering about the timing of Carlyle's appointment.
Just as everyone in Toronto was getting used to the idea of drafting relatively high in the first round, Burke had to go and hire a new head coach to give them a glimmer of hope that the Leafs' postseason hopes could be salvaged.
Barring a miracle run, it ain't happening.
One thing that all Leaf fans can look forward to is that if the Leafs miss the playoffs again, the roster will look significantly different come October.
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