To borrow from the sport of rowing, Ron Wilson is a coxswain. That’s all he is. That’s all any NHL coach is. They are in command of the boat. They make tactical decisions. They provide feedback to the crew. They encourage and motivate. Coaches are simply coxswains. Nothing more and nothing less. And Ron Wilson is not doing the job he is being paid to do. To mix several maritime references, Wilson is Captain Edward Smith and his boat is going right over the falls.
A cox does not touch the oars. He/she does not take a single stroke. But, by how they conduct themselves, cox’ are often the difference between winning and losing in very close races. Same goes for NHL coaches. Every NHL game is a “close race,” and when a team comes out like the Leafs did against Atlanta on Monday night, how could the attention be focused anywhere but on the person who motivates them off the start line?
Ron Wilson’s entire demeanour says he’s had enough. He looks like he’s been dragged behind the Budweiser Clydesdales for several city blocks. He’s as ornery as grandpa, when some punk school kids throw a football into his begonias. Except when he should be ornery – like when his team tanks after just three minutes v. the Thrashers. Then Ron Wilson just stands on the bench with a blank “What-the-hell-am-I-supposed-to-do-now” look. What message is that sending to his players? It’s the “Frankly, I don’t give a s**t” message.
Wilson didn’t motivate his 1998 Washington Capitals to the Stanley Cup Final. Olaf Kolzig did that with his spectacular goaltending. He never motivated the San Jose Sharks to anything. And don’t give me that crap that they were one of the best regular-season teams in the NHL during his tenure there. No one cares. Nobody has a clue who won the Presidents’ Trophy…ever! He is not the right fit for this team right now.
Oh, don’t get me wrong – the players deserve the lion’s share of the responsibility for how this team has grossly underperformed through this season’s first 33 games. Phil Kessel should be ashamed (and don’t haul out the “He needs a centre” garbage). Why can Mikhail Grabovski seemingly pull unending desire out of his butt, but the other 11 guys up front couldn’t figure out how to pull the fire alarm at McDonald’s?
This Maple Leafs team has enough talent to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I said it before the season began, and I say it again. But if that talent isn’t guided and pushed to the max, spring hockey isn’t going to happen in Toronto – again.
The club is not rowing hard. They are not rowing in unison. Some games they are not rowing at all until the third period, when the score is 5-1. They are not putting everything they have into every stroke. They are not rowing for Captain Wilson. Who’s responsibility is that? All questions fall on the cox’ shoulders. The Leafs season is not yet a lost cause, but GM Brian Burke is going to have to make a very tough decision about his good friend if it is to be salvaged.