April 13, 2011
Burke sticks up for WilsonGM vehemently defends coach
By LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - If the Maple Leafs defended leads with the tenacity that Brian Burke defends Ron Wilson, they’d be in the playoffs and these annual April scowling matches with the media would be moot.
It isn’t news that Wilson and his whole staff will be back next season, and possibly extended, but general manager Burke was not going to hear a discouraging word after the team showed signs of life, its first real progress, in the final weeks of a third straight spring elimination.
When one reporter said it was ‘consensus’ among fans was that Wilson was out of chances to get the Leafs in the NHL post-season tourney, Burke bristled.
“I don’t give a rat’s ass about consensus,” he said in his post-mortem news conference Tuesday at the Air Canada Centre. “There are people who disagree. They are confusing me with someone who cares about their opinion. (Wilson’s) record speaks for itself.”
By that, Burke meant Wilson’s two decades at the NHL level and the seventh-highest win total of 619, not the longest stretch out of playoffs by a Toronto coach. But the reputations of both Burke and Wilson have taken a beating in this market, part of the club’s six years out of the running.
“I don’t have to justify (the decision),” Burke said the next time the topic was raised. “He (earned) it with the job he did in the second half of the season.
“I feel this is the first time I’ve given Ron a competent group to play with. We got some people out of here who didn’t want to be here.
“From the all-star break on, we were fourth in the East, not just a playoff team, but (one with potential playoff) home ice. That’s the team we’re going to build on.”
On Monday, Wilson shook up his own media briefing by declaring the Leafs two or three players away from being a true Cup contender. The hooting could be heard from coast to coast and The Sun responded with a cheeky front page depiction of the coach as a delusional hippy.
“I know some people are having fun with that (comment),” Burke said. “But what team in this league isn’t a contender if you add the right three players?
“My question is, can we add three guys like that through trade or free agency. That’s the hard part. The building blocks are in place here and I think we’re close, with a few additions.”
That task and the matter of new deals for Wilson and his assistants will be thrashed out after the hockey ops staff reconvenes after the world hockey championships in Slovakia later this month. Burke’s top aide, David Nonis, is managing Team Canada and Burke wants to see how a group of Leafs do on various teams and hopes to see the potential draft picks at the final of the world under 18 championships, which are also this month.
Then it’s time to decide which of the unrestricted Leafs free agents will be let go and how to tackle RFAs, such as second-leading scorer Clarke MacArthur and workhorse defenceman Luke Schenn. Three UFAs forwards, Tim Brent, Joey Crabb and Darryl Boyce complicated matters, but in a good way, with their career years.
“They’ve made it very interesting for us,” Burke said. “We expected them to play most or all of the year with the Marlies. Now we have decisions to make.
“I believe our team is capable. But I’d rather answer that around Labour Day when we’ve completed our off-season work.”