With the Toronto Maple Leafs starting to plunge further and further down the NHL standings there has been a lot of discussion about firing head coach Ron Wilson.
On the surface it appears as if Wilson may not be getting through to his troops, a hunch backed up by the teams seven game losing streak, poor power play and equally poor penalty kill.
As it stands right now, the Leafs are ranked 29th in scoring (2.13), 13th in goals against (2.67), 27th on the power play (11.1 percent) and 26th on the penalty kill (76.5 percent). Oh yeah, and did I mention they are currently sitting in 25th place?
Clearly, something has to give. Perhaps general manager Brian Burke needs to make another trade? Maybe Burke needs to call up Nazem Kadri? Maybe Burke and Wilson need to look at benching some players? Or, maybe Wilson does have to go.
The problem with letting Wilson go is that there are limited options with which to replace him.
Rumors have circulated that the Buffalo Sabres are unhappy with long time head coach Lindy Ruff.
As is always the case with Toronto fans, many members of the Leafs Nation are chomping at the bit to bring Ruff to the Blue and White. Trouble is, Ruff is yet to be fired and there is no guarantee he would want to coach the Maple Leafs, nor is there any indication that Burke would hire him.
Down on the farm (AHL) the Maple Leafs currently employ former NHL defenseman Dallas Eakins as the Marlies head coach. While many believe he holds great promise, I am not so sure many think that he is a better coach than Wilson, at least not at this point, anyways.
With Ruff still employed with the Sabres and Eakins seemingly not yet ready to make the next step that means Burke would have to replace Wilson with an NHL retread, which may not be any better than Wilson.
If not for his poor health, I would love to see a return of former Maple Leafs head coach Pat Burns to the Maple Leafs organization. Sadly, that is not an option.
Nobody wants to see the return of Pat Quinn; Guy Carbonneau doesn’t impress me. So who, if anyone, is out there for Burke to pursue should he pull the rug out from underneath Ron Wilson?
Currently serving as a special advisor to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Ken Hitchcock would likely garner some attention.
Hitchcock recently served as the head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, compiling a record of 125-123-36 in 284 games. Known for his commitment to defense and firm hand behind the bench, Hitchcock has also seen duty with the Philadelphia Flyers and Dallas Stars where he compiled a record of 533-372-136.
As good as Hitchcock is, there are many in the NHL community that believe his time has passed.
Given the Maple Leafs roster, it may serve them well to have a defensive coach at the helm, but I am not so sure his style of coaching would go over so well with this young roster.
Mike Keenan? Let’s not even go there, ok?
Craig MacTavish? Well, he does have Stanley Cup experience, both as a player and a head coach; still, he’s probably not the right guy, either.
Bob Hartley? Ahh, no!
More likely, as has been the case with many NHL teams, Burke may be forced to look outside of the “usual suspects”, instead looking to some of the more accomplished up and coming coaches.
Former Windsor Spitfires head coach might have been a good fit, but he is now serving as the assistant coach for the Blue Jackets.
Which brings me to a name that is bound to pop up if/when Wilson is dismissed from his head coaching position: Kevin Dineen.
While there is no link between Burke or the Toronto organization, one has to believe that should an NHL head coaching job become available (Toronto’s or otherwise) that Dineen’s name is going to pop up, and with good reason.
Currently serving as the head coach of the Portland Pirates of the AHL (Buffalo Sabres affiliate), Dineen is one of the most respected NHL head coaching prospects.
As Portland's head coach, Dineen has led the Pirates to two Eastern Conference Finals, coming within one win of advancing to the Calder Cup Finals each time.
Heading into the 2010-11 season, Dineen had earned a career record of 219-131-23-27. He currently has the Pirates in first place in the AHL’s Atlantic Division with a record of 11-3-1, which should mean another very successful season, perhaps even a championship.
There may be plenty of other candidates out there, but for my money, Dineen more than anyone deserves a shot at an NHL head coaching job, and for that reason (and others) I would consider him as the next bench boss for the Maple Leafs.
Until next time,