A Fair Shot
Sometime this week Leaf camp will start. It just feels like it's already been going on for weeks.
For restless fans hoping that an 85-point season last year will grow into something more substantial this fall, that's good. For anyone who can't imagine anything more pointless than pre-camp workouts and rookie tournaments - isn't the point to see how they perform against hardened pros, not each other? - there's already a sense of can't-we-get-the-bloody-season-started frustration.
Will this season be different? With the Blue Jays having failed yet again to be a post-season club, and with the Argos nightmarishly bad and slippling off the radar screen, and with Raptors quite likely poised to be .500 this season because the NBA won't play at all, it is indeed up to the local shinny lads to demonstrate that the words "Toronto" and "playoffs" haven't become mutually exclusive.
For Ron Wilson to keep his job, that probably has to happen. After three seasons, the rubber surely will meet the road this season, and if it doesn't work out for the ascerbic Wilson, the last thing he'll be able to claim is that he wasn't given a fair shot.
No, he doesn't have the coach-for-life status of Barry Trotz. In fact, he doesn't have a contract beyond this season at the moment, status which some would argue compromises his ability to issue orders before work even begins. But while you may or may not like the job Brian Burke has done as GM, you have to acknowledge he has done everything possible to give Wilson a chance to succeed.
Burke has turned over the roster. He has brought in proven veterans, and he has brought in kids, both forwards and defencemen. He has addressed the goaltending, although it's worth pointing out the solution, James Reimer, was a JFJ draft pick who only got a chance because the hockey club was absolutely desperate.
Burke has changed the training staff, and this summer, he altered Wilson's coaching group, bringing in Greg Cronin and Scott Gordon to change things up, moving out Tim Hunter and Keith Acton. At the same time, different management people have been added over the years, giving Wilson different voices to work with.
There is nothing this coach could have asked for other than all-star players, and while Buffalo hopes overpaying Ville Leino will make him an all-star and the Rangers fervently believe Brad Richards was worth the millions, the reality is Burke's emphasis on trying to bring in talented youngsters - Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel, Keith Aulie, etc. - is a strategy more likely to pay long-term dividends.
Do the Leafs have enough talent to win? We can debate that, and quite probably it comes down to whether Reimer can be over an entire season what he was last winter. But we do know that clubs have made it to the Stanley Cup dance with less, and there are no excuses left for Wilson if he can't get this team into the playoffs.
Pro sports aren't fair. Hockey sure isn't. But this coach has been given a fair shot, and by a GM who didn't hire him. That's unusual in and of itself.