March 3, 2012
Wilson's fate was sealed
By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency
TORONTO - The message came to Ron Wilson in June, the kind of message that gets a coach thinking.
“We’re coming down to see you.”
Brian Burke and Dave Nonis planned a visit to South Carolina with the coach of the Leafs. But just as Burke said on Saturday at the press conference to announce the hiring of Randy Carlyle, coaches aren’t stupid. They know, or think they know, when something is up.
And Wilson believed then, with Burke and Nonis showing up at his front door, that he was going to be let go as coach of the Leafs. He’s told people that much. But he was almost as shocked by what Burke and Nonis demanded.
They told him he had to replace two of his three assistant coaches. They didn’t tell him which ones. That would be his choice. Then Burke, who normally allows his head coaches to pick their assistants, essentially forced Wilson into hiring Scott Gordon and Greg Cronin. Wilson probably should have resigned that day on principle alone, even though he was repaid by getting a severance package in the form of a contract extension. There was a case to be made for replacing Wilson last June and even he saw it coming. The difference between then and now: The Leafs weren’t in free fall and Carlyle was still coaching Anaheim at the time.
THIS AND THAT
My only concern about the hiring of Carlyle is the timing of the move. There is no questioning his qualifications: He is a commanding coach. But there is a Martin Gerber element to all this. Had Wilson been left in place, or a caretaker been put in charge, the Leafs were on their way to a high draft pick. Now, with time fleeting and Carlyle in charge, they may push for a playoff spot, fall short and end up again in the middle of the pack. Three years ago, the Leafs could have bottomed out for the final quarter of the season but Burke picked up Gerber to play goal. The difference, long term, was instead of having access to players such as Evander Kane or maybe Matt Duchene, the Leafs drafted Nazem Kadri ... When Burke took over in Anaheim, he wanted Carlyle as his head coach. In order to do so, he let the contract of the existing coach expire without re-signing him. That coach: Mike Babcock ... Can Carlyle adjust his coaching style to deal with a different kind of Leafs lineup? Absolutely. Babcock was a dump and chase coach in Anaheim who runs a puck possession game in Detroit. The best coaches coach the team’s they are given. One of Wilson’s problems in four years in Toronto was: He coached a style the Leafs weren’t capable of winning with ... The betting here: Wilson has coached his last NHL game. He’d be a difficult sell elsewhere after his Toronto experience. He’s coached 18 seasons in the NHL, and been in the playoffs only eight times. He’s won 47 playoff games in his career. By comparison, Pat Quinn won 41 playoff games in his seven seasons in Toronto, 94 overall ... Carlyle’s salary, by the way: Just over $4.6 million for three plus seasons on the job. No wonder he can afford two television sets.
HEAR AND THERE
In the same period of time in which the Leafs won one of 11 games (1-9-1, three points), Ottawa had 15 points, Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Winnipeg had 14, Florida had 13 and Washington 10. Which makes catching up pretty close to impossible ... Prediction: Within the next three weeks, Carlyle will make Tim Connelly cry — or the opposite, Connelly will make Carlyle cry ... What to do with the amazing Erik Karlsson, in just his third NHL season? Is he Norris Trophy worthy? I didn’t think so but he’s changing my mind. Right now, Karlsson is a Top 10 scorer in the NHL, and should he finish there, he will be the first defenceman to do so since Brian Leetch in 1992 ... If there is a 2014 Winter Olympic hockey tournament with NHL players, you’d have to start the Team Canada defence with Shea Weber, Kris Letang, Alex Pietrangelo, Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty. And that’s just fine ... How do you pick a coach of the year in the NHL and not select Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis? Or Paul MacLean in Ottawa? Or Dave Tippett in Phoenix? Or John Tortorella in New York? Or Kevin Dineen in Florida? Or Dan Bylsma in Pittsburgh? In a year with eight coach firings there are more coach of the year candidates than ever, all of them legitimate and deserving ... MacLean and Carlyle, along with Dale Hawerchuk, were the three best players on the 1987 Winnipeg Jets. Now all three coach.
SCENE AND HEARD
If you do the math, over the 18 years since the Blue Jays last played a playoff game, the Jays would have qualified as a wild card team just once under the new Major League format that allows another team. You might think the extra playoff team would benefit the Jays, but in truth, it benefits the Yankees and Red Sox more. Baseball doesn’t want playoffs without its big boys .. When you wonder how highly-paid athletes become bankrupt, consider this. Adrian Beltre of the Dodgers was on the front page of the Los Angeles Times Saturday. The reason: His house has 16 bathrooms ... A Sunday question to debate: Is John Farrell too buttoned down, too corporate, to be a successful major league manager? Or is he going to have to become more baseball-like in his second big league season? .... It wasn’t my newspaper, but I miss Lois Kalchman writing on minor hockey in Toronto ...Having trouble deciding on a Hart Trophy winner: With a month to go in the NHL season, it’s a horse race between Henrik Lundqvist and Evgeni Malkin ... DeMar DeRozan should thank all the over-the-top hockey coverage in Toronto for his mini-controversy of playing the brat on Twitter being all but ignored in this week of Wilson.
AND ANOTHER THING
At one time, the Leafs had Pat Burns coaching in Toronto, and Marc Crawford and Joel Quenneville working as coach and assistant in St. John’s. And all three won their Stanley Cups as head coaches in three different NHL cities ... Dallas Eakins would have been a fine choice for the Leafs coaching job but Burke couldn’t afford to be wrong here. He knows exactly what he’s getting in Carlyle. With Eakins in his early coaching years, it’s less certain. But I wouldn’t be the least surprised to see Eakins being a head coach in the NHL next season ... It makes sense for junior hockey, with twice the amount of fighting that the NHL faces, to try and eliminate fighting. Those are mostly teenagers playing, 90% of whom will never play an NHL game .... If you’re a Vancouver Canucks fan you have every right to be a touch nervous over the trade that sent Cody Hodgson to Buffalo for Zack Kassian. The Sedins aren’t scoring like they have in the past. Ryan Kesler’s offensive numbers are down. And now they trade away the emerging Hodgson for a bruiser who may not bring much offence ... Three of the best players on the gold medal winning Team Canada, Sidney Crosby, Chris Pronger and Jonathan Toews, all out with concussions. And if that’s not an epidemic, I don’t know what is ... Happy birthday to Herschel Walker (50), O.J. Santiago (38), Ray (Boom Boom) Mancini (51), Gord Kluzak (48), Zdenek Nedved (37), and Santonio Holmes (28) ... And hey, whatever became of Jamie Macoun?
THE LEAF CONNECTION
The new head coach of the Leafs played defence for the Leafs. The old head coach of the Leafs played a little forward, a little defence here. And the new assistant coach, Dave Farrish, like the man he is replacing, Rob Zettler, played defence for the Leafs. This may all be coincidence, but it is nonetheless fascinating to consider how many Leaf coaches have played for the team at one time or another. Pat Quinn was a Leaf player. So was George Armstrong, obviously, and Dan Maloney. Mike Nykoluk was a Leaf. And while Paul Maurice never played for the Leafs, he was drafted by the Leafs. Of the past 13 head coaches, six played for the team and two others played their minor hockey in Toronto. And had Brian Burke gone to his second or third choice, Marc Crawford, well, he too had Leaf connections, coaching their AHL team.
CFL COACHING SHUFFLE
This has been a strange season of coach shuffling in the Canadian Football League. And not necessarily in a good way. The Argos hired an offensive coordinator in Jonathan Himebauch, who almost days after accepting the position bolted for an NCAA job. The Stampeders recently promoted Dave Walkosky to defensive coordinator before he left for a college job. And that’s just two of many examples of a new trend that doesn’t help the CFL in any way. If you follow the bouncing football, there are an awful lot of CFL coaches who don’t want to be CFL coaches. And yet, there are all kinds of Canadians who can’t get CFL work or don’t get a chance because Americans who don’t want to be here are taking the jobs. Until they leave, that is. The CFL needs to look at this more closely and find a way to develop Canadian coaches who won’t be looking to walk at the first opportunity.
BOUNTY IN NEW ORLEANS
The National Football League must act sternly and with absolute conviction in the case of the New Orleans Saints placing bounties on individual players. This is one of the great offences in recent sporting times, where players were congratulated and compensated for injuring players. And when the NFL first investigated the scandal, it didn’t find sufficient evidence to go forward. But what it did find was all kinds of cover-up and all kinds of lying. Now, that they seemingly know the truth, the league must throw the book at the Saints, in particular departed defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, and head coach Sean Payton. The New England Patriots lost a first round draft pick and significant money for Spygate. This is far more heinous and deserving of a greater penalty.