March 2, 2012
Wilson simply failed to win
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
TORONTO - This time around, those playing the Blame Game in the Maple Leafs offices didn't wag an accusing finger for the team's slippery slide at the media, a bad schedule, mediocre goaltending, global warming, whatever spin they could conjure up.
This time around, the Toronto organization looked within it's own doors and took responsibility for what stands to be a seventh consecutive season without post-season hockey, a disgraceful run in front of a loyal fan base that deserves much better.
They did it by doing what you wanted.
You e-mailed those of us privileged enough to be in the sportswriting biz. You called the radio talk shows. You chanted your displeasure so loudly, the words echoed throughout the Air Canada Centre right through to the national highlight reels.
And in each case, the message was clear.
On Friday night, Leafs management did exactly that.
They made the man behind the bench accountable.
Just like you asked.
It's refreshing that GM Brian Burke speaks his mind, politically correct or not, but he was off-base when he recently claimed in a radio interview that fans did not like coach Ron Wilson because of the media's perceived issues with the Toronto bench boss.
It had nothing to do with those of us in the media.
It had everything to do with the fact that he didn't win anything here.
Even for those of you out there who found Wilson's sometimes abrasive personality as grating as fingernails on a chalkboard, the fact that the man can coach should never be questioned.
He just wasn't a fit here.
In his almost four years behind the Toronto bench, there was not one playoff game. Does anything else really matter?
The tiffs and games with the media are irrelevant in the overall scheme of things but, in the end, probably were an unnecessary distraction on a team that, in the hockey fishbowl that is Toronto, really didn't need it.
When Burke finally decided to listen to the screaming chants for Wilson's head during Tuesday's loss to Florida at the ACC, Wilson found himself booted out on to Bay St. In favour of another former Leafs defenceman, Randy Carlyle.
Himself fired earlier in the season by the Anaheim Ducks, Carlyle's resume will always be rubber stamped by his 2007 Stanley Cup ring. If that doesn't get you a mulligan -- or, in this case, a second chance behind an NHL bench -- what does?
Looking back, perhaps the best harbinger of the confused state the young players were having with Wilson of late occurred two weeks ago in Vancouver, where the Leafs had just finished a Friday afternoon practice at Rogers Arena in preparation for a Hockey Night in Canada appearance against the Canucks the following day.
Luke Schenn, as stand-up a kid as you'll ever want to meet, had just finished facing a barrage of questions, some about trade rumours, some about having been benched in the previous game in Edmonton in favour of veteran Mike Komisarek.
Having known Luke since his draft day, we waited until the gaggle of cameras and microphones had bolted elsewhere before sitting down to chat. What immediately became clear was this was a young player who was confused, who didn't know if he'd be starting games on the ice or in the press box, who needed direction.
Yes, players need to be accountable. At the same time, when youngsters such as the Luke Schenns, the James Reimers, the Nikolai Kulemins all regress, when your team's pathetic penalty kill has consistently been in the NHL's rancid outhouse, when you've pretty much changed all the assistant coaches, well, the spotlight shifts to the bench boss.
If you look at the Schenns, Jake Gardiners, Phil Kessels, Dion Phaneufs, Joffrey Lupuls, Carl Gunnarssons, it says here that there are more promising 26-and-under kids on this roster than, arguably, since the end of the lockout in 2005. Wilson just wasn't the man to do it. The results are in the record.
As for the e-mailer who suggested Wilson only be able to keep his job if he came out in front of the Montreal crowd Saturday night with a paper bag over his head the way Harold Ballard once tried to get Roger Neilson to do, you missed out one little detail.
You'd probably like it to happen on Christmas Day, marking the anniversary of the extension he announced on twitter.
For the time being, you'll settle for getting what you wanted.
A new coach.
One with a Stanley Cup ring.