To Fire or Not to Fire: The Problem of Employing a Close Friend

For certain reasons the word around Toronto media is that Ron Wilson’s job is secured for the near future. Why? Well a few common reasons are cited:

1: This is a team in rebuild mode. You don’t want to fire your coach for doing poorly when he has nothing to work with.

2: Toronto has had a very poor core of players to work with. You can’t blame the coach if no one is producing.

3: Wilson’s system works. The quick, offensive minded attack and point-shot-screen powerplay gets the job done, it just needs to be executed properly.

4: And finally, Wilson is a close friend of Brian Burke. If anyone knows the team and the coach, it’s the GM; he makes the calls and should know when Wilson’s time is up.

Well, if these four points are in fact true, then Wilson should stay on for the time being. There are a few problems, however.
The first point is difficult to argue against. The simple fact is that the team is still rebuilding since blowing up the JFJ team. One of the only problems is that the the team’s total number of points at the end of the regular season has been going in a downward trend since Burke took over and Wilson stepped in as coach (83,81,74 in the last 3 full seasons). Yes, the Leafs have had great streaks where they appear to be a team that could content for a spot in the post season, but they have also been mired in abysmal losing streaks that cost the leafs standing in the conference.
: The leafs are rebuilding, but seem to be getting worse.

Secondly, the argument is that the leafs have a weak roster and Wilson is working with what he has. The last two years in particular have seen an influx of talented players (e.g. Kessel, Phaneuf, Giguere, Versteeg, Armstrong, MacArthur) and the youth has began to develop (e.g. Schenn, Kulemin, Grabo [although mostly recently], Bozak, Gustavsson). How, then, is Wilson losing more games than 4 years ago? If no one produces, bring in producers, if they can’t turn the light on in the other end and keep the puck out of the net in their own, take a long hard look at the coaching staff.
: The teams seems to have gotten better – particularly defence and goaltending – but the points just aren’t raking up.

Now on to Wilson’s system. The per-season and first 5 or so games saw a quick, energetic team press the attack with confidence in their D and G. Fast, short passes with quick movement in the neutral zone led to chances, goal, and wins; in the meantime, a reliable Giguere and smart back end kept bad goals out and fed the disk up the ice. And then… well that’s just it, it’s hard to say what even happened. Impossible stretch passes, countless turnovers in all ends of the ice, a few weak goals (although otherwise the net has been the best, IMO), and an almost total inability to score. The leafs seem like a completely different team since mid October.
Conclusion: This year the roster is the same, but the results are dramatically different week to week.

Finally, we come to possibly the most critical component: the friendship factor. I think there is little doubt that Burke knows hockey, but is it possible his judgement is being clouded by his affection for Ron? As we’ve seen above, the leafs are getting worse season over season since the duo took over, the team seems to have gotten better but the points haven’t, and – on a more micro scale – the team is inconsistent and seem unable to win many games.
So what’s the conclusion here? Is Mr Wilson doing as good a job as he can with a young, offensively challenged team, or is he unable to sell his players on his style and unable to get them to play consistently? Even if they don’t win em all, the Leafs should look like the same team from one night to another.

So the question becomes, is Ron Wilson’s job safe because of Burke, or in spite of Burke? Would another GM have moved on by now, or at least in the near future (providing things stay the same)? Or is he good enough to be kept on, despite another losing record?


Post Script: For the Love of Hockey, if all you want to do is leave an anti Leaf comments, or personal hatred for some player, or myself, or anyone else that comments: just don’t! This form is for people who care about what is being discussed. If this doesn’t interest you just read something else.

85 Responses to To Fire or Not to Fire: The Problem of Employing a Close Friend

  1. leafy says:

    If Darryl Sutter can trade his own son, I don't think it would be strange if Burke fired his buddy Wilson. But it will take a lot of losing to spark it.

  2. realistic_leafs_fan says:

    Great points!

    To be honest. I started hating Wilson in his first season. I didn't like the way he trashed his players to the media.

    He had a better team than Paul Maurice and managed less points and more goals against. ( I wish we still had Maurice. Not a bad job he's doing in Carolina with one superstar forward a good rookie forward and a great goalie. We have more here but are worse off)

    We were promised a better defensive system under Wilson. We were told "The Leafs will have trouble scoring but they will be better in their own end". We were not better in our own end and still couldn't score. I really do not think the players like playing for him which is why you see the inconsistency. They are so afraid to make a mistake that they play tight due to the aftermath they know they will face for every wrong move.

    It has taken three years to be better in our own end and as you said, He has better players every year and gets worse results.

    Burke has found him a great staff and even got him the goalie guru…Allaire.

    I can't believe this guy still has a job. Burke should let him go. He couldn't even get a loaded team in San Jose to win a round in the playoffs…and we hired him as the coach of a re-building team.

    Oh oh…I'm starting to re-evaluate the job Burke is doing.


  3. frankinboltonleafs says:

    The Hurricane/Leaf comparison is interesting. Carolina has a game in hand. If we beat Jersey we're one point behind them. They have more GF but we're +10 better than them GA. I honestly think if we were them and they were us, (the Leafs)…the Leaf version of Carolina would be in fifth spot…and the Maurice led Leafs would be in 14th. This is a tough market to play in , (Toronto). It's hard to knock a coach when a Ledba blows a tire at the blueline and a Grabo passes the puck to an opposing player in front of his own net, (I'm using last nights game as an example but those major gaffs have plagued them this year). Next to Montreal I'm not sure there is a tougher market to play in. I think it's apples and oranges here. I like Wilson…think he's actually building a system I haven't seen here in a long time.

  4. frankinboltonleafs says:

    Lebda, Ledaba, Lebade…Lebda, Ledba, Ledba. I keep typing his name eventually I'll get it. Try it…say Ledba ten times fast.

  5. HABSSTAR says:

    Well here's the deal:  If Wilson was hired to bring the Leafs to the Cup then he was hire by Burke at the wrong time (and he's an idiot if he thought it was the right time).  Because everyone knew the Leafs were years off of a Championship, if ever, and Wilson would likely not be around for the bad and the good. 

    Wilson was a bait to lure Burke to the Leafs, however his coaching is a bit off for what the Leafs have.  At the end of the day one of either Wilson or Burke has to be held responsible for the nightmare season the Leafs are on track for having.  Likely it will first be the coach, then lastly the GM.  Just the way it works. 

  6. leafy says:

    I agree it's likely Burke will give Wilson the ol' heave ho, before the season's done.

    But like you said, that's only the start. If the Leafs finish in the bottom 5 again, there's going to be a serious backlash against Burke.

    The summer of 2011 could get interesting.

  7. lafleur10 says:

    burke will have to put a side his friendship with wilson,much like gainey did with carbonneau,and do what's best for the leafs,which i think is firing wilson at some point! because i really can see that the leafs don't like wilson and aren't listening to him anymore,they aren't buying what he is selling. ………that's going to cause alot more problems for the leafs this season  because if they can't win a few in the month here there playoff aspirations for this season are gone ,if they aren't already!
    like i said it's a tough decision but it has to be done,gainey fired carbonneau just 2 seasons after we finished 1st overall in the conference,and they were best friends like burke and wilson are!

  8. nordiques100 says:

    its not unprecedented you are right.

    Remember Gretzky agreeing with the majority in Phoenix in having Mike Barnett relieved of his duties.

    Those two were friends for 30 years but when Gretz didnt back up his friend there, i heard they don't speak anymore or at least didnt speak in the few years after the firing. that's tough. that's what Burke is going through in the thought process i am sure. 

  9. leafskadri93 says:

    It's not that the players aren't listening to him, they aren't producing. Before the Nashville game the leafs weren't going to the net and they weren't finishing their checks. Brian Burke is a GM first and a friend second. If he felt the players couldn't work under Wilson he would've booted his ass a long time ago.  

  10. coyotes_bettman says:

    It's not a brian burke move to fire his coach during the season – I honestly don't remember the last coaching change he ever made  during the season – I can't remember did he inherit Crow in Vancouver? And did he bring in Randy Carlyle with the Ducks?

    Either way – Wilson is gonna be safe for a few more games, Burke is a guy who really holds his players accountable, so unfortunately leafs fans you're stuck with Ronnie W for a little while longer!

  11. reinjosh says:

    I think its becoming more apparent. Its going to have to happen soon. That way Burke can save some face and make it apparent (without actually voicing it) that it was the coach he didn't hire that was making mistakes and not the players. Unfortunately, Wilson being his friend makes things difficult. I'm sure that a long conversation is going to happen between them first.

    You bring up the idea of an interesting 2011 offseason. It's got me thinking. As much as I want to see this team not finish in the bottom 5, I'm so morbidly curious to see what would happen. How would the fans react? Would they finally act in a way that would hurt the money MLSE brings in? Would MLSE and management finally start getting very interested and start to interject into team decisions? Would Burke make some drastic moves (like offering Semin and Richards multi year, multi million dollar deals, alla Sather with Gomez and Drury a few years ago)? Its an interesting idea to think about.

  12. reinjosh says:

    Yeah, its going to be a tough decision and he needs to do it properly. I have a feeling him and Wilson have already had a conversation about it and its just a matter of time.

  13. hockeylegend488 says:

    i know sj needs a d man what if we could posssibly trade schenn and kadri for bobby ryan i know its far fetched but i think wede be better with him

  14. Leafs420 says:

    just to clarify on the grabo mistake! he didnt pass the puck to the guy he was trying to shoot across which would have worked but he basically fanned on it and it slid nice and slowly to the opposing attacker

  15. Leafs420 says:

    I also think your *****ing crazy if you think we should trade schenn. hes to good to give up and will be with us for the next 10 – 15 years

  16. nordiques100 says:

    i think this is why People do not like Wilson:

    Tonight Gunnarsson draws back in……for Keith Aulie who is going to sit.

    Um, last I checked, Aulie was decent in 12 minutes the last game and not the fool who fell taking a simple pass at the point like someone else on the Leafs the last game.

    I hope they are wrong, but it will be a stupid move. Aulie has done ok in 2 games so far. Lebda has been atrocious.

  17. broc says:

    for trading Schenn and Kadri for Ryan..

    congratulations, you're an idiot

  18. mojo19 says:

    ya, the only thing I can think is that they always want to keep rotating these guys in and out each game so that no one ever goes too long without playing.

  19. realistic_leafs_fan says:

    A little surprised to see you take Wilson's side so  much in the Carolina comparison.

    This years Points totals aside…Maurice was here in Toronto and did a better job here with less talent than Wilson has right now or in the past two years. Under Maurice we missed the playoffs by a lousy shootout goal and had over 90 points.

    Maurice still managed more points here even after the JFJ firing and trade deadline dismantle. His players actually respect him and want to work hard for him.

    When he took over in Carolina last year…I believe they were in LAST overall. They went on a playoff push and talk started that they might make it, key injuries help sideline that. Carolina was obviously well behind the Leafs in the standings when Maurice took over yet they managed to finish 6 pts ahead of us even though we made our Phaneuf trade and played over 500 hockey after that.

    Carolina has started a re-build and are playing as good or better than us with less talent on their team.

    NO, Wilson cannot be held responsible for guys blowing a tire. But my point was the bad passes, the poor starts in games, the chicken with heads cut-off coverage in our own end, the panic under pressure,etc…I believe is the coaches responsibility to fix.

    I think he has them so wound up…they feel one mistake and I'm in the press box, or even worse…when I played a good game…I still might be in the press box or not see ice time for some reason.

    We have a young team that needs a Teacher…not a -Do it my way and never make a mistake or I will tear a strip off your ass and you will never see the ice again! Wrong approach for a young team.

    That's how I see Wilson. He has more talent to work with and we are not playing better as a unit.

  20. Leafs_RegimeofBurke_ says:

    well turns out that info is wrong — Lebda out tonight, Gunner and Aulie in.

    Kadri's playing phenomenal tonight, he's set up Kessel in hot spots like 6 times.

  21. leafy says:

    Really like Kadri's skills and game. Finally a dose of good news.

  22. leafy says:

    How come nobody's talking about Gustavsson? He's really playing great right now. Covers the net so well and his long legs take away the entire lower ice.

    If he stays in form, I really think Gustavsson should be no 1 even when Giggy gets back.

  23. leafy says:

    If the Leafs offered Semin and Richards deals, it would change the entire outlook of the team. So yea that would be awesome.

    But the Leafs have to do what they should have done last summer…free up some salary from their D. Just too much payroll on the blueline. I know it seems like an obvious point, but Burke didn't see it that way.

    If the Leafs resign Kaberle and ship out both Komisarek and Beauchemin, I think I'll throw a party.

  24. leafy says:

    Holy crap! Tampa and Philly combined for 15 goals. The 80's are back!

    Another 3 goals for Stamkos. Shades of Brett Hull in 1991.

  25. Leafs_RegimeofBurke_ says:

    He's looking confident out there! Lazy on the back check, but the defensive side will have to come with time.

    can't wait to see what this kid will be like in two years or so.. so creative and fluid offensively..needs to fill out quite a bit though, looks light. In all fairness to him he finished his hits well tonight VS NJ and played with grit, even when he was being beaten on by the likes of Volchenkov.

    he loves the toe and drag a bit too much. he needs to mix it up with the dekes… luckily I'll bet he's got a few tricks in the bag

  26. lafleur10 says:

    plus 2 assists he had 5 points in the game along with st.louis he had 5 assists that combo had 10 points on the night leafy!

  27. TheLeafNation91 says:

    I'm not sure about number 1 yet, but it looks like he's developing to that point.

    Were gonna take our time with Gustavsson, theirs really no need to rush with Giggy playing decent. But, he's getting pretty close.

    Also, no room for error with leafs goaltending. You have a dynamic duo with Reimer and Rynnas in the minors and Ben Scrivens who would be in the AHL for most teams.

  28. TheLeafNation91 says:

    What does everyone think of the Kadri callup???

    It's to early to say but I kind of like it. There's no pressure for Kadri to score or even get points, but its working and he's producing.

    I feel like his call up was to open up space for other players. Hence, Kessel not having all defenders on him 24/7. It seems like Nashville and New Jersey keyed in on Kadri to shoot, but they surprised the Devils with very smart passes to Versteeg and Kessel tonight espeically.

    I like him, don't know if he's ready yet but first line center or winger is definetley not out of the question.

    I JUST WISH TLUSTY DEVELOPED…I don't understand what happened there.

  29. lafleur10 says:

    he looks not to bad so far for you guys ln91 he definately could take over your top spot by the end of the season! he definately out played brodeur tonight

  30. mojo19 says:

    3 pts in 3 games. But really I think tonight he started to show what he can do. He looked pretty slick a couple of times and he's pretty creative. I think he just needs to get a bit stronger still, in the next couple years he's gonna be sweet.

    You gotta love those hands.

  31. mojo19 says:

    as for Tlusty I think he'll still have an NHL career. He'll be like a 20-30 point guy.

  32. mojo19 says:

    He'll make it easier to let Giguere go if we have to. We'll see how this year plays out, but its good to know we could have options.

  33. mojo19 says:

    Well Semin and Richards are both flakey players but you can't deny the talent. I would love to see the Leafs add those two UFA's.

  34. Leafs420 says:

    nah keep komi trade beauchimen trade lebda unless he only signed for one year. resign kaberle  so D Lineup Looks like

    Phaneuf Komi
    Schenn Kaberle
    Gunnarson Aulie
    with blacker and holzer on the buffer playing for ahl but ready to be called up

  35. reinjosh says:

    Crazy to think the Hockey News actually rated Kane ahead of St Louis this summer as best right wing. St Louis is easily a top 10 player in the league.

  36. Kramer says:

    The salary cap should be increased to $250 million.

  37. mojo19 says:

    Doesn't look too bad but you don't want Komisarek playing top pairing minutes.

    Schenn – Kaberle
    Phaneuf – Komi


  38. mojo19 says:

    That's the best comment you've ever written. Agree 100%

  39. realistic_leafs_fan says:

    Gus looks really solid. Great long quick legs, covers a lot of net. Still needs to work on rebound control though. He doesn't eat up a lot of pucks. Once he learns to absorb the shots over fighting them off…he will be a number 1.

    Most Leaf fans are happy with Jonas. Another good thing is, He cost us nothing to sign.

  40. mojo19 says:

    Of all the College free agents etc. Monster was the best thing Burke signed, and who knows maybe Rynnas will bring us more of the same. It would be nice to be able to do what Nashville does; keep bringing in more affordable, talented goaltending.

    My hopes aren't as high for Scrivens but Rynnas is looking really sharp. He was player of the week in the AHL last week. 3-0-0, GAA under 2.00, he was lights out.

  41. reinjosh says:

    Between Rynnas, Reimer, Gustavsson I think we have a pretty decent cabal of potential starters. I'm really impressed with Rynnas. I like what I see and its only his rookie season in North America.

  42. glotz_99 says:

    The latest rumor I've heard is Devon Setagouchi and a 3rd rd pick for Francois Beauchemin and a prospect.

    I know this trade doesn't address their need for a 1st line center, but would nonetheless add some scoring depth behind Kessel while San Jose is looking for a veteran D-man to replace Rob Blake.

  43. JoelJoel says:

    I think the most important thing he brings to the leafs is a distraction. By that I mean that every defender in the league knows that to shut down the leafs you only need to shut down number 81.

    Kadri draws defenders, he gets opponents nervous and forces them to puck chase. Look at the Kessel goal from the NJ game: two defenders and a high forward turn towards Nazim and leave Phil open at the edge of the circle. Deadly on a line together.

    Now imagine we could get a serious scoring threat (or two) for the second line? I still think this team is on the right track, the pieces are starting to fall into place…

  44. realistic_leafs_fan says:

    I agree guys. Goaltending future looks very promising.

    I'm going to pose a question as food for thought.

    Would it be better to go with the monster and say, Reimer or Rynnas as the backup next year?


    Try to sign Giggy to a year or two extension for a reasonable amount($3 mil range) to let those guys develop more?

    Just interested in thoughts.

    I think at the right price…Giggy and Gus make a great tandem. Since we are not sure what kind of load Gus can handle I wouldn't mind a veteran there as well. It would have to be a $3-$3.5 a year deal for Giggy and no worse though and no more than 2 years. My thoughts.

  45. realistic_leafs_fan says:


    I agree with you man. I have been saying all along(under a lot of fire form other Leafs fans) that this team IS on the right track. We are a 1st line centre and 1st line winger(with size) away from a very good hockey club.

    I realize that is still quite a bit to ask for on the Christmas list…but if someone told me we would be this young and this much farther along two seasons ago…I would have never belived it.

    Almost every player on the team is under 30. They haven't even hit their prime yet. This team CAN grow and mature together and will continue to get better. My only real concern…I don't think Wilson is the right coach to get us there.

  46. realistic_leafs_fan says:

    Hey guys.

    I agree signing Richards and Semin would be obvious improvement to our offence.

    How can we offord both of them baring any trades. In most cases trade are for either picks or the same return in money towards the cap. I think we would all agree, that in most cases that is true.

    We sit at $38.31 mil against the cap next year $41.81 if you include the Finger contract.

    Here is a list of our RFA and UFA that still need to be signed or let go for next year.


    We have a total of 13 players under contract that have currently been on the roster this year…not sure of the ones in the minors.
    Of those 13…7(Kessel, Versteeg, Armstrong, Grabo, Kulemin, Kadri, Orr) forwards, 5 D-men(Phaneuf, Komisarek, Beauchemin, Lebda, Aulie)1 goalie(Gustavsson).

    Richards and Semin would likely demand no less than $12 mil per season to have both.

    If the cap stays at around $59 mil and we signed both for as little as $12 mil, we would be at $50 mil and still need to sign 5 more players just to fill a roster.

    In that 5…Schenn(who will be looking for a minimum $3mil), Gunnarsson, Bozak and if you wanted to keep kaberle. We would also need to still sign a goalie and at least one more player to make a team.

    Unless Burke can dump some salaries without taking anymore on…I don't see it happening.

    Also remember…Guatavsson becomes UFA after next year and is only making $1.35 mil. If we make him the number 1…think he might want a raise?

    Not saying it wouldn't be great…Realistically I just don't see it happening.
    Out of the two…If I could only get 1, Richards.

  47. realistic_leafs_fan says:

    HMMMM. Interesting rumour.

    Setagouchi dropped off huge last year and has not shown that he has rebounded this year. He is an RFA at end of season as well.

    Last thing the Leafs need is ANOTHER second line winger if he doesn't develop back to his 31 goal season form.

    Although, Toronto could use to lighten the salary cap hit from their D and that is the most depth we have…

    In short…We trade a steady veteran D-man who is not afraid of the tough stuff and a prospect, for a sruggling prospect who may develop into a first line winger and a probable work in progress pick (late 3rd round)who may or may not make it.

    This is a real risky one for the Leafs…It would really depend on who that prospect we have to give up is. If it's someome the Leafs could afford to lose…maybe Holzer, Boyce, that kind of prospect. I think I would do it. All depends on who the prospect is.

  48. realistic_leafs_fan says:

    One more thing…Ryan plays for Anaheim and not San Jose.

    Yes, San Jose is looking for a D-man…hard to trade someone you don't have though.

  49. Leafs_the_word says:

    I like it, it'd be a cheaper version of Giggy/Hiller which worked well for the Ducks.

    I like Gigeure's personality, he's all business and work ethic, he always looks drained with his head hanging from exhaustion.  With a young team you need someone to example of discipline. 

Leave a Reply