May Be Time To Can Wilson

With a 0-5-1 record, its maybe time for a coaching change in Toronto.

Yes, its only been 88 games into Ron Wilson’s career as coach of the Maple Leafs but already he appears to have lost the attention of the players.

While the demise of the team early this season is not all his doing, he is part of the problem. And as the old saying goes, its easier to can the coach than dump 20 players, especially in a cap world.


So a change behind the bench seems the most logical move.

The team has given up a league worst 27 goals in the 6 losses. They are barely over 50% in terms of penalty killing success rate and all the problems from last year, where shoddy defence did them in, its rearing its ugly head again this season.

Indeed, it seems unfair. They dont have arguably their best forward in the lineup. They’ve lost both goalies to injury and there is a host of new players resulting in some time needed to gel.

But its not working.

From this point of view, Wilson is trying to make lasagna our of lemons. He has seemingly tried to make his team play a style completely not suited to the talents given to him.

He wants his team to be aggressive, be physical and be a full out, hard forechecking team. That simply cannot be done with the makeup of this group.

6 of their top 9 forwards are European. They simply do not play that kind of hockey over there. It isnt a stereotype or a Don Cherry bias. Its the truth.

Yes they are good skaters and have skill, but ask them to try and put opponents through the glass, well thats just a waste of time.

They have the weakest group of centres in the league. Sadly rookie Bozak is arguably their best two-way centre along with journeyman Wallin. Key cogs like Stajan, Grabovski and Mitchell are either too soft or lack enough defensive awareness to handle the role.

It does not help either having an ultra small group up front. Sure there’s Orr but there is no one on the roster who would have defencemen looking over their shoulder.

Blake and Grabovski are tiny. Wallin, Stempniak, Hagman and Kulemin are not strong enough to win puck battles. Ponikarovsky and Stajan are two of the most softest forwards in the league. And to expect rookies like Stalberg or Bozak to carry the load is asking for trouble.

The makeup of this team seems best suited to play a strong transition style with emphasis on positioning and quickness rather than brute strength and nastiness. Sure GM Brian Burke wants truculence and belligerence but this group is far from that.

They are not suited to being a forecheck team. Maybe a team that plays trap or left-wing lock or heck even the Swedish torpedo is probably better. To expect a player like say Ponikarovsky to change his whole game and be the next Cam Neely and start pile driving people is plain stupid.

Using a more passive style that leans more on speed and smarts has to be the best route as they seem over aggressive and are showing complete neglect to positioning.

The style of play hurts the D as well as they seem hell bent on making something happen physically out of nothing. The likes of Beauchemin, Komisarek, Exelby and Schenn have tried much too hard to establish a physical game. While the crowds would love a bone crunching hit, playing steady D is appreciated by the true hockey fan.

If they hold their position, the ability to make something big happen, just happens. Right now they are looking too hard to being an aggressive, hardnosed team and they simply cannot play that way.

Using that style is a fault of the staff not recognizing what a team has and using its strengths.

Lets take the Predators as an example. Coach Barry Trotz had them playing a high octane offence when they had Kariya, Forsberg, Radulov among other key stars. When they became depleted, they were turned into a rather passive, strict defence first team. The coach recognized the look of the roster and adapted accordingly.

Unless Wilson can do that in the next 11 days (with just 1 game in that time), he deserves to be canned. He has not shown any willingness to budge of his game plan. Be it arrogance or stubborness or job security of a 4 year contract who knows. But its about time he steps up or steps aside.

We all know goaltending has let the team down so far. Outside of the 2-1 loss where “the Monster” played well, its been a weak effort in goal the other 5 losses. It has been deflating not getting the big save or even the first save. Its why a good goalie always makes a coach look good.

But the problems of the Leafs go beyond goaltending right now. The team is not responding, have looked like quitters and are not heeding the advice from the coaches. That’s why a change behind the bench may be the most sensible move.

It would be a bitter pill to swallow for Burke as Wilson is a friend and his coach at the Olympics. But the team that employs him has been dreadful and something must be done with that, regardless of the optics.

People have called for a mulligan on the Kessel trade. People are calling for the heads of Blake and Toskala. People cannot wait to see Finger and Stempniak cast away. People want young Nazem Kadri to carry the load now.

But at the end of the day, its not going to matter. The team improved vastly on paper this off season. Surely not all of these newcomers suddenly stopped knowing how to play hockey in 6 games. They should be improved but are not.

A roster makeover, a full camp and 15 exhibition and regular season games combined has done nothing to improve the team. For that, maybe its time a new voice starts pointing them in the right direction.

We can look at it 2 ways. With just 1 game over the next 11 days, maybe Wilson gets the reprieve and gets the chance to start anew and changes things up. Or, with this light sked, maybe a change now, allowing the new coach lots of time to teach and practice would be just what the tonic ordered.

There are some candidates. Damian Cox in his article on www.thestar.com passingly mentioned some guy named Gretzky as a possibility. While a longshot, that would be maybe the shock and awe move to have an impact and easily be the sexiest move made.

Or they could turn to experienced fellows like MacTavish, Carbonneau, Nolan, Hartley, Laviolette, Keenan, Therrien, among others.

No matter who, at some point the players will have to start listening. And the safe bet is they will…..so long as it’s not Wilson’s voice.


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