Saw this once with the late Pat Burns back in March, 1996. Nobody knows when its all over faster than the head coach, and after a game in Denver against the Avalanche, Burns' basic reaction was a shrug of "what-can-I-do?"
He knew it was over. On the flight home, it was.
That's what Ron Wilson looked like last night after his team's ninth loss in 10. The fact that he seemed to lob a soft note of discontent at GM Brian Burke, noting sourly that the team "did nothing" at the trade deadline, just seemed to accentuate the overall impression that Wilson knows he's getting fired and has no new answers to turn this team around.
But he remains the head coach of the Leafs, and this is where the legendary stubborness of Burke, the same stubborness that insisted Dan Cloutier could lead Vancouver to the promised land when he could not, begins to switch from asset to liability.
There's still time for the Leafs to make the post-season. There's no downside at this point to letting another voice take over. The worst that could happen would be the team would disintegrate further and get a top five draft pick.
A team that made a reputation in recent years of starting slow and ending (too late) with a rush has now done the opposite, playing a cruel trick on Leaf fans. But its a young team with a future, and a team that might very well respond to a quick change of leadership.
Can't think of a GM who has so loyally stood behind a coach he didn't even hire. Burke's long-term friendship with Wilson has something to do with that, as does his general distaste/reluctance for firing coaches in general and firing them in mid-season specifically.
But Leaf fans, those who love this team and pay good money to see it play, deserve at least the sense that every option has been explored to get the team back to post-season play for the first time since 2004.
Burke could go interim coach, with assistant Scott Gordon the likely option since he has NHL coaching experience. Or he could reach out to another trusted former colleague, Randy Carlyle, and let him take over for the remainder of the season, although he'd have to commit to a multi-year contract on that. The only reluctance to hiring Carlyle might be his prickly nature with the media, something Burke has identified as a key factor in Wilson's inability to gain popularity in Toronto.
Me, I think it had more to do with all the lost hockey games.
Going interim has the advantage of being able to look at all candidates this summer. Going with Carlyle now has the advantage of being able to start on next year now.
There's no advantage in simply running the same play over and over for no gain.
For more, go to: DIMANNO: Leafs have no excuse for embarrassing effort 'Fire Wilson,' fans chant as Leafs fall to Panthers Five questions: Leafs turn to Gustavsson to end five-game tailspin