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The Toronto Maple Leafs new coach skates with Tyler Bozak at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Saturday. (Graham Hughes/Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)
The Toronto Maple Leafs new coach skates with Tyler Bozak at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Saturday. (Graham Hughes/Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Sean Gordon

The inside story behind decision to can Wilson, court Carlyle Add to ...

“We have to find a way to re-energize the group. It’s not that they have lost their skills, it’s just that we have to rekindle their spirit,” said Carlyle.

For his part, Burke brushed aside the concerns over goaltending, insisting that “the reason we’re still alive statistically is because of [goalie]Jonas Gustavsson saving our ass twice during this season.”

Even in the final home game of Wilson’s tenure – a critical loss to the Florida Panthers in which the Leafs gave up goals on their first two shots – it’s unfair to point the finger at goalie James Reimer.

“What’s the goalie supposed to do about those two shots? Is there a goalie in the league that makes one of those saves? I don’t think so. It’s not just the goaltending in my mind, I think the goaltending is bearing a disproportionate and unfair share of the blame for where we are. I don’t think the goaltending’s been as bad as people think,” he said.

Either way, Burke clearly felt that the immediate prescription to stop the rot was to dismiss Wilson – and as to why he wouldn’t wait until the end of the season, Burke said he preferred to install someone now to impose new systems and philosophies rather than make the transition at training camp.

“If we’re going to miss, we’re going to miss with a coach who gives us a better chance next fall. We have control over the playoff spot with the schedule we have and the teams we play if we win our games. It’s still a realistic, difficult road with the opponents we have, but it’s still a realistic thing,” he said.

And in Carlyle, who is known as a taskmaster, Burke has precisely the kind of coach he loves.

“I don’t like coaches who are warm and fuzzy. The games shouldn’t be fun, I tell players this all the time, the fun part of the game is winning. The game itself should be a difficult contest filled with hard decisions and hard battles, and most of the reinforcement a player gets during the game is negative. The coach can’t go around and say ‘you just had a great shift.’ He’s correcting somebody else who was on that shift,” Burke said. “I don’t want it any other way, I like coaches who are hard on players. Look at coaches who are successful in our league, they’re not warm and fuzzy guys. John Tortorella used to work for me, coached for me in the Olympics, this is not a guy that you’re going to have on the bench who’s going to friendly and warm and fuzzy with the players. It’s not the hockey player’s way, he’s demanding on players.”

Burke also said that he and Carlyle are even more attuned than he was with his old friend Wilson, who he first met when the two were freshmen on the Providence College hockey team – New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello was the coach.

“If there’s one philosophical commitment that Randy and I share, it’s I like a rough team. And I think if you can point to one thing where Ron and I were on a different page, slightly, it would be that. I like it a little rougher than Ron does. But that’s the only part we were in disagreement on,” Burke said.

In Carlyle, he said the Leafs will also have a coach who defines each player’s task in stark and unmistakable terms.

“One, on Randy’s team there’s blue-collar guys and there’s white-collar guys who know their jobs. Two, he’s demanding, he’s hard on players. And three, he likes a physical game, he likes a crude game. Same as I do,” said Burke.

With reports from Steve Ladurantaye and Tara Perkins

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