In a move that many fans and experts speculated over for a few weeks now, Maple Leafs President and General Manager Brian Burke has fired head coach Ron Wilson.
With only 18 games left, this is one of the latest firings this season from a team who is still trying to make the playoffs. Usually, firing a coach comes within the first two or three months of the season, so that the team has time to adjust to a new coaching style and turn its season around (like the St. Louis Blues hiring Ken Hitchcock in November).
Of course, firing a coach doesn't always work out. Ask the Anaheim Ducks who fired Randy Carlyle earlier this year. And especially this late in the season, the Maple Leafs have gotten into one of those ugly slides that has broken their spirits.
It seems that everything that could go wrong is going wrong at this point. The goaltending, which has been a question mark all year, is finally at that point where nobody wants to take control and be the starting goalie.
James Reimer has still not been the same person since his injury early in the year. Jonas Gustavsson is showing that he may never be able to be a good NHL goalie, and it certainly won't happen in Toronto. He had his chance, and with his contract coming to an end this summer, his days as a Maple Leaf are all but done.
The defense that has been up and down this year has not seen any upside all month. The top scorers are still doing their job, but it seems they are running out of steam, as there is not enough secondary scoring to help them out.
The NHL season is a long grind, a marathon that only the elite survive, and the Leafs are showing that they are still a young team trying to learn how to be competitive through all 82 games.
Can the Maple Leafs Still Make the Playoffs?
While firing Ron Wilson may have created a happy buzz among fans, we have to realize that it might have been too late for them this year. What may have been the better option would have been for Brian Burke to land a veteran goaltender or a top defencemen at the deadline.
At this point, does it matter what the cost would have been? He traded Keith Aulie for another prospect. I imagine that packaging Aulie with another player or two could have landed an impact player: a player that maybe would have provided more of a spark to a team that is spiraling downward. A player that could do a little bit more than what a coaching change can.
What Randy Carlyle will bring to the table is a little more experience, in the fact that he has a championship ring. He and Burke can show theirs off together and maybe it will get some kind of response out of this team.
Then again, Carlyle had a team that contained Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer, Correy Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. A team that had loads of talent that the Maple Leafs at this point can't say they have.
While they have some good parts that could make them a playoff team, they don't have enough to make them Stanley-Cup caliber. Hiring Randy Carlyle won't bring that level of talent out of these players. Finding impact players though, could.
Wilson isn't to blame for all of the Leafs failures, but he certainly can't be praised for any type of success, because in the four years he was here, the Leafs haven't had any success worth mentioning.
He had a chance to take a young team to another level and couldn't get there. It's now time to see what Carlyle can do with this roster.
The weird thing is that if he turns the team around in the next month, he will be heralded as a great coach, while Brian Burke will look like a genius. Even though it was Burke who didn't make a move to improve his team at all before the deadline, and it was Carlyle who couldn't get a team of all-star type players in Anaheim to play at a winning record.
It was also Carlyle who couldn't find a way to get Joffrey Lupul to play to his potential while with the Ducks.
Regardless of whose behind the bench, it is the guys on the ice that need to make the most improvement if the Blue and White are to end a seven-year playoff drought.
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images