Leafs' failures 'not coaching failures:' Burke

LANCE HORNBY , QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:42 PM ET

When Brian Burke gets around to assessing Ron Wilson’s role in another non-playoff season, he’ll no doubt look at the slow starts, the late collapses and the poor special teams.

The general manager is also duty-bound to examine team dynamics to assure himself this coach is the right man for Team Truculence, which he envisions the Leafs will evolve into as years pass.

What Burke won’t do, as he stated emphatically on Friday night in St. Louis, is make a connection between how Wilson handles Burke’s other pet project, Team USA, and what happens to the Leafs the rest of the NHL season.

A theory making the rounds in recent days is that Wilson must channel the spirit of Herb Brooks and get the Americans a minor Miracle on Ice medal, allowing himself and Burke to fend off critics who will press for a coaching change this summer.

But mere mention that Wilson might be under the gun in Vancouver outraged Burke.

“That is ridiculous,” Burke said, sputtering out his answer.

“Ron Wilson is a hell of a coach and our failures are not coaching failures. Our failures have been player and management failures. I think we’ve addressed some of the player failures, with some of the changes you can see (trades for Dion Phaneuf and Jean-Sebastien Giguere). It’s turning into my kind of team.

“Ron’s tenure is not linked at all to how this (Olympic) tournament goes.”

Burke, who accompanied Wilson from St. Louis to Vancouver on Saturday to set the table for arriving American players on Sunday night, said the compacted Olympic stage is simply not a true evaluation of a coach’s ability, versus an 82-game-plus schedule.

“You’re talking about a short tournament that turns on real specific factors; goaltending, officiating ... It wouldn’t be fair to a coach and wouldn’t make much sense when you have a coach like we do that’s so accomplished in the NHL.”

That’s not to say Burke is setting up his coach and his underdog team for a fall in Vancouver. With near-perfect NHL conditions in these games and Canada under a mountain of pressure to win at home, the Americans, with Ryan Miller in goal, have as good a chance as any outside team.

Wilson, who led the U.S. to the 1996 World Cup, likes to put the needle in the host nation, too. He might dig out his loud Stars and Stripes tie from ’96, and in his final pre-Olympic chat with the Toronto media, he veered way off topic and dredged up a six-month old column about American roots on this year’s Leafs as supposed proof that the scribe wants him and the U.S. to fall in Vancouver.

In fact, it would be quite a story if Burke and Wilson did win and then came back to the Air Canada Centre in March as Olympic gold medallists. Richard Peddie, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., says if it happens in the same year the Leafs miss the playoffs, that fans should look at the big picture.

“We are proud of that fact that Brian and Ron have been recognized to head up the U.S. team,” Peddie said. “We think it is giving them valuable experience and a broader appreciation for the talent in the NHL, which can help the Leafs longer term.

“And,” Peddie added with levity, “if they win a silver medal we will be sure to salute their accomplishment.”

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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