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Thursday, September 29th, 2016

Toronto Maple Leafs Ron Wilson and Brian Burke: Dumb and Dumber

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To save on an NHL history lesson, let’s just cut to the chase. The Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup since the 1966-67 season, the last season of the original-six NHL. Since then, it hasn’t mattered who’s owned the team, who’s’ managed it and who’s coached it, the results have been the same, which are basically pathetic. They haven’t even made the playoffs in the last six years and don’t look like they will this year either.

The problems didn’t start with the current general manger Brian Burke, and coach Ron Wilson, but they’re definitely continuing with these two at the helm. The problem is deciding who should be held more accountable for the dismal state of the Leafs, the coach or GM.

Wilson should probably get the benefit of the doubt as he’s proven he can coach teams that have some sort of talent on them. He’s eighth on the all-time list for coaching wins. However, in his three years with the Leafs he’s basically taken a bad team and made them worse, even though he’s more or less had a different team to work with each season due to Burke’s constant tinkering with player personnel.
It’s hard to believe with three separate sets of players the team hasn’t improved one iota. Burke has supplied Wilson with several new players each season, but they’re still among the worst in the league when it comes to the power play and penalty killing. Granted, once a game starts the coaching staff has to rely on the players to execute the game plan and use their creativity and intuition to create scoring chances, because putting the puck in the net isn’t something you can coach.

But a team’s penalty killing and power play are major areas of the game that are coachable and the coaching staff should be held accountable for their failures and given some credit for any success. The fact the Leafs are always hovering in or close to the cellar in these areas points to a definite lack of coaching ability. On the other hand, you can’t blame Wilson for players making bad passes and missing empty nets, so we’ll give him a bit of a break there. The same can be said for the club’s defensive zone coverage, as the team has cut down on its goals against and is at least respectable so far this season.

Wilson can only coach the players Burke provides him with and this is probably the weakest area of the club. Burke’s basically living on past successes with Vancouver and Anaheim, but he inherited strong teams in those cities. When it comes to building his own club, he’s failed miserably in just about all areas, which include the drafting and trading of players as well as the free agency market.

It’s no secret the Leafs are weak up the middle with no number-one center, and it could be argued they don’t have a number two either. But Burke has traded away the likes of Nik Antropov, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Lee Stempniak, Victor Stalberg, and Dominic Moore. Antropov is a 6 foot 6 center who scored 26, 28, and 24 goals in the last three seasons has. Ponikarovsky is a 6 foot 4 winger who scored about 20 or more goals for the team for five of his seasons in Toronto, while Stempniak ended up with 28 last year. You might also want to add 6-foot-four defenceman Pavel Kubina to that list as he scored about 40 points in each of his last two seasons as a Leaf. Stalberg went to Chicago for third-line winger Kris Versteeg and is now on the first line with the Hawks.

When it comes to the draft, Burke traded away two first round draft choices, a second and a third to the Boston Bruins for winger Phil Kessel when he should have given the player an offer sheet which Boston would have had to match. The Leafs would have only lost one first-rounder this way.

As far as free agency is concerned, Burke’s done nothing more than sign third liners and fourth liners such as Colby Armstrong, Clarke MacArthur, and Mike Brown. You can’t rely on free agency as a way to build a team as many potential free agents resign with their clubs during the season. You also have to plan ahead and see who the free agents are going to be in the coming season or two. This year’s crop and next year’s were and are pretty weak.

Burke’s also living in the Stone Age when it comes to the way the game is played. He’s constantly harping on about size and skill, but traded it away in Antropov, Ponikarovsky, and Kubina and he doesn’t currently have anybody to feed his prized asset in Kessel. He’s also wasting two roster spots with Colton Orr and Brown, who, to put it bluntly, are nothing more than a couple of goons. It’s bad enough wasting one spot, but Burke feels it necessary to have two of them on his underachieving team.

It’s possible that Wilson could have some success coaching a decent team in Toronto, but we’ll likely never know until Burke’s replaced by somebody who can actually spot talent and evaluate talent. lub.

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