Leafs' coach not to blame: Burke

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:40 AM ET

The first line has been producing like a fourth unit so what’s the solution?

Fire the coach.

The highly touted rookie hasn’t developed enough so he had to be sent to the minors to learn how to be a pro and what to do?

Fire the coach.

The team loses five in a row (the better part of three of those without the captain) and the public has spoken.

Fire the coach.

Welcome to Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke’s world after a crazy week, one in which he has had to defend both his since injured captain Dion Phaneuf and his coach, Ron Wilson.

It’s part of the deal in a hockey first city where the team has lost five in a row, but fire Wilson now? Seriously?

How about lighting a fire under any number of underachieving forwards on hand, starting with the trio Wilson grudgingly acknowledges is the No. 1 unit.

When Phil Kessel, now without a point in five games after scoring seven goals in his first eight, Kris Versteeg and Tyler Bozak don’t contribute to the offence, this team is going to be in serious trouble. And between the three, they have all of 10 even-strength points this season.

So after Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the struggling Buffalo Sabres — which admittedly was hard on the eyes — the predictable cries for Wilson’s neck began.

“It’s very strange,” Burke told the Toronto Sun via email on Sunday. “Our coach getting criticized, when we need a number of our players to play better.”

Burke has long held that players sometimes get off easy in this market as management becomes the easy target.

Look, there’s plenty of blame to go around for a team that has been so bad for so long, but it’s a little early for overreaction, isn’t it?

It’s ridiculous that he even has to go there at this point, but Burke made it clear how absurd he feels about the notion of getting rid of Wilson.

“A coaching decision has not been considered, let alone discussed,” Burke said.

Based on the performance of his players through 13 games, what has Wilson done wrong? Defensively, the team has improved, both in goal an on the blueline. The loss of Phaneuf will hurt, but at least there is some depth to shore up the back end.

Up front, business is far less prosperous. Entering the season, the biggest question was where the team would find its secondary scoring. Beyond that big line, it was a leap of faith that others would step up.

The recent play of the Nik Kulemin-Mikhail Grabovski-Clarke MacArthur unit has been encouraging, but without the top trio on board, it’s been wasted.

After a promising pre-season and start Versteeg, perhaps bothered by a bad back that has kept him out of one game, has struggled.

Kessel, who looked like he might light it up all season, has been held silent. Albeit often against weaker competition, that line generated much more speed and puck movement in the pre-season and it carried over to the real action. Lately it has just fizzled

“We need more contributions from other people,” Wilson said following Saturday’s loss in which the Leafs scored just twice giving them just 15 goals in their past nine games.

And not enough players up front paying the price, despite Burke’s obvious mantra that his forwards by imposing.

On too many nights, the Leafs have been unable (or unwilling) to generate traffic in front of the opponent’s net. Wilson’s fault? Don’t think so.

It got so bad that the coaching staff had to spend too much time in a recent practice teaching players how to get in front of the net to block shots.

Adam Proteau of The Hockey News may have put best on Sunday when he tweeted the Leaf situation right now is “like handing a chef a hot dog and crouton and demanding caviar.”


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