Ron Wilson has had an outstanding career as a hockey coach. Six hundred-plus wins in the NHL is nothing to sneeze at. Nor is 16 years as a head coach, making it to the cup finals in just his fifth season.
On the international stage, he coached the Americans to the 1996 World Cup Championship, and won the silver medal in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Unfortunately for Leafs fans, his decent career hasn’t transposed into any form of success for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In terms of making the playoffs, his career isn’t as great as the sum (600 wins). In 16 seasons, his teams have only made the playoffs eight times. It will soon be nine in 17 seasons. You flip a coin with Ron’s career and you have a slightly better chance his team won’t make the playoffs.
Granted, many of those teams were struggling “rebuilding” type teams.
Still, the stats that a coach can influence most—power play and penalty killing—are stats that Wilson’s Leafs are struggling mightily in. Both are in the bottom third of the NHL with a particularly bad penalty killing percentage. Wilson came into Toronto with a reputation as an exceptional special teams coach.
Ultimately, the players are the ones who decide the game on the ice. I hear this mantra day in and day out. However, going on this logic, why even have a coach? A coach is there to instill a system that works for his team. He’s there to improve their special teams. He’s there to adjust lines, assign roles and hold his players accountable.
Wilson doesn't seem to be having any influence over any of these things.
I just don’t know if this team fits with Wilson and his coaching technique. This team is young and malleable yet have made little to no gain, with many players taking a considerable step back in their development.
Positive communication is so incredibly important for a good coach to have and whenever I think of Wilson and the Leafs, I’m reminded of a practice that occurred back in early 2009. It involved Wilson asking a younger Grabovski how many shots he’s taken thus far in the season, with the implication that he should shoot more. As we all know, Grabovski was struggling with the English language, and Wilson’s response was to mock it.
That sort of behaviour was good for some guffaws in grade 2—but to me, it showed an immature man struggling to communicate with his players. I felt embarrassed for Grabovski.
A good coach rallies around his players. He’s a leader who players want to win for. He’s a person who can capture the attention of his charges and teach them a system that his players buy into.
Even if the Leafs go on a five-game winning streak, they need to change it up. Burke needs to have Wilson moved into the front office—obviously to save face for his longtime friend. Then I’d be going hard after the next up-and-coming head coach to-be: Kirk Muller.
Picture Kirk Muller coaching, with Mike Foligno and Dougie Gilmour as his assistants. Those would be coaches the team would listen to and play hard for.
Now that would be an improvement!