March 1, 2012
No point in firing Wilson now
By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency
The right time to fire Ron Wilson ó and make a legitimate playoff run ó has all but passed for the Maple Leafs.
That window of opportunity, however thin, precisely timed, has been missed by general manager Brian Burke.
You fire a coach in mid-season for a variety of reasons: And yet, so many of those typical reasons have not been evident here. The team hasnít quit on Wilson. He hasnít, as some people have indicated, lost the team. The Leafs arenít the internal mess of dissension that often leads to dismissal. And Wilson isnít a terrible coach.
All that said, you fire Wilson ó not today but a week ago ó because whatever he has attempted, whatever the team was doing under his command, hasnít worked ó and still isnít working. Whatever vision the coach had for the Leafs has blurred over this abysmal slump of consequence.
You fire Wilson a week ago, before the trade deadline, because there was still time to make a legitimate playoff run. You fire him because itís time for a new voice, time still to make a legitimate playoffs run, to take a little pressure off the players, possibly put in some structure in the defensive zone that isnít currently noticeable.
The opportunity was there for Burke to make the change right after Saturday nightís loss to Washington at home and he chose not to act.
Now, after back to back post trade deadline losses to Florida and Chicago, two games in which the Leafs relinquished five goals against each night, the schedule tightens around the Leafsí necks like a noose of playoff proportions.
A win against Florida, with a new coach, maybe a new attitude, the usual spurt a team gets from making change, would have altered the standings considerably.
The game Wednesday night in Chicago, the 5-4 defeat against the Blackhawks, was very much a win-able game. It was there for the Leafs, not because they were great, but because the Hawks looked almost as confused without the puck as the Leafs do. Without Jonathan Toews, with their inept goaltending, the Hawks look every bit as vulnerable as the Leafs. But that opportunity passed, just as the past month did, with the playoff spot in view and the end become farther and farther away.
And now what?
The cries to let Wilson go are now everywhere but frankly, the audience in these situations is often the last to know. Often, the wisest coaching changes come when there is no notice at all. St. Louis did it earlier this season bringing in Ken Hitchcock to replace Davis Payne. Since the change, the Blues are 40-17-7. Last season, the Blues and Leafs had the same number of points. Thursday night, St. Louis played in Vancouver to determine which team had the best record in hockey.
One more Hitchcock difference (and there are many): Last season, St. Louis was ninth in the Western Conference in goals against, 18th in the NHL. This season, theyíre first in the West, second in the East. Coaching made that difference.
While there are few Hitchcockís in the business, could a coaching change have mustered that kind of cultural change with the Leafs? Not likely.
But far more unlikely with so little time remaining.
There are 18 games to play ó and 25 points to gain should it take 90 points to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
That means the Leafs would have to win a minimum of 12 of their remaining games to qualify for the post season. Twelve wins plus an additional point from one of those convoluted shootout-overtime defeats.
To put 12 wins into context, consider this: The Leafs, playing fine hockey to start the season, won 12 of their first 22 games. To expect 12 wins now, for a team that has given up four or more goals against in eight of their past 10 games, is nothing more than wishful thinking.
The Leafs have 12 wins in their past 30 games. After Montreal on Saturday night, the Leafs play Boston, Philadelphia and Washington. If you count backwards, the Leafsí magic number is 5. They canít lose more than five games between now and April 7 to have any shot at all.
And if they fire Wilson now, it smacks more of desperation than of strategic planning. The time to do it, at the latest, was a week ago.