The fans chanted "Fire Wilson" at the ACC. The Toronto Maple Leafs went on a 1-9-1 skid in February, falling five points off the playoff pace. The trade deadline passed without a significant move, something that was casually noted by their coach in postgame comments this week.
Make that ex-coach: Ron Wilson, protected by his friend and general manager Brian Burke for the better part of his four seasons with the Leafs, was fired late Friday after going 29-28-7 this season. The move was first reported by Darren Dreger of TSN.
It's about damn time. But does it make sense this late in the season?
With the hiring of former Anaheim Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle as the new head man for the Leafs, beginning on Saturday night at the Montreal Canadiens, the answer is "yes."
Not that the Leafs are going to make the dance. If the threshold is 92 points for admittance into the Eastern Conference playoffs, then the Leafs have to go 13-4-1 the rest of the way. This is their schedule in March. Do you see more than five losses on there?
The argument for some like my colleague Nick Cotsonika was "if Wilson doesn't make the playoffs, let him go and let the new guy start fresh."
Well, there's another option: Burke knew he wanted Carlyle — and, likely, that Carlyle was going to be in demand this summer — so he brings him in. Lets him get a feel for the roster over the next month and a half. If he turns this thing around, all the better. It's a great bit of on-the-job training for next season.
Burke hired Carlyle in Anaheim in Aug. 2005, eventually winning the only Stanley Cup in franchise history in 2007. From his introductory presser for the Ducks:
Anaheim GM Brian Burke considers Carlyle a perfect fit for his own hockey philosophy. "I wanted to find a coach that matches my intensity level. I hate to lose," Burke said at a news conference. "I know Randy hates to lose as much as I do."
In handicapping Carlyle as a candidate, Terry Koshan of the Sun wrote:
Some think that Burke's old pal from their Anaheim days simply is waiting in the wings, but would Burke be that transparent? Carlyle has been out of work since he was fired by the Ducks in November, just days after the Leafs won in Anaheim. Burke and Carlyle won the Stanley Cup together with the Ducks in 2007, and there's no coach out of work with whom Burke has a greater familiarity. In six seasons behind the Ducks bench, Carlyle missed the playoffs just once (kind of makes you dream, eh Leafs Nation?). By the way, Carlyle's nature with the media is such that Wilson looks like a ray of sunshine by comparison.
That Burke waited as long as he did to fire Wilson is a testament to his loyalty, which trumped good sense.
Weep not for Wilson, who leaves with another year on his contract, handed to him like a gift to a death row inmate. He'll eventually find another gig and there's a growing sentiment that he wasn't the problem here — as Lambert spelled out today — but other coaches lost their jobs for far less. Greg Brady from FAN 590 agreed:
Ron Wilson will get the heave-ho soon enough, and I admit, it isn't working out here, but at no point has he ever been given a roster which has been in the upper half of the NHL in terms of talent, and for that alone, he should bear little responsibility for the lack of playoff games at the ACC. Making the playoffs any of the previous three seasons would have been a staggering overachievement.
So this is Brian Burke's final stand. Randy Carlyle should be the last coach he hires in Toronto. As much as the emphasis has shifted to the players in these final weeks of the season, it completely shifts to the front office as soon as the offseason hits. Wilson's been scapegoated; it's Burke's triumph or tragedy now.
Funny how life works out sometimes, as this Burke Tweet from Dec. 11 reminds us:
And funny how life works out for a player like Joffrey Lupul, in the midst of a career year and now reunited with a coach he claimed completely misused him in Anaheim.
This is going to be fun.