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Saturday, 3 December 2011

To sign or not to sign

Hey Leaf fans, I haven't written a blog for you guys in a while, so I thought it was about time to appease you guys. Time to write a blog about Ron Wilson's contract situation; Should Brian Burke resign him now or later.

Ron Wilson has not exactly been overall popular in Toronto during his tenure as head coach of the Leafs, and it is no easy task. Being the coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs in this hockey driven market, can drive almost any one to their breaking point, answer for all the loses, the poor play, missing the playoffs year after year, players not playing well, and how long until you lose your job. But this year it has been a little easier for Wilson and the media he loathes so much, this year the questions are more positive; can you explain Phil Kessel's amazing play, why is this team playing so well, When will Burke resign you.

That is the big question this year in TO, besides the obvious goal of ending a post season playoff drought of 6 years, will Wilson receive a contract extension from Brian Burke or will he ultimately be let go, and look for his 5th team to coach. On  Wednesday when Randy Carlyle was let go by the Ducks, rumors started to fly that Carlyle would be ideal to replace Wilson, and that is why there have been no new contract offers to Wilson. Not to mention the fact the Burke and Carlyle teamed up to win a Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007. But Brian Burke took to Twitter to defend his head coach, and imply that there is no coaching changes in the near future. Burke twitted; “Sad to hear about Randy Carlyle,” “But our coach isn’t going anywhere!” Seems to me that Burke wants to remain loyal to Wilson, and at the very least let him rid out his 4 year contract. But even before the season started the talk was about why Wilson had not received a new contract yet, and if that was bothering him. But so far this season there has been no opportunity to fire Wilson even if Burke wanted too, Wilson has this team playing well, in fact very well, right near the top of the Eastern Conference, something no one saw coming. So a coaching change at this point in the season would not be sensible.

Alright so let's dive right in on this one, I do believe Burke should resign Wilson, but not till after Christmas at the earliest or the end of February at the latest. See how this team responds to their strong start from before the break to after the break. But let's be honest here, Wilson hasn't exactly had the worst 4 years here in TO, yes he's only had 1 winning season and has missed the post season in the past 3, but they haven't been absolutely horrible seasons. He has reached 30 wins in all 3 seasons, and the Leafs have been right on the edge of the playoffs. He was even named the Head coach for the USA Olympic Mens hockey team in 2010. S he sure as heck isn't a horrible coach, plus in the first 3 seasons with the Leafs, they were still in the rebuilding stage; restocking the minors and getting rid of players who didn't really want to play hard. But now, the Marlies are filled with players who want to reach the NHL level and make a difference, and the players currently playing for the Leafs are battling hard to earn their spot in the line-up each and every game. For the first time in a very long time the players know if they don't give it their all, they will face the reality of being a "healthy scratch" or be sent down to the Marlies. It would also appear that Wilson has learned to handle the media a lot better, he now uses a sense of humor, and doesn't take it to seriously like a good Leaf coach, don't worry about the media. Right now the young players on this team are especially buying into Wilson is saying; look how well Bozak has played, and if my biased opinion means anything, I'd say he is doing just fine on the first line with Kessel and Lupul, no need to demote him to third! Most remarkably look at how well rookie Jake Gardiner has played; coming into camp, steeling a spot and being able to stay in the line-up consistently thus far, plus he is becoming a reliable D man, and is showing great maturity. Even Phil Kessel seems to have drunken the Ron Wilson Kool-aid, look at how well he is playing, not just offensively but more of a complete game. But what is even more amazing is how much these players have grown to like Ron Wilson, yes that is correct they LIKE their head coach! 6 or 7 of the players including Phaneuf, Schenn, Bozak and Grabovski all went to Brian Burke and asked him to keep Wilson around for this season because they wanted to play well and save their coaches job, that is saying something! for NHL players to approach their GM and petition him to keep the head coach, Wilson must be doing something right.

With the Leafs off to arguably their best season since the lockout starting at 14-8, and currently have the leading NHL scorer in Phil Kessel. All the lines are meshing (minus the grabo-kulemin line), but other than them, the lines are producing and showing great chemistry. So it begs the question why not print the papers and sign Wilson for another few seasons? Here's why; why sign a coach that is still yet to prove themselves, despite everything Wilson is doing, he still has not made the playoffs in his 3 seasons as Leafs head coach. Yes the Leafs are currently sitting snug in the top in the Eastern conference, they are a 5 game losing streak away from missing the playoffs for the 7th straight season. On Thursday morning the Leafs had 30 points, the New Jersey Devils who are currently in 9th have 25 points, not a huge margin of error for this young Leafs squad, who may get a rude awakening, once teams start to figure out how to properly play the Leafs. So yes Wilson has led this squad near the top of the conference, but he is just as close to being out of a playoff spot and have the negative attention of the Toronto media, thrust back on him and his team. Now Burke isn't fond of having head coaches play out the last year of their contracts without a back-up deal, but the fact that Wilson and Burke have a great relationship that dates all the way back to their college days, has to stand for something between these two, and maybe a silent nod of agreement for now. But to sign a guy less than half way through the season, who has yet to lead his team to the post-season is very rare and likely not going to happen. Why would you? Despite the Leafs being 32-17-8 since last seasons all star break under Wilson, those numbers mean nothing IF the Leafs Miss the post season again! All the good things we just talked about go out the window and Wilson will be back on the firing block again. Lets take a stroll down memory lane shall we; remember Pat Quinn, he was fired after only failing to make the post season 1 time in the last 7 years, he consistently brought the Leafs to the post season 7 times but got fired for one mistake.

It is in all likely hood that Wilson will finish off the season without a contract, if the Leafs make the post season Wilson will stay, if they fail to do that, Wilson and Burke will "part" ways. Wilson and Burke are long time friends, I highly doubt he will officially fire Wilson; plus Burke has already virtually told Wilson that if he makes the post season he has a job for another season at least. Wilson finally has the "tools" to make this team successful, now it is up to him to get the "tool" to do the job! It would be nice to see Dallas Eakins of the Toronto Marlies called up to be the next head coach if things don't work out with Wilson, after all he is doing an amazing job with the young ones down in the Marlies, and is extremely good at developing players. But Burke will have to do some very careful thinking on his next move, resigning Wilson to a long term contract, could cost the Leafs, Dallas Eakins. Eakins wont want to stay a AHL coach forever, and many teams are in need of new coaches, so if Wilson stays Eakins could go!
Just a little interesting tidbit of information, the Leafs currently have 16 Canadian born hockey players on their roster, I'm glad a Canadian team, is dressing so many Canadians. Hockey lives in Canada!

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