The Globe and Mail is reporting that Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke has given Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson a vote of confidence by stating that Wilson will be back behind the bench for the 2011-12 season.
"I said back in the fall, we would not consider a change, even when all the hounds were baying," Burke told The Globe. "I feel the same way now. Ron is coaching this team next year."
Burke’s comments did not come without its fair share of criticism from the Leafs Nation, many of whom feel that Wilson has overstayed his welcome with the blue and white.
The Leafs Nation’s main point of contention seems to be Wilson’s inability to elevate the special teams play to “respectable” as, under Wilson’s guidance, the Maple Leafs' power play and penalty kill have been amongst the league's worst and have shown little in the way of improvement since Wilson took over the reins in 2008.
Others point to Wilson’s penchant for calling out his players in the media as a problem, which has included throwing Phil Kessel and others under the bus.
Right or not, when it comes to how Wilson handles his players on and off the ice, it appears as if Wilson is not about to change his ways.
Wilson has had an up-and-down season with the Maple Leafs, starting the season off on a four-game unbeaten streak. The Leafs ended October with a 5-4-1 record, leaving some Leaf fans miffed.
The Maple Leafs followed October up with three straight months of mediocrity, including just two wins in November and five wins in December (two of which came in a shootout).
The Maple Leafs hit the All-Star break with a 23-27-6 record, leaving the team well out of the playoffs and leaving the faithful fans of the blue and white wondering what the heck went wrong…again!
Since the All-Star break the Maple Leafs have been one of the NHL’s better teams, recording an impressive 12-5-4 record.
Much of the team's success has been attributed to the play of rookie netminder James Reimer, who, with a record of 18-8-4 (most of which came after the All-Star break), has been a major reason the Buds have been in a playoff race for the past three to four weeks of the season.
While many Maple Leaf fans continue to perpetuate their negative view of Wilson, one cannot ignore the team's recent success.
Further, Wilson should be given at least some credit for the improved play of Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur and Nikolai Kulemin (all of whom are having career-high totals in goals and points).
He also had the guts to sit veteran goaltender J.S. Giguere in favor of a rookie (mind you, a “hot” rookie) and the ability to get the most out of spare parts, such as Darryl Boyce, Jay Rosehill, Mike Brown and Joey Crabb—all of whom have done a great job filling out Wilson’s bottom six forwards.
There is also the improved play of defenseman Luke Schenn to consider, as well as the tremendous play of captain Dion Phaneuf to take into account.
Does Wilson not deserve some credit for those players as well?
Truth be told, while Tyler Bozak and Jonas Gustavsson have struggled this season (mostly due to injuries and health concerns), few players look to have regressed, which is a credit to Wilson and his staff.
Fact is, this squad plays hard, has bought into the team concept and looks to be improving in every facet of the game—except maybe those pesky special teams!
Sure, Wilson calls out a few players every once in a while, but look at the improved play he got from them.
Phil Kessel, in particular, went on a tear after seemingly having it out with Wilson. If that’s what it takes to get his troops going, so be it.
The fact is, Wilson looks to have earned the respect and admiration of both his team and his general manager.
If he had to hurt a few feelings along the way, well, that’s just too bad.
With the team playing its best hockey since Wilson first got here, Brian Burke did the right thing when he endorsed Wilson on Wednesday.
The team is starting to gel, the results are starting to come and there seems to be an aura of confidence surrounding this group that has not been seen in these parts in over a decade—what more do you want?
With an ever-improving roster, Wilson looks set to lead the Maple Leafs into the playoffs in 2011-12.
Given all the criticism bestowed upon both Wilson and his troops it will be a thing of beauty when, collectively, this team can throw their arms up in the air in celebration of making the playoffs.
In my mind, both Wilson and Burke have earned another year to see just how far they can take this club.
Burke and Wilson have taken this team from laughingstock to respectable in just over two seasons. Who better to reap the rewards from the fruits of their labor?
Until next time...