The Toronto media is, thus far, giving the thumbs-up to the Leafs new coach Ron Wilson. That, in itself, is no surprise. The Leafs always hire good coaches, or at least, coaches that seem competent and well-qualified until they get behind the bench. Paul Maurice, Pat Quinn, Pat Burns – all came with pretty strong professional credentials, and so does Wilson. I will spare you the obligatory skepticism – I’ll refrain from mentioning that he’s never won a cup, and that the San Jose Sharks massively underperformed under his leadership the past two seasons. Fair to say that Wilson is a good hockey guy, is respected around the league, and should have no problem establishing authority in the dressing room.
The bigger concern remains that lack of a GM. It seems all but certain now that the Leafs are, in fact, biding their time until Brian Burke’s contract in Anaheim expires after next season. It’s now widely accepted as a fact that Brian Burke is the next GM of the Leafs, but that implies that 2008/09 is going to be a lost season in Toronto, and I think that’s a problem. (That also might be why Wilson immediately started managing down expectations yesterday.) Cliff Fletcher and the scouting staff will keep the seat warm. They will avoid signing any big contracts, will draft conservatively, and will try to clear out any dead wood that they can. But any thought of building an actual program, establishing an identity, and making all the critical little decision that go into building a contender? Those will have to wait another year.
And I know I’m practically alone in this, but I’m still not even sure that Burke is really worth waiting for. Yes, he’s a good hockey man. Yes, he has the powerful personality needed to blast through 40 years of sclerotic front office politics in Toronto (and that is a major plus in this city). But when you take a really detailed look at his record in Hartford, Vancouver and Anaheim, it’s hardly the stuff of legends. This is a guy who once thought Petr Skudra might be a #1 NHL goalie, and stuck with Dan Cloutier way beyond the point taht most other GMs had decided he was not a bona fide starter.
So, yes, Wilson’s arrival is a positive step. But the bigger problems remain, and it doesn’t appear that any solutions are coming soon.