TORONTO - To usher in 2011, a livid e-mailer suggested Ron Wilson walk out to the Maple Leafs bench wearing a bag over his head Saturday night, a tactic former owner Harold Ballard attempted on then-coach Roger Neilson more than three decades ago.
A proud Neilson would not go for it.
And you can bet Wilson wouldn’t either.
In fact, for those bitter fans who feel the start of the new year will bring a new coach, Brian Burke has the same old message for you.
It is not going to happen.
In the end, Burke will not even contemplate such a move until he provides Wilson with some better on-ice weapons than those who are at the coach’s disposal right now.
In other words, expect roster changes before any kind of coaching change.
“The one thing I find appalling is when I see a coaching (switch) made without a trade or two being made first, although it is tougher to do in the salary cap era,” Burke said Friday night from Buffalo, where he was attending the world junior championship.
“In fairness to any coach, you should exhaust your resources attempting to make personnel changes and complete a trade or two. Supply him with an upgraded roster to give him a better chance to succeed.
“That’s why a coaching change isn’t even under consideration.”
On the other hand, a roster shakeup certainly is.
Burke said he continues to work “diligently” on the trade front. While he would not speculate on the specifics of what the team might be working on, a source close to the situation said the team was “near” a deal until it crumbled Friday morning.
“We made a push before the trade freeze and we continue to work on various things,” Burke said. “There are a number of offers I could take right now but they just wouldn’t make sense. And I’m not going to make moves just for the sake of making moves.”
One unsubstantiated rumour circulating through the blogosphere Friday had former Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Ryan Parent, now in the Vancouver organization, heading to Toronto. Even if it was true — and there is no tangible evidence to show that it might be — how much help could the Leafs get from a kid who can’t even make the Canucks’ top six on a regular basis?
The Leafs would need much more than that to turn their season around, that’s for sure.
The name of impending unrestricted free agent Brad Richards created a buzz around town last month but expect the Dallas Stars, if they are inclined to move him for payroll reasons, to ask for a king’s ransom. Given that Richards has been at or near the top of league scoring pretty much all season, why wouldn’t they?
Burke has no issues with the work ethic exhibited by his free-falling team, which finds itself 27th in the 30-team league. It has been the lapses, the brain drains, the handful of screwups every night that has him perplexed.
“Playing for Ron Wilson, there has not been a lack of effort,” Burke said. “When we lose, it has not been a coaching issue.
“Going into the New Year, the positive thing I see is that we’ve been playing well pretty much for 50-54 minutes per game. But we always seem to have these clumps of mistakes which cost us. I thought we played a good game (Dec. 16) in Calgary. We were tied. Then they scored three goals in about a minute and that was it.
“We are one of three or four youngest teams in the league. Like I said, we play good hockey for most nights but just have these poor spurts. That’s no excuse. That’s like saying: ‘Other than the (obvious), Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?’ ”
The Leafs will attempt to right their sinking ship when they meet the provincial rival Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place Saturday. It remains up in the air as to whom the thousands of Leafs fans in attendance will boo more — Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson; or Wilson, his players and members of management.
“I don’t blame our fans for losing patience,” Burke said. “We are not getting it done. That goes for myself, the players, the coaching staff, everyone.”
With the emotional Leafs GM insisting a housecleaning on the ice will come before one behind the bench, we do know this much:
It’s your move, Burkie.