Climb down off the ledge, Maple Leafs fans.
If, as has been reported, coach Ron Wilson’s contract extension is for one year, it makes it just as easy to get rid of him at the end of this season if the club doesn’t make the NHL playoffs.
This extension sends a message to the Maple Leafs’ dressing room, a reminder that the Eastern Conference is going to be so tight that teams will likely be jockeying in and out of playoff spots the rest of the way. There will be big crises and little crises ahead for the Leafs, and all general manager Brian Burke has done is remove the lame-duck angle to any story. No wonder they let Wilson tweet it it on Christmas Day and use an unfortunate movie analogy.
Darren Dreger of TSN reported the extension is for one year and can be changed at the end of the season. Burke would not confirm Dreger’s report about terms, and in an e-mail message had a simple explanation for the timing: “He earned an extension, no reason to wait.”
Wilson has done nothing as head coach with the Maple Leafs that would earn him an extension from most general managers. Longevity does not equate with greatness. He hasn’t made the playoffs and his teams have been among the league’s bottom-feeders in special-teams play. The power play has improved this season, but the penalty-kill is a joke; the club is a hoot to watch offensively, and entertaining, but defensively it is often a mess.
Seriously, if it were up to me, Wilson wouldn’t have had the chance to have the third best record since the all-star break, or whatever it is; he’d have been fired. And I surely wouldn’t give him an extension. Frankly, looking at the mess in Montreal, I’m more worried long-term about keeping Toronto Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins in the fold. Yet do you think Burke cares what you or I or anybody else in the media thinks? In terms of public perception, this doesn’t make the Leafs or Burke any more likeable to fans or detestable to detractors.
Burke isn’t like most general managers. He revealed Monday that he and Wilson, who negotiates his own contract without an agent, had come to an agreement “three or four weeks ago.” The guess here is they also have their exit strategy figured out, because this was an affirmation of the Burke-Wilson relationship aimed solely at the dressing room. It was, as Burke said, about giving Wilson both the whip and the chair to wield on the Leafs down the stretch. That’s why it was the head coach himself who made the announcement.
Still, you’d like to think Wilson could have chosen better than the Red Ryder BB gun analogy from The Christmas Story in announcing his extension. In that classic, Peter Billingsley’s character Ralphie – and if that isn’t a puckhead nickname, what is? – gets his wish for Christmas. He’s warned by everyone that he’ll shoot his eye out with the BB gun and almost does that on Christmas morning, saved only by his glasses.
Burke says this announcement means “the burden has shifted to the coach,” after saying the Leafs’ record up until last year’s all-star break was on him more than Wilson. Some will say Burke and Wilson are now both in position to be taken out by the ricochet, as was Ralphie, but the optics have changed more than the reality. Without a playoff berth, Wilson will now be gone by mutual consent as opposed to being fired – with a nicer gold watch.
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