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Is today a good day to ask for a raise? The Wilson extension: a matter of time—and timing?

Going back to last season, I put forward some preliminary thoughts about whether or not Ron Wilson was in line for an extension to his current contract. The Leafs got off to that short-lived “good start” last October, winning those four games in a row.  But they soon struggled, and Wilson never received his extension.

That said, the team did appear to make some strides toward the end of last season, not coincidentally after James Reimer arrived on the scene and stabilized the goaltending situation.

I penned a piece here that declared that I was certain Burke would give Wilson a new deal very soon after the Leafs concluded their regular season last April.  I was not shocked but rather surprised when that did not happen.

As the summer went on, Burke made it clear that while he was supportive of Wilson and had not given him strong enough teams to work with, he wasn’t yet prepared to offer a new deal, even though Wilson was heading into the final year of his original four-year contract.  He made it clear that he had already been loyal to Wilson, but that the beginning of this season would (and I am paraphrasing only) help to clarify what direction he wanted to go.

He did allow that, if the team got off to a very good start to the season, an offer to extend the coach might well be forthcoming.

So here we are, in November, and the Leafs have a record of 9 wins, 5 losses and 2 OT "ties"- despite losing their top goalie early on.  That said, the last two games, against Boston and Florida, have re-calibrated our early-season enthusiasm.

So is today a good day to ask for a raise, if you're Wilson?  Probably not as good as it was a few days ago.

What is Burke thinking?  Is an extension forthcoming?

From my perspective, this is a dicey situation.  I’ve seen so many occasions over the years in professional sports where an organization, in the euphoria of a good streak, rewards the coach with a new deal and extends him for several seasons with a nice raise to boot.  Not infrequently, the team goes back to earlier form, struggles mightily, and before you know it, the General Manager has to fire the guy that was rewarded only months or maybe a year or so previous.  That leaves the organization with a big bill to pay out the contract, and inevitably also means that they are paying two coaches at the same time—the new guy, and the one being paid to do nothing.

Specifically with regard to Wilson, here is the overview.  He has had a fine, long-term career as an NHL coach.  He is considered a very good NHL coach and has been for years.  (That said, in this highly sophisticated day and age, how many “poor” head coaches are there in the NHL?)

He has led winning teams, but rarely gotten deep into the playoffs.  No Cups on his resume, but some international achievements that should not be neglected in any discussion about credentials.  He is a mix of old school and new.  He still commands respect from the players.  He is often clipped and defensive in his daily media interactions in the Toronto pressure-cooker, but that’s only one component of “the job”, though a key one, for sure.

As far as his years in Toronto, Wilson can be forgiven for the team’s failure to make the playoffs in three seasons—if we accept Burke’s suggestion that Wilson has not, until now, been provided with enough talent to mold a playoff-caliber team.  I don’t, because other teams (and other coaches) have done better in less time in turnaround situations.  But that’s just my view, and I recognize that other Leaf observers feel differently.

Reimer's unclear status aside, we can feel pretty good about the team’s status right now, 15 games into a new season, yes.  But that is still a small sample size, and if I were in Burke’s shoes, I would be reluctant to jump quickly in assessing Wilson’s achievements with the current roster until much deeper into the season.

Remember, we’re not even talking about how he has handled a Leaf squad in the playoffs, which was ultimately why he was fired in San Jose.  That was (and still is) a team with great talent, fantastic regular season results but always disappointing playoff exits.

Maybe of more pressing concern to those who assess coaches are two things I tend to look at, too:  goals against, and special teams.

Now, to be “good” in those areas you do need talent, but a lot of it has to do with instilling in players a resolve to get the job done.  Team defense is about systems, sure, but it’s mostly about hard work, smarts, tenacity and a willingness to block shots and work until you are exhausted- and then do it all again.

The Leafs have not been good in the past three years, and I feel they still give up too many goals.  It can’t all be “The Monster”, eh?  He has allowed some soft goals, yes, but the issues are deeper, I feel, than a few bad goals.  Great goaltending can cover many ills but if you are a coach and you see those "ills", you obviously have to strive to correct them as best you can.  You can't always rely on your goalie being outstanding.

As for special teams, well, we are now four seasons into the “Wilson effect”, and we are still waiting to see great results.  We are now into our second set of assistant coaches, too, and these guys were supposedly going to make difference in this key area.  Again, we wait.  Yes, the penalty killing has been "better" the last few games, but in the context of two lopsided losses, I'm not sure we can detect a clear positive trend just yet.

There are many other things to consider, of course, in assessing Wilson.  For example, does the coach still have “the room” or has he “lost” it?  Wilson should have the room, despite being a “lame duck” coach.  Why?  Well this is a roster filled with young guys trying to either stay with the big team or fighting for minutes.  If a coach can’t keep the attention of that kind of group, he probably shouldn’t be coaching at this level.

Taking into account all the above and the others things that are essential to coaching success at this level- and in this market- do you believe Wilson deserves an extension?

Make the case and let me know.


  1. I think the biggest issue is the special teams, especially the penalty kill. I know you need great skill in all aspects of your game to be an NHLer, but penalty killing is more about listening to the coaches when it comes to active sticks in the passing lanes and proper positioning in your zone. Toronto has the necessary speed to develop strong penalty killers yet, year after year, the PK is at or near the bottom of the league. That to me is a group of players not listening to their coaches and that is why Wilson should not only not receive an extension, but be let go as coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

  2. Too early to evaluate effectiveness of coaching changes. I am prepared to see how it plays out over the course of the coming year and then evaluate how available talent and effectiveness of systems impacted the results. I would suggest the leash is short and if the playoffs are not made, the reason had better be VERY clear that it was a lack of talent that caused the problem. So to answer your question - No he has not earned an extension yet.

  3. I think RW is generally a pretty good and very smart coach. His handling the media I much, much prefer to, say, Paul Maurice's here in Toronto. I think a few reporters here need a little smack once in a while.
    We will likely never really know what his relationship with the players really is/was. I've heard things all the way from he's lost the room to the players are exceedingly loyal to him.
    I don't however, believe he will take us to the promised land unless he has some kind of season-long miracle of team unity, passion and freedom from injury. I can't even say his teams have played overall with enough heart and determination- I think he does, then I remember the 2010/2011 season and the first half of last year, along with the last two games. There's something missing there. And Michael is right- although he's been thrown a goalie anvil since he got here outside of Reimer, the special teams are something he bears at least some responsibility for.
    Ultimately he can stay or go as long as we start contending and do so very well- don't particularly care either way.

  4. Twisted Sit- thanks for your comment. The penalty kill has been an issue here during Wilson's regime. I guess the question is: can it, will it, improve under his tutelage?

    Ed, if I understand you correctly, you are suggesting that we need to wait through the full season to really gauge how effective Wilson and his new staff have been. Fair enough.

    KidK, I note that you raised, among other key points, the injury question. As we all know, last season the Leafs were remarkably lucky in that regard overall compared with many Eastern Conference foes. Now, they are facing some injury issues, mostly in goal. Goaltending is hugely important, of course. But sometimes a coach can also get a team to out-perform expectations- to play better than their skill level would seemingly merit. And I'm not sure we have seen that from Wilson's teams through the years. At times, yes, but not a consistent dose of over-achieving.

  5. If I'm Brian Burke, I'm in no hurry to make a decision one way or the other.

    Assuming that either Reimer returns sooner rather than later, or a deal is made to bring in a better goalie to tide the team over until then, this would be the first season where I would feel Wilson has had a fair shake of things. I certainly don't disagree with your assertion that, during RW's tenure as head coach, others have achieved more with less. However, Mirtle touched on the numbers in one of his blogs, and I believe Wilson has received a .893 since his arrival in Toronto, good for 30th in the NHL. How many of the coaches who have done more with less did so with sub .900 goaltending?

    Now of course, the team's failings with RW as coach can't be blamed 100% on the goalies. The special teams have been atrocious, and with the changes made behind the bench over the summer, it's very difficult to believe the blame should be laid at anybody other than Wilson's door. Not to mention that he has been charged with coaching inherently bad teams, which have been both inexperienced, and riddled with square pegs in round holes (Crabb/Bozak/Kessel as the top line, for example). There's obviously a number of reasons for the failings of the past few years, and while RW has to shoulder some of the blame, I do believe certain aspects of the Leafs fans unfairly proportion most of the blame on Wilson himself.

    Ultimately, I want to see him coach a Leafs team with (at the very least) NHL average goaltending for a sustained period before I throw him to the wolves. The record since Reimer was thrust into the spotlight suggests it might all look a lot different under those circumstances. Do I believe he can lead the team to a Cup? I can't say I do. But I am not against the notion of keeping him around - even if for just another year - should better performances in net and a better all-round team mean the Leafs suddenly aren't atrocious with him as head coach. Saying all of that, if it becomes clear we're going to miss the playoffs again (with or without better goaltending) I think Brian Burke has to bring in somebody else.

    Either way, it's not a decision that ought to be made this side of Christmas.

  6. It’s a difficult question, with no obvious answer. No doubt because of recent years Leafs teams' propensity to profoundly slump, I sense a lot of nervousness in Leafs Nation and the media at the moment, leading to itchy trigger fingers, were their hands, heaven forbid, on the gun. The “should he stay or should he go” question is a good one; however it comes at the wrong time. I am sticking to my guns. The twenty game (maybe twenty five game point) is the most reliable litmus test in the early season we have. As Ben Scrivens (looking like a startled deer in the headlights in yesterday’s media scrum) noted, stats can be all over the map at the beginning. The same goes for standings. Over time things even out and we get a better sense of performance. We are not quite there yet, and a couple of bad outings does not a season make. Accordingly, it is premature to review Ron Wilson’s performance. Maybe we can revisit this question at the twenty to twenty five game mark? If the team’s performance has tanked at that point there would be less reason to hang on to false hope, and possibly enough time for the head coach replacement to turn things around and make a playoff run.

  7. Hail_G...thanks for a very thoughtful post.

    Bobby C., I'm a fan of the 20-game benchmark, too. My sense is that Wilson will be behind the bench for at least the season. Losing your number-one goalie makes it difficult to really assess progress, for sure.

  8. I agree with those who say it's too early to ask for an extension, or be given one. Let's look at things around the New Year. Every team has blowout losses, and every team has winning streaks. And, as some point out, you can't reach the Promised Land without a Moses in goal. For me, any result that doesn't get us in the playoffs is a "fail".

  9. I think it is too soon for an extension for RWillie. Personally I like him but there are valid concerns with respect to the suuccess/failure of special teams. Stay the course and see how this team sits prior to Burke's Christmas freeze and if we are still in the top 1/3 of the league standings then extend Wilson.

    P.S. Leafs record to date is 9-5-1

  10. By the way, if you haven't seen what I think is the best interview of Ron Wilson by Canadian media so far, here's Duthie doing so-

  11. Thanks KidK...will listen. Heard Duthie talk about it today. I just wish Wilson could relax more in his daily interactions. Not every question is life and death. Most are pretty mundane. But I do appreciate it when he is more himself, less guarded...