Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke can't fire himself, but unless he's is tired of this mess and negotiating a buyout, not firing head coach Ron Wilson is inexcusable.
Loyalty and principle are swell, but not when they're merely delaying the inevitable. The percentages suggested all along that Wilson would be gone before Burke's six-year contract was half done. So be it, then.
This is not only about being shut out six times in 16 games; it's about an NHL team that has lost its way and a coach who is incapable of righting it with what he has on hand. It's about a team that is 29th out of 30 teams in one of the most coachable areas for a young squad full of guys trying to make their bones: killing penalties.
In recent weeks, both goaltender Jean-Sébastien Giguère and defenceman Luke Schenn have called out their teammates for lack of effort. Giguère did it again Thursday, after hearing chants of "Fire Wilson" during a 5-0 loss to the Edmonton Oilers at the Air Canada Centre, saying Toronto fans knew when the Leafs "don't work as hard as we can."
On Friday, there were several professions of faith in the coaching staff by the players, and much falling upon swords. There were even suggestions Wilson has even softened his bedside manner with the players; that he's brandished the whip-hand less often.
So let's see: A team that can't score goals let alone win games admits it isn't trying hard enough, doesn't know whom (let alone what) will correct that tendency, but apparently isn't angry enough to turn on its coach publicly? Sounds like a new type of "blue and white disease," no?
Burke said in an interview with The Globe and Mail last Monday that Wilson's job was safe and he reiterated it to all-sports cable TV network TSN on Friday.
That's Burke: stout-hearted, honourable and willing to play the human shield. God bless him; we should all have the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan looking after our retirement and we should all have a boss like Burke, who is all too aware it is he who collected all these third- and fourth-line odds and ends, that it is he who made the Martin Gerber and Phil Kessel deals, two trades that appeared to address short-term issues at the expense of long-term goals.
And, yes, it is Burke who has failed to execute the necessary corollary deal that would have helped the Kessel transaction make a little more sense; who has been unable to land another one, let alone two, first-line forwards or replenish the draft picks he lost. Burke has misread the market, and put way too much faith in his peers running and hiding from the salary cap.
It is appropriate to support his beleaguered coach publicly, because Burke still has enough currency with ownership, media and folks in the expensive seats who are too gentle to bray at the players and coach. (Um, pass the sushi, okay?)
Just as long as Burke doesn't believe 100 per cent what he says; just as long as he has at least a caretaker to in mind to replace Wilson, if not necessarily an immediately available long-term replacement.
Few observers predicted this team would make the playoffs, let alone win the Stanley Cup. And even the dimmest among us suspected this club wouldn't score goals. But the least that was expected was a sense of direction and noticeable improvement in the performance of players who might actually amount to something in the next two to three years.
On the ice, the Leafs still appear as clueless as they were three years ago and, I'm sorry - that's on the coaches.
Burke surely knew the day would come when he'd have to tie the can to his buddy, Ron Wilson, because that's what the percentages suggested. This is a mulligan, maybe Burke's only one.
Might as well take it, in full knowledge he will never hear these words: "You never should have fired Ron Wilson."
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