Welcome to the jungle

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 1:43 PM ET

Ron Wilson knew life was going to change the moment he arrived at Pearson last night.

As he deplaned, fans already were giving him grief about coaching the Maple Leafs and he quickly learned the second biggest story to his hiring was the fate of the Hockey Night In Canada theme. Welcome to Toronto, Ron.

"In the terminal, people are giving it to me, 'good luck with that team', " a humoured Wilson said from his hotel. "Looks like we have to change a few perceptions about the Leafs around here. But I'm fully prepared to be patient."

He was to go straight to a late-night meeting with interim general manager Cliff Fletcher, whose flight from Phoenix arrived around the same time Wilson got in from Hilton Head, S.C. They hoped to complete details on a four-year contract with a news conference expected today.

Wilson is under no illusions that the Leafs can match his strapping San Jose Sharks, which could play defence, score and oozed confidence, at least in the regular season. Wilson knows the Leafs are in the first stage of a difficult transition to a youth-oriented lineup.

"That's where my ability to work is and Cliff knows that," Wilson said. "We had to get younger in San Jose and in today's NHL, young guys are right in the line of fire. Sure you want to win a Cup, but you can't take short cuts. You have to draft the talent and develop it."

The Leafs aren't the charity case that Wilson inherited in his first job with the expansion Anaheim Ducks, but they're a long way from the Cup contenders he helped fashion in Washington and San Jose. Yet he knows more about what makes the Leafs tick than many rival coaches.

"Because of the time difference I could tune in Joe Bowen at 4:30 San Jose time," Wilson said. "I know Vesa Toskala and Mark Bell from San Jose, but I was always watching Anton Stralman and Jiri Tlusty, and seeing how better (Tlusty) played when used with better players. Carlo Colaiacovo has to keep healthy to see how good he can be."

Having Mats Sundin stay would help.

"I tried to get Mats surreptitiously at the trade deadline," Wilson admitted. That he's being hired before a full-time GM is in place was not lost on Wilson. If that exec isn't old Providence school pal Brian Burke as many suspect, Wilson could be swept out. He tried to throw the conspiracy theorists off the scent by reminding all he never has actually worked alongside Burke in any previous stop. Sportsnet reported yesterday that Wilson had two other NHL offers, but gave top priority to the Leafs.

The Leafs insisted Wilson take on surviving assistant coach Keith Acton, but the new man insisted his old Minnesota North Stars teammate was a good fit. Wilson will name his own assistant shortly.

The 53-year-old Windsor-born Wilson was getting in touch with his inner Leaf throughout the day. He noted the irony in departing this area to follow his coaching father in 1967, as the Leafs wrapped up their last Cup and that he played for the Leafs under Roger Neilson in the late '70s.

Wilson said too much is made of his American citizenship, which he pursued in his teens to play international hockey. He is a dual citizen and joked that his Canadian passport and SIN card were carefully packed for this trip.

He'll be in contact with the Leaf players this summer.

"I don't know much about him, but it's a fresh start," centre Matt Stajan said."


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