More On Ron Wilson and True Talent Level


I recall our old colour commentator Harry Neale being asked what he thought made a great coach and he shrewdly remarked “great players”.  Now I know the topic of firing Ron Wilson has been beat to death but I wanted to further comment after reading a story from our friends over at Pension Plan Puppets who feel he should absolutely be fired now.

It was an entertaining piece “Why Ron Wilson Should Get Fired ASAP” asking a tough question and answering unequivocally:

“The question isn’t whether Ron Wilson is or isn’t a good coach. The question is will replacing Ron Wilson improve our record? If the answer is “yes”, obviously, we should do it as soon as possible. But how can we know? This got me to thinking, maybe there’s some historical evidence to shed some light on this issue.”

The author goes onto use the recent examples of the 2009/10 Columbus Blue Jackets (firing Ken Hitchcock), 2009/10 St. Louis Blues (firing Andy Murray), and the 2009/10 Philadelphia Flyers (firing John Stevens).  The Blue Jackets showed huge improvements (+68%), the Blues solid improvement (+9%) and the Flyers showed no real difference.  One of the reader’s posted that they felt most of the success shown by the teams in question simply performed back to their expected levels, to which I agree and will discuss further.

In the world of baseball statistical analysis when a pitcher begins the season with a 6.00 ERA and a 1.65 WHIP after say 5-6 starts we think he has been awful but maybe the underlying peripheral stats give us a better understanding of perhaps why the stats look this way.  The pitcher might have had awful luck on balls in play; an unusually high amount of fly balls then went for home runs or even bad luck stranding base runners (compared to the league average).

When those mitigating uncontrollable stats return (or regress) to the mean (league average) we would expect the pitcher’s stats to return closer to his career levels or true talent level – and most of the time they do.  If I have lost (or bored) you, don’t worry I will attempt bring it all home.  In the same sense the above mentioned hockey teams who showed either drastic, marked or zero improvement it is perhaps just the true talent level coming through, or a little better luck, or both.

The Columbus Blue Jackets showed a huge improvement (18-4-1 after firing the coach) but that encompasses only 28% of the season (a small sample size) and the Jackets were truly awful early on and won 38.9% of their games prior to firing Ken Hitchcock.  After the coaching change they won 78% of their games yet still only won 39% of their total games on the year as it was much too little, much too late.

The season prior (2008/09) the Blue Jackets won 50% of their games so it might be safe to assume that during their poor start in 2009/10 they were playing well under the expected level based on the year prior.  So a hot run (maybe not quite that hot) over the final 23 games should have almost been expected – coaching change or not.  The Blue Jackets have also started this season winning an impressive 61.5% of their games so far in 2010/11.

The St. Louis Blues showed some improvement after firing their coach Andy Murray after 40 games in 2009/10 when they were winning roughly 42.5% of their games, in the subsequent 42 games they won at a 54.7% clip to bring their final regular season win % to 48.7.  The season prior (2008/09) the Blues won 50% of their games so again was the improvement not to be expected over the final 42 games (marginal as it was anyway) almost regardless of who was coaching the team?  The team has also started hot in 2010/11 winning 75% of their games.

The Maple Leafs won 41.4% of their games in 2008/09, 36.5% of their games in 2009/10 and have thus far have won 35.7% of their games in 2010/11.  I’d say we won slightly more games in 2008/09 because we had a bit more veteran talent on the roster that has since been jettisoned (rightfully so in most cases).  Bringing in a new coach might see the Leafs improve in the short term but that will not change the real issue hampering the Leafs – lack of talent.

Prior to joining the Leafs Wilson had won 47.4% of his total NHL games coached and even with his Leafs shoddy record still sports an overall record of 587-505-101-76.

Other notable coaches with winning percentage for reference sake:

-Pat Quinn (1400 games, 48.8%)

-Paul Maurice (992 games, 42.3%)

– Jacques Martin (1195 games, 47.2%)

– Joel Quenneville (1016 games, 53.4%)

– Lindy Ruff (999 games, 48.7%)

– Ron Wilson (1269 games, 46.2%)

Are we really trying to say that Ron Wilson is the reason the Toronto Maple Leafs have only won roughly 40% of their games over the past three seasons and that another coach could drastically affect our winning percentage over the long term with the current makeup of our roster?  At what point do we all just agree that the Maple Leafs are simply playing close to the level of their talent, and given Ron Wilson’s track record as an NHL coach maybe even slightly above?

The Leafs through 14 games this season have given up 20 less goals in comparison to last season and while the goaltending has been sharper the team on most nights does appear well prepared and organized.  The team has had next to no luck on the offensive end lately but they don’t seem to be getting completely dominated or outworked.  They are giving up an average of 2.7 goals per game, if you can’t consistently score 3 or more goals per night, how much can coaches really do?

In closing, I am not saying the coach should or shouldn’t be fired and believe it or not I am not trying to start the Ron Wilson fan club.  I am just as annoyed, restless and anxious for a consistent winner but a cosmetic change just for the sake of change wouldn’t seem to get to the root of the problem unless the new coach also brings with him Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin.  Without some much needed good fortune or a few of our key players performing above their career levels for the entire season we will likely continue to be consistently inconsistent.