The Toronto Maple Leafs have done well to open the season in the NHL but still have questionable coaching, with their special teams in shambles and questionable coaching decisions being made on a nightly basis.
Toronto GM Brian Burke has a close relationship with coach Ron Wilson, heading as far back as college, where the two played together for Providence. This relationship seems to be the only reason Wilson is still in town, as he has done nothing to deserve continued support from management.
One of the easiest factors to rate a coach is on special teams. This is a strategic part of the game, one in which Toronto has been horrible in ever since Wilson took over. The most glaring has been the PK, as handfuls of well-regarded PK "specialists" have come through the city, yet have had no impact. The team has been dead last, or close to it, for years in the PK. New assistants were brought in this past offseason to address this, as clearly Wilson could not.
Ron Wilson was voted on last year, by the players, as the least desirable coach to play for. Now, I understand a coach doesn't have to be liked to be good, but does having that much league-wide hate affect player decisions to sign here?
Toronto is a hard city to play in. Simple. The city and media turn on you in a second—we are essentially working against you. Wilson coaches with intensity and uses tactics such as calling players out to the media to get his points across. He is not a player's coach. As a coach, he is working against you. In my mind, that is just too much!
With a city so hard on its players, the ideal situation would be to have a player's coach. A likeable guy. Someone a player could turn to when the rest of the city has publicly abandoned them. The players right now have literally no one to turn to.
Time and time again, little comments here and there have been pointing out the glaring lack of communication between Wilson and his players. Franson mentioned it this year. Kessel said it last year. How Wilson does not communicate his expectations to his players, and that his players are not comfortable approaching him. This is not how you coach a team.
I want a coach that players will fight for, that can get the most out of his players. And that coach is not Wilson.
Toronto has spent a ton of money stacking up our front office, but has yet to do this to the coaching staff. We have at least three, maybe four guys who could be legit NHL GMs, yet we don't really have a coach. I respect the AHL Marlies' coach Dallas Eakins more so than the coaches of the Leafs. One of the new additions to the coaching staff, Cronin, was the coach of Northeastern, an NCAA team that wasn't even close to the best in the nation, while also being a part of a recruitment violation scandal at the school. That was a pick out in left field. I understand he was respected in hockey circles, but come on. The guy only had experience with the New York islanders. Does that even count?
Toronto should invest in a group of top coaches, a bench full of guys who could be head coaches, to then be responsible for different areas of the team, focusing their expertise. Grab Ken Hitchcock to be you special assistant. Grab Guy Boucher to run your defense. Grab Barry Trotz to hold the staff together as your top guy. Dream it up Toronto.
Start spending on the coaching staff, and make it the first priority to bring in a player's coaching atmosphere, one where players will have someone on their side. That's what a team in a city like that needs.
I do not care how well we are doing. Coaching changes can still be made. Pittsburgh did it with Dan Bylsma coming in mid-successful season. We can do it too.
UPDATE I have created a slideshow of the Best Coaching Replacements for the Team. Check it out!