March 3, 2012
Burke took easy way out
By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Well, the majority of Maple Leafs fans and Brian Burke's bootlickers in the media are going to be happy today.
The worst coach in hockey history (or so we're lead to believe) has been fired.
Wilson, the man everybody seems to hate, is gone, replaced by Randy Carlyle, who was fired by the Anaheim Ducks earlier this season.
And that's fine.
The Leafs are going nowhere -- again.
Burke -- the man with the great rebuild plan, a plan supposedly taking them to the Stanley Cup in the near future -- had to do something, and firing the head coach is always the easy way out.
Yes, as the head coach, Wilson certainly deserves his share of the blame. But the unfortunate part is, if Burke had done something, anything, before the trade deadline -- like acquiring a decent, veteran goaltender -- to reinforce his team, the Leafs might still be in a playoff position, or a lot closer to eighth-place than they are now,
But he did nothing -- pontificating to the media that he wasn't about to "blow up" his rebuild just to squeak into eighth place and get beaten up in the first round. It's all about the big picture, Big Burkie insisted.
But guess what, apparently sneaking into the playoffs (and likely getting beat up in the first round) is important to Burke after all, otherwise he wouldn't have made a coaching change mid-season, something he apparently loathes to do.
I wrote this for Friday's Toronto Sun and I still believe it holds water. Burke threw Wilson under the bus by doing nothing before the trade deadline. He set Wilson, and the Leafs, up for failure. He couldn't make a deal to help his club this season and dragged out the old "building for the future" excuse for his failure to do anything to bolster the present.
Perhaps Carlyle, who won a Stanley Cup with Burke in Anaheim in 2007, will light a fire and the team will respond. That often happens. The hiring of a new coach sometimes creates a spark.
But Carlyle can't perform miracles. Yes, he won a Stanley Cup, but his record the last four years hasn't exactly been stellar: 2007-08, lost in the first round; 2008-09, lost in the second round; 2009-10, missed playoffs; 2010-11, lost in first round. This season, fired. And those playoff records came with teams much better than the 2011-12 Toronto Maple Leafs.
The truth is -- and this may come as shock to some Leafs fans -- the Leafs just aren't a very good team. And Wilson is not a horrible coach. Earlier in the season, the Leafs were on a roll, in fact were one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
But then the goaltending went south and the defence fell apart and the secondary scoring dried up, and they dropped out of a playoff spot, and Wilson became the scapegoat -- even though it wasn't Wilson whose big free agent signing in the off-season was Tim Connolly and it wasn't Wilson who signed James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson to be the team's goaltenders. Wilson didn't sign Mike Komisarek either.
My point is, despite his sometimes caustic, sarcastic disposition and his frequent disdain for the media, and the fact that he's not Mr. Warm and Fuzzy in public, Wilson is not a bad coach.
He's a good coach.
He wouldn't have been given all these gigs over the years, including the Team USA head coaching job, if he was not a good coach. (He lead the U.S. to the gold medal at the 1996 World Cup and silver medal at the 2010 Olympics). His record speaks for itself. Last January, he won his 600th game, only the seventh NHL coach to accomplish that feat. And earlier this week, he coached his 1,400th NHL game, tying Pat Quinn for fourth in league history.
But because of his personality, he has been branded a guy who doesn't know anything about coaching.
Wilson's albatross was always the fact that he was unable to guide the talented San Jose Sharks to a Stanley Cup during his five seasons with that organization.
But, guess what, the Sharks still haven't made it to the Stanley Cup final.
Maybe Burke did Wilson a favor. A lot of people deserve blame for this dismal failure of a season -- Wilson, Burke and the 20 guys in the dressing room included. But it was always Wilson who took the most blame.
It will be interesting to see who Leafs Nation turns on if the Leafs continue to lose.