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Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere reacts during third period NHL hockey action as his team goes on to 5-0 loss to Edmonton Oilers in Toronto on Thursday December 2, 2010.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Chris Young

Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson has been behind an NHL bench for more games than all but six other men in league history, and in that time, his reputation has become fairly well established.

He is known to be caustic and critical, sometimes to a fault, a tendency that has at times created rifts with high-profile players and members of the media in his three previous NHL stops.

With the Leafs once again mired near the league's basement, however, a different Wilson has emerged lately, one who hasn't been nearly as combative with the press and is preaching a happier message to his team.

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Despite the fact Toronto has won only four times in its past 20 games, there hasn't been any ranting and raving, on the bench or in the dressing room - even after truly dismal outings like Thursday's 5-0 loss to the Edmonton Oilers.

"There's been no yelling or screaming or anything like that," Wilson said. "We're trying to be positive.

"The most important people to be positive are all the players in the room. And to not get down if they don't score or frustrated or go away to your quiet little comfortable place when it's not going your way."

Preparing for a stretch in which Toronto will face the five top teams in the Eastern Conference in the next eight days, the Leafs continued to stand behind their coach after the crowd began calling for him to be fired late in Thursday's loss.

"It's not Ron's fault," netminder Jean-Sébastien Giguère said. "It's up to us. I don't think that's going to happen to be honest. I don't know how many years I've played, but I've never seen a coach get fired yet and I sure hope it's not going to happen on my watch."

Giguère added that Wilson is less difficult to deal with than his reputation suggests.

"He's a very personable guy," he said. "He doesn't come in and just start ripping guys and stuff like that, that's not his style, not since I've been here.

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"We owe it to him to go out and play hard for him."

Leafs general manager Brian Burke, meanwhile, reiterated to the media on Friday that Wilson would not be fired, and with Christmas approaching, it seems unlikely a change will be made until at least the New Year.

By that point, Toronto's already slim playoff hopes could be completely wiped out. With 20 points after 24 games, the Leafs need to earn roughly 70 more points over their final 58 games to have a solid shot at the postseason.

Getting to that point would require a record equivalent to 32-20-6 to close the year, a nearly 100-point full-season pace that will be hard to hit no matter who is behind the bench.

The Leafs are on pace for only 68 points, six fewer than when they finished 29th overall last season.

What else can Burke do?

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Given he has ruled out a coaching change, Burke's other option may be to pull the trigger on a trade to shake up his team, something he has been known to do throughout his career.

One issue is just how difficult deals are to pull off given factors such as the salary cap and how close teams are bunched in the standings.

General managers are also reluctant to deal with teams in their own conferences for fear that they will improve a team that could then pass them for a playoff spot.

"It's much more difficult than it used to be to get people talking about players," one Eastern Conference general manager said.

The number of GMs and scouts at Leafs games has been on the rise recently. Teams tend to survey struggling organization's rosters more than others in the hopes they can make a deal.

"It's a little tougher to deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who just won their eighth straight," a GM said. "The teams that need something are the ones that aren't winning all the time so you're talking to teams like the Leafs."

With captain Dion Phaneuf likely to return to the lineup in time for Toronto's swing through Western Canada beginning Dec. 14, the most probable deal the Leafs could make would involve moving a defenceman for help up front.

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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