Leafs: In whom do they trust?
STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency
|Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson claps during the "Luke's Troops" presentation at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont., Feb. 1, 2012. (DAVE ABEL/QMI Agency)
TORONTO - After all the noise and so little bombast, this is what is left for the Maple Leafs: The season rests with Ron Wilson.
And that is anything but comforting.
This is his team, his job on the line, his goalies tossed under the bus. These are his special teams. These are his defensive zone coverages. This is his self-prescribed style of wide open play.
Like it or not, this is the present for the Maple Leafs. There is nothing new to envision, no incoming possibilities. The next 20 games will determine whether the Leafs make the playoffs and whether Wilson has any future left at all as coach of the Maple Leafs.
Brian Burke didnít make any deals of consequence on Mondayís overblown trade deadline, but he did profess his seemingly blind loyalty for Wilson once again. He is not thinking of making a coaching change now, even though that may have been prudent following Saturday nightís embarrassment against Washington. Burke is not shaking up his lineup. And now there is some locker room stability for at least the final quarter of the season.
If Burkeís premise that the hype surrounding the deadline proved distracting as the Leafs have moved from seventh to eighth to ninth to 10th in the Eastern Conference standings, then all of that should change, now that the team is not being altered in any way. Thatís his view. The roster is the roster. The goalies remain James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson. Mike Komisarek is going back into the lineup against Florida in another must-win game in a series of must-win-defeats for the Leafs.
If all that isnít comforting, after garnering three of a possible 18 points over the past nine games, what is?
But the unfortunate glare remains on the I-win, they-lose, ever-sarcastic coach of the Leafs. He is quick to take a bow for the improved play of Phil Kessel or Joffrey Lupul or Jake Gardiner, but not so quick to bear much responsibility when all around him is collapsing. That has been an ongoing theme of his four Leaf seasons. Too many fingers pointed in too many directions ó with the coach not looking honestly in the mirror often enough.
As Burke likes to point out, Wilson hasnít gotten stupid overnight. That sounds nice. Itís also irrelevant. Professional coaches rarely get stupid overnight. They are, instead, like library books. Their time expires and quickly they become overdue. If itís happened to greats such as Scotty Bowman, Al Arbour, Pat Burns and Mike Keenan, then surely it can happen to Wilson.
He hasnít gotten stupid overnight ó but he hasnít been successful. And heís paid to be successful. That is the bottom line and the final 20 games in a season with few injuries is all about bottom line.
The Leafs canít afford to miss the playoffs. They canít not finish in the top eight in a season in which the Eastern Conference has imploded. That would be about their worst result of the Burke era. The Winnipeg Jets arenít much. The Washington Capitals have fired their coach and are having a dreadful season. The Leafs are behind New Jersey, Ottawa and Florida, even though they finished four, 11 and 13 points ahead of those teams a year ago. Those teams are getting better. Where is the evidence the Leafs are getting better, having not corrected their sky-high goals against average and their inability to not collapse when under pressure?
Wilson was publicly critical of his chosen goaltender, James Reimer, before and after Saturdayís loss ó essentially distancing himself and the team from the goalie. And of all Wilsonís missteps, this has been his largest. The legendary Glenn Hall once told me that a coach should never criticize a goalie in public, in the media or in front of the team. Hall maintained that the minute you let your team know youíre doubting your goaltender, it provides a built-in excuse for the rest of the team to surrender.
Wilson has let the world know far too loudly what he thinks of his goalies with his inability to find the right rotation for them. He doesnít trust them. Having been embarrassed by the coach, how can they now trust him?
Successful teams must be about trust. The Leafs have little more than five weeks to make this season successful, five weeks for Ron Wilson to save his job. They have time. Thatís all they have on their side right now.