5 Reasons Why Ron Wilson Is the Right Head Coach for the Maple Leafs
It’s tradition to give your loved one fruits and flowers on your four-year anniversary. In more modern times, something made of linen or silk would do just fine.
But before we start handing these gifts to Ron Wilson, though, let's make sure that he first gives us what we want: a trip to the postseason, and if he’s feeling really generous, a Stanley Cup parade.
Coaches are essential to a team’s success and failures, and through three years and a few months into Wilson's tenure, he has shown us more of the latter than the former.
But does this make him a bad coach? More to the point, does it make him the wrong coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs?
He has gotten the Buds off to a decent start this year, and we can only hope they keep it up. And while you can’t blame every win or loss on the head coach, he has certainly been an integral part to the way the team performs.
This slideshow will detail why Ron Wilson has the tools to be the right choice for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
1: Great Regular Season Coach
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Since 1993, Ron Wilson has been behind the bench as a head coach of an NHL franchise. Go back three more years to when he was an assistant coach with the Vancouver Canucks, and it’s been 22 years since the NHL has not had Ron Wilson behind someone’s bench.
Of the 19 years that Wilson has been in charge of a team, he has piled together a record of 623-535-101-84—good enough for 1449 points in 1343 games.
He has the most wins as a head coach for the San Jose Sharks. He took a mediocre Washington Capitals team and guided them to two Southeast Division titles. He is one of only 7 people in the history of the NHL to record 600 or more regular season wins.
He also introduced the use of a Tablet PC to be used during the games on the bench so he and his coaches could instantly review plays.
Clearly, his credentials are there when it comes to the regular season. So far, all that success has not been found in Toronto—but there is a very good reason for that.
When you just isolate his years with the Maple Leafs, they haven’t been that kind. Compare his first two years on the bench to the two years of the previous coach Paul Maurice, and you might wonder why is he still around.
Maurice won 76 games in two years, compared to Wilson's 64. The reason Wilson still has a job over the fact that Maurice is now in Carolina is the simple fact that for Ron Wilson he has not been handed a good team to coach.
2: Ron Wilson has yet to been given a decent team, until now
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In 2008-2009, the star player on the team was Jason Blake, as well as fellow line-mates Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky. They had Vesa Toskala and Curtis Joseph as their 1-2 netminders.
Sure, their were some decent pieces in the lineup like Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin, but for the majority of the year, this team was put together like a bad puzzle. There was too much of a gap between veterans and rookies, and they didn’t mesh well together (ie. Tomas Kaberle and Luke Schenn).
Ron Wilson still managed to get this team to win 34 games.
The next year marked the beginning of the re-build. Phil Kessel was acquired before the beginning of the year, as was Jonas Gustavsson. Mid-way through the year, J.S. Giguere and Dion Phaneuf moved in along with Jason Blake, Matt Stajan and others moving out.
Through all the trades and lineup shuffling, the Leafs could only manage 30 wins. But Wilson could now start to see some pieces falling into place.
A hot start last year was followed by a long drought, as J.S. Giguere battled season-long injuries and Jonas Gustavsson couldn’t live up to expectations. But along came James Reimer, who is being counted on as the goalie of the future—not to mention another strong season by Phil Kessel and the Mac-Russian line.
The acquisition of Joffrey Lupul fell under the radar, but has paid huge dividends so far this year. There remains very few pieces of the J.F.J. era, and now Ron Wilson has something to go with.
It is not a team that on paper looks like they can win the Stanley Cup. But Ron Wilson is now able to say this team can win on any given night. He has a team that has the right amount of youth and veteran leadership.
They are one of the youngest teams in the league, and for Ron Wilson, it seems like he is better at teaching the young players how to win. Wilson doesn’t have many excuses to at least make the playoffs this year.
If he can help this team avoid long losing streaks, then he should be renewing his parking pass and the ACC in the month of April and maybe beyond.
3: Playoff Experience
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Ron Wilson has coached in the league for 19 years. Out of those 19 years, he has reached the playoffs eight times. He has only made it as far as the Eastern Conference Finals once, and has only made it passed the second round five times.
Compared to his regular-season record, his playoff record is a meager 47-48, making for a .495 win percentage. However, there’s the old saying that whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, and Wilson, by this point, knows what to expect come playoff time.
He has been there before, and he is trying to guide the Maple Leafs there for the first time since the lockout. If he could do that, he would be a hero.
Of course, many Leafs fans would expect more than just a visit. But again, he is taking a team who is very young, and, like Wilson, the team will need to experience what playoff hockey is like before they make their big run.
Then again, Wilson already knows what that’s like, and he can try to teach them to the best of his abilities. You never know what will happen in the playoffs, and so if Wilson can get them there, they have a good chance of doing something special under his guidance.
4: Not picking favorites
Earlier this year, Luke Schenn was a healthy scratch for the first time in his young NHL career. A few years ago, Wilson sat Jason Blake a few times just to teach him a lesson: If you’re not going to play hard, then you’re not going to play.
In both cases, Wilson didn’t care who the player was or how much money he was making. He only cared about what was best for the team.
He has let Ben Scrivens start in net over Jonas Gustavsson a few times this year as well. He is a coach that doesn’t have a favorite player, and that’s how it should be. He wants the team to win and so he is doing what he thinks will bring out the best in the players. In the case of Schenn, many people think it might be a setback to the young player.
But what has to be realized is that Schenn has been here as long as Wilson has. They have grown to know each other, and I’m sure Wilson talked to Schenn about his play and why he was going to scratch him. Schenn has played better lately, and hopefully it will continue.
Wilson has been around the game long enough to know the right lineups to use on every given night. Of course, it’s not always going to result in a win, but he is paid to make the hard choices—and so far this year, he has made enough right ones to keep them in the upper part of the standings.
5. He Can Focus on His Job
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Ron Wilson and Brian Burke are very good friends.
They played together in junior hockey and remained in contact all their lives. Now that Burke has told Wilson that his job is safe, he can focus even more on the product he needs to put on the ice.
A lot of coaches in the league don’t know how long they will be around for, regardless of what their contract says. Some GMs will be behind a guy 100 percent one week, and then threatening the coach the next.
With Burke and Wilson being good buddies, Wilson knows that if his job security is ever in question, he could flat out ask Burke to tell him so. Sometimes hiring your friends is a bad thing, and people wind up ending their friendship and work relationship altogether. But if Wilson does a good job, it proves that Burke made the right choice.
Now that Wilson has a good team, he can use all his tools of knowledge and experience and can focus on bringing Toronto back to the playoffs without having to worry about what the big guys upstairs are thinking.