Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday we ask our roster of hockey writers to weigh in on an issue from the world of puck.
Today we throw out a hypothetical on the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs.
The question: If Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke does decide to fire Ron Wilson, who should he hire as his next head coach?
Come home, Pat Quinn, all is forgiven!
Seems to me that it all depends on Burke's priority: short-term or long-term?
Does he want an established NHL coach (ie., an unemployed guy like Ken Hitchcock, Bob Hartley, John Stevens or - gulp - Guy Carbonneau) or is he willing to go off the board with someone who has no experience at the top level (like a Bob Boughner, Scott Arniel or Kevin Dineen) in hopes of unearthing the next Joe Sacco or Guy Boucher?
Still, it's hard to imagine Burke'd bring someone with little or no top-level experience in Toronto, but at this stage, why the hell not?
A guy like Hitchcock is the conservative choice and even though he's similar to Wilson in his philosophy, could be the right fellow to get the house in order system-wise.
That said, he's known for being a bit of a hard-ass and players usually end up tuning those guys out, so he's not a stable, long-term solution.
But it's not like there are many Scotty Bowman clones floating around out there.
There's only one guy who can truly coach a Brian Burke-made team and that's John Brophy. Bring back old-time hockey. Bring back the Broph.
Okay, so it's not going to happen. Too bad, though. It would have livened up the post-game interviews.
Reporter: "What did you say that got the opposing team's goalie so angry?"
On a more serious note, Craig MacTavish is a smart hockey man who needs to be back in the game. He took the Edmonton Oilers to within a win of the Stanley Cup and he has the right temperament to work in Toronto's pressure-sealed environment. Besides, any guy who has tried to coax consistency out of Dustin Penner has ample experience in dealing with the Toronto Maple Leafs' woes.
Love Sean Gordon's suggestion of Pat Quinn. A lot of people don't realize this, but Quinn has a great rapport with young players and, bless his Irish heart, actually believes in attack hockey more than stifling defence hockey. Alas, it's not likely to be.
Myself I would go with Ron Wilson, who may grate some the wrong way, who may be a tad egotistical (!) but who is actually saying the right things these days. The problem is not the coaching, but the players. Hockey, once the puck drops, is perhaps the least coachable ot the Big Four North American sports. You don't "send in" plays, as in football, despite the silly game-board sketching that goes on when the goalie is pulled and the clock winding down. You don't use the wild strategies of baseball as hockey is far more a game of "stuff happens" than it is of "stuff is arranged to happen."
Wilson has a fine grasp of the game, as he has shown in previous incarnations from the Washington Capitals to the World Championships and Olympics. Wilson needs players who can execute the rather simply game plans of NHL hockey coaching. He needs speed, which currently rules the NHL, as it should. And he needs time, which few NHL coaches are ever granted. If you are going to rebuild -- and that, we have been told, is the plan for the Toronto Maple Leafs -- it requires time and it also requires, history teaches us, long periods of bad, bad, bad. That's where the Leafs currently are and the unfortunate thing is that they are, at the moment, unable to capitablize on the benefits of being bad.
The secret now is for General Manager Brian Burke to chase draft picks to replace, or at least partially replace, those lost on the Phil Kessel deal, and then to show the patience with Wilson that Toronto fans and media seem incapable of showing.
I would wait until the end of the season and see who shakes loose at that point.
The problem with making a mid-season coaching change is your options are limited. Few teams are going to surrender the next Guy Boucher or Scott Arniel if they are already coaching in their system and either a) being groomed for the top job; or b) doing good work in terms of developing their prospects down on the farm.
Accordingly, you're left with choosing from among the legitimate NHL coaches, on the unemployment lines, still seeking work - Pat Quinn, as mentioned above, Craig MacTavish, Ken Hitchcock, Mike Keenan, Andy Murray. All have had success at different times in their careers. None, save MacTavish perhaps, would be a good fit in Toronto. GM Brian Burke already fired Keenan once in his career; there's no fit there. Quinn does have a history with Burke, and on an interim basis, would probably do a good job. At this stage of his life, would he want to do the job on an interim basis? Probably not. MacTavish at least has the experience of working previously in a Canadian market and while Edmonton is not Toronto, the peculiar demands of coaching in Hogtown probably wouldn't faze him as much.
But what if Randy Carlyle is available next year, someone who coached the Ducks in 2007 to a Stanley Cup with Burke as GM? Or some other young hotshot? Part of the problem with the Toronto rebuilding strategy was its impatience - too many dollars committed to free agents that haven't worked out, or trades (for Phil Kessel) that have backfired. Now is not the time to act impatiently and end up with a coach that turns out to be the wrong choice.
What is it they say about marriage? Act hastily and repent in leisure. Might be something to think about.
How about reviving Sam Pollock via séance, if only to consult with Burke regarding rebuilding?
Maybe he can make a deal with the California Golden Seals for some picks and cash.
Bring one of the game's tall foreheads in and let him run the show for the rest of the year while promising him a promotion to a cushy front office job next season. You can never have too many vice-presidents of this or directors of that. Then do a proper search and bring in a legit guy who can work with kids. It's Ron Wilson; he's disposable.