The Long Goodbye: In The Nadir of TML’s Season, When Does the Coach Get Fired?

Ron Wilson is on life support. And Brian Burke, his organizational next of kin, holds the executive power to end his suffering, and ours.

Somehow, it doesn’t feel real, it is as if we suddenly found ourselves in this nightmarish predicament, in the middle of a lucid dream of which we can’t determine the beginning or foresee the end. Astonished, because “Leaf’s Nation” was convinced that this year, like so many years before it (hint, hint), ‘was the year‘. However, I’m afraid it is not the year. And this defeat is more painful than all the others of recent memory; because this year, unlike all those others, it was actually conceivable that the Leafs were on their way to their first play-off birth of the post-lockout era. Instead we will most likely be the only playoffless team of the epoch thus far, making us, in one sense, the most futile franchise in the NHL.

Drink that in Leaf’s Fans. It is a bitter and harsh blend. Nevertheless this truth seems unavoidable; it stares at us plainly, almost daring us to disagree. Much like an according truth presents itself to Brian Burke: Ron Wilson can be the coach of this team no longer.

It is not a matter of  so called X’s and O’s. It is not about fit, or history, or media savvy (of which he apparently has little), it is now about perception and timing and what so obviously appears to be a dire need for change.

Unfortunately a GM can’t fire his team, it is the Coach’s burden that he is the most easily replaced in times of trouble. Still, I do not mean to suggest that the choice is an arbitrary one. In the NHL’s recent past, coaching changes, even late stage coaching changes, have proven to be effective. Only a short time ago were the Penguins languishing in 10th place (sound familiar?) and playing far below their potential when a coaching change with 25 games left saw Dan Bylsma take over, and we know how that went (in case you don’t, they won a cup).

So why not give it a try? I have not heard a convincing argument to the contrary. It cannot get any worse than it is; there is no chemistry to be broken up, there is, as it stands now, no real hope of making the playoffs without a dramatic, near miraculous change in the team’s approach to the game, which, I think, can only accompany a coaching change.

Perhaps the best reason to fire Wilson now is the obvious appetite for it. Strategically Brian Burke is already, to borrow an appropriate phrase of winter vernacular, skating on thin ice. Why not make the move that everyone, fans and pundits included, agree on? Why continue to alienate yourself with blustery, stubborn foolery? Loyalty, I’ll admit, is admirable. However stupidity is not.

How much longer can Leaf’s managment sit idly while fans loudly clammour for Wilson’s termination, while sitting in the stands no less? The Leafs brass has talked an awful lot about distraction playing a roll in their failures of late, is this not a significant, and luckily, a removable distraction? I understand that Burke does not rule by consensus, and I agree with that premise, after all Brian Burke is far more qualified to run a hockey team than I, or any other writer or fan is. Regardless of that, it does not take a race car driver to understand that driving slower will make you lose a race, it’s an intuitive fact. While not being quite as intuitive, the decision to replace the coach now, at this team’s lowest point of the season,with seemingly no other recourse, is rather obvious.

While Burke sits by Wilson’s bedside, too afraid and forlorn to desist the extraordinary measures maintaining his half-life, we, the passers by, those in the waiting room, find it hard to watch. When will the doctor come along and just explain it to him? He’s going to die anyway, in fact, he’s pretty much already dead.


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