The “Fire Wilson” chants from earlier this week did not fall on deaf ears, as the Toronto Maple Leafs Friday announced the firing of Ron Wilson. He will be replaced by ex-Anaheim Ducks coach Randy Carlyle.
The wheels have come off for Toronto over the past month. After a promising 10-5-1 start that led many to believe this would be the year the Leafs qualified for the playoffs for the first time since the lockout, the Leafs have since gone 19-23-6, including 1-9-1 in their last 11 games, and find themselves five points out of a playoff spot.
“This was not an easy decision for me to make,” Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke said in a statement. “I want to thank Ron for all of his hard work and dedication to our organization over the past four seasons.”
Wilson, who was hired in June 2008, finished his tenure with a 130-135-45 record. He had one winning season in 2010-11, good enough for 10th in the conference.
Carlyle and Burke have a past together, as the duo won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007. Carlyle was fired by the Ducks earlier this season.As with all professional sports, the coach is the first to go after disappointing results. But anyone that thinks Wilson is the cause of this disappointing stretch has to re-asses the situation.
The Leafs’ goaltending duo of James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson haven’t been able to stop beachballs lately. Gustavsson has an .899 save percentage since Jan. 18. If your goalie cannot make saves, you’re going to have trouble winning games.
A huge reason for the Leafs’ success earlier in the year was the goal machine that was Phil Kessel. After scoring 21 goals in his first 38 games, Kessel has only produced 11 goals his last 26 games. Any team lacking depth needs to lean on its best players. When they aren’t producing, the team isn’t going to be successful.
Although Wilson isn’t not safe from all the blame, some of the onus must befallen upon Burke, who has been at the helm since 2008. Burke had drastic needs he had to address at the trade deadline but played it safe, making a minor move with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Standing pat could work in Florida, or Colorado or Carolina. But not in Toronto where fans have not seen a playoff game since 2004.
Wilson, who signed a contract extension with Toronto a couple months back, was critical of the lack of moves, questioning the why the organization didn’t acquire a second-tier scorer, a shutdown defenseman or a goalie for the stretch run. Burke felt it wasn’t in the team’s best interest to make a splash.
There is no question the Leafs have spiraled out of control, and are more than likely headed to another early summer break. But for Leafs fan who thought the quick remedy would be axing Wilson, they’re in for a surprise. This Leaf squad is flawed, and now that the distraction of a failed head coach is behind them, the spotlight will shift to the 23 players on the ice, and the man perched high up at the Air Canada Centre.
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