Don't jump gun on Wilson contract

Sun hockey columnist Mike Zeisberger says Leafs coach Ron Wilson won't be entitled to a contract...

Sun hockey columnist Mike Zeisberger says Leafs coach Ron Wilson won't be entitled to a contract extension until he has the club safely in the playoffs. (QMI Agency)

Mike Zeisberger, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:56 PM ET

Good on Brian Burke for jumping to the aid of Ron Wilson so quickly.

Of course, he didn’t have much choice.

Had Burke not used his twitter account as a forum to publicly state that he has Wilson’s back, the Randy Carlyle-to-Toronto speculation would have exploded into a full-blown controversy.

As it was, Burke’s blackberry probably was buzzing like a hive of bees before he’d even gulped down his first cup o’ java on Thursday morning, inquiring minds all wanting to know if Carlyle’s firing by the Anaheim Ducks would impact Wilson’s job status down the road.

“Sad to hear about Randy Carlyle,” Burke tweeted. “But our coach isn’t going anywhere!”

It’s easy to see why there was such an eagerness to connect the dots between Burke and Carlyle. The two men, after all, combined to help the Ducks win the 2007 Stanley Cup, a special moment for all involved.

It was also premature, given the job Wilson has done behind the Maple Leafs bench of late.

It says here that Wilson, barring a collapse of catastrophic proportions by his Leafs in the next month or so, deserves to finish out his term behind the bench, playoffs or no playoffs.

Wilson has become a polarizing figure in Toronto, both among fans and media members. He can be enlightening, funny, riveting, sarcastic, abrasive, patronizing and condescending, sometimes all in the same press conference.

Those that don’t like his personality would be waiting to pick up Carlyle at the airport if it meant Wilson was hitting the road. But changing coaches right now would not make sense. Certainly not in light of the way his young team seems to be playing for him.

Wilson’s impact on this young squad can be seen by the way these Leafs have overcome a rash of injuries, including one that sidelined No. 1 goalie James Reimer, The Leafs arguably are off to their best start since the lockout, an obvious indication of how kids like Jake Gardiner and Tyler Bozak are buying what the coach is selling, whether they started the season with the Leafs or the Marlies.

Sorry Randy. The head coach’s job in Toronto is taken. For now.

On the other hand, the suggestion made by my well-respected colleague Steve Buffery, along with others in the pro-Ronnie fraternity, that Wilson is entitled to a contract extension is curious, at least in the opinion of this ink-stained wretch.

Despite the fact the Leafs can leapfrog the Bruins into top spot in the Northeast Division with a rare victory over the defending Stanley Cup champions in Boston on Saturday night, why would you lock up a coach at this point who has yet to lead this team to the post-season in the past three-plus seasons?

Sure, the Leafs are near the top of the Eastern Conference standings. But they also are a five-game losing streak from being out of a playoff spot.

On Thursday morning, the Leafs had 30 points. The New Jersey Devils, meanwhile, were ninth in the East with 25 points. Not a lot of wiggle room there.

True, Burke is on record as saying he does not like it when teams put their bench bosses in position to be “lame-duck” coaches — in other words, a coach who is playing out the string in the final year of his contract. But if college roommates Burke and Wilson have the type of strong relationship we’ve been led to believe, what’s the rush?

There is plenty of speculation that Burke is primed to lock up his coach long-term. With the Teachers Pension Plan no longer putting their shares of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment up for sale (until they are blown away by an offer, that is), perhaps the MLSE board will now be more open to rubber stamping an extension, something they are said to have not been willing to do over the summer given all the uncertainty around the company at the time.

At the same time, how do you justify extending a guy in mid-season who has never taken this franchise to the post-season to date?

Burke recently tweeted that the Leafs are 32-17-8 since last year’s all-star break, a message he tapped out prior to Wednesday’s 6-3 loss to the Bruins. But let’s face it: those numbers mean nothing if the Leafs miss the playoffs. Again.

History shows that Pat Quinn was fired by the Leafs after failing to reach the post-season just once in his seven seasons as Toronto coach. True, reported rifts between Quinn and GM John Ferguson along with an alleged one within the board hovered over the ornery Irishman’s dismissal, but his ability to regularly lead the Leafs to the playoffs can’t be questioned.

Admittedly, Quinn didn’t have to work under the shackles of a salary cap, which Wilson does now. Then again, Phoenix and Nashville, teams with lower payrolls than Toronto, have made multiple visits to the post-season dance since the Leafs last appeared in the playoffs back in 2004.

Carlyle or no Carlyle, Wilson deserves to finish out the season. He has earned that right. If he makes the playoffs, show him the money. If he doesn’t, replace him with Marlies coach Dallas Eakins, who has done an outstanding job of prepping kids for the pros.

But giving an extension in mid-season to a coach who has yet to step behind the bench for a playoff date at the Air Canada Centre? Doesn’t make sense.

Then again, the suggestion to replace Wilson with Carlyle in the near future doesn’t seem logical either.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger

 


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