Toronto Maple Leafs: Why Ron Wilson Is on the Hottest Seat of All NHL Coaches
Toronto does not have much competition (other than Montreal) when it comes to where the mecca of hockey is. The Maple Leafs have one of the richest histories in the NHL, the Hockey Hall of Fame is in Toronto, and even when a controversial play needs to be reviewed anywhere in North America, it is reviewed in Toronto.
Needless to say, being a part of the Toronto Maple Leafs, whether you are the general manager or the Zamboni driver, comes with a lot of added pressure simply because of the microscope you are constantly under in the hockey capital of the world
Nobody could tell you how being under that microscope all season long feels better than Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson. Wilson, who was announced as head coach in June of 2008, has not had a whole ton of success so far in time in Toronto.
This is mostly because of the lack of talent on the Maple Leafs roster since he has arrived, but many argue that Wilson's coaching style and dressing room presence is in fact counter-productive, and that Wilson should be fired as soon as possible.
Whether Ron Wilson deserved to be fired or not, it seems like fans and media alike will always be at his neck during any losing streak, calling for him to be cut loose.
Brian Burke has already had to defend his head coach multiple times, and will likely have to do so again in the upcoming season. Without further delay, here is why Ron Wilson is on the hottest seat of any coach in the NHL.
1. Poor Relationship with Toronto Media
The media in Toronto has a reputation for being very optimistic and positive when a team or player is on a hot streak, but overwhelmingly critical during a losing or cold streak. Sometimes the negative responses from the Toronto media, whether it be calling for players to be traded or coaches to be fired, is deserved, and other times is simply an overreaction.
Ron Wilson knows the bipolar nature of the Toronto media all too well, and doesn't often hesitate to return the favor when he feels the criticism is not fair. Although some people like this side of Wilson, it is usually a bad idea to get into too many confrontations with the media, simply because they have a direct influence on how fans view the team, its players and its coaches.
Whether his criticisms by the media are fair is up for debate, but the only way for Wilson to keep his name out of negative headlines across the city is to win hockey games. If the Maple Leafs find themselves in a long enough losing streak this season, the mounting pressure by the media could be all it takes for Brian Burke to finally cut Wilson loose.
2. Wilson Has Yet to Make the Playoffs
First of all, I don't completely blame Ron Wilson for not making the playoffs yet during his time in Toronto. His rosters have completely changed since he has arrived, and has never really had enough talent on his bench to expect a solid playoff run.
That being said, the patience of fans is quickly running out, and many believe that the Maple Leafs roster this year is as good as it has ever been since before the lockout. The roster should be able to make the playoffs and compete much like it did during the second half of the 2010/2011 season.
With these expectations from the roster more or less set in stone, any failures during the season will be put on Wilson. Whether it be criticisms of his coaching style, his lineup during a shootout, or even his attitude in the dressing room, everything Wilson does this season will be under the microscope, assuming the Leafs have a significant losing streak.
3. Building Pressure on Brian Burke
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As I mentioned in the last two slides, Ron Wilson has yet to make the playoffs with the Maple Leafs, and does not have the most pleasant relationship with the Toronto media. These two factors together add up to a ton of pressure of Brian Burke to make a coaching change this season if the Maple Leafs are not a playoff-caliber team by Christmas.
Maybe player chemistry is just not panning out in a couple of lines, maybe James Reimer suffers a sophomore slump. Whatever is wrong in "Leaf Land" this season (and there will be problems, as there are on any team, even if they are made up by the media), the finger will be pointed at Ron Wilson. And if the problems continue, you can bet on Brian Burke facing a whole lot of added pressure to fire his friend and bench boss.
Whether the Wilson and the Maple Leafs have a drama-free season remains to be seen. And I know I am a little premature in saying the Leafs will have enough problems to justify a firing in the first place. But let me say this, if the Leafs are not in the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference by 2012, the mounting pressure will overwhelm Burke, and Wilson will be fired.
4. Dallas Eakins Could Be Ready for His Shot in the NHL
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Toronto Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins has been head coach of the AHL squad since 2009. In his first two seasons as head coach, the Marlies have gone 70-67-7-16 with Eakins behind the bench. Now to say that Eakins, with only a couple years of coaching experience, is ready for the NHL may be a little exaggerated, but it also makes a lot of sense.
The Maple Leafs have one of the youngest teams in the NHL, with a whole lot of young talent waiting for their shot in the NHL on Eakins' Marlies, including Joe Colborne, Matt Frattin, Jake Gardiner and Jesse Blacker, amongst others.
Eakins is known for being a players coach who is very good with young players, probably thanks to his previous experience as Director of Player Development for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It almost seems like a perfect fit for a Maple Leafs team with a very young roster and emerging young talent, many of whom have already played under Eakins.
All that being said, Ron Wilson has a whole lot more experience and success in the NHL than Eakins, who, in fact, has none whatsoever. Maybe Eakins is still a couple years away from the NHL altogether. But the potential is always there, and the only way for Ron Wilson to eliminate that risk is to win.
5. Toronto Is (Arguably) the Mecca of Hockey in North America
As was mentioned earlier, the Toronto Maple Leafs are what the Yankees are to baseball, or what the Cowboys are to football. Toronto is home to the Hockey Hall of Fame, the breeding ground for a large percentage of talented players around the NHL, and have some of the most passionate and crazed fans in all of North American sports.
What this means for Ron Wilson is that failure is unacceptable, and if a city like Toronto wants you gone, chances are you will be run out of town.
This is not to say that I want to run Wilson out of town by any means. I think he is a very good coach with a ton of experience behind the bench, a solid grip on how to deal with controversy, and the right balance of grit and determination to be successful on any team in the NHL.
But the Toronto Maple Leafs are not any team. For example, they are not the Florida Panthers, where fans might have a hard time even knowing their coach's first name. Being head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs is a coveted position, although it has lost its glamor in the recent years stuck in mediocrity.
The city of Toronto, arguably the mecca of hockey in North America, is running out of patience waiting for a playoff berth, and quite frankly deserves better. This season is Ron Wilson's time to either lead this team to playoffs, or face the inevitable mob that will rise if the Maple Leafs suffer another disappointing season.
Yes, it is a lot of pressure, but it is what Ron Wilson knew he was getting into when he arrived in Toronto, and how he handles it in 2011-12 will determine his future.