If the NHL handed out awards for half seasons,Â would there be any doubt that Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson would be among a handful of candidates for Coach of the Year for the second half of this NHL season?Â After suffering a 3-2 defeat to the Columbus Blue Jackets on December 30th, 2010 the Leafs record sat at an uninspiring 13-19-4.Â Much of the blame for that record was placed squarely on the shoulders of our at timesÂ moody head coach.
I donâ€™t recall a post game (win or lose) theme that didnâ€™t in some shape or form include vast criticism of our coaching staff and the inevitable â€œFire Ron Wilsonâ€ mantra.Â Some of that critique might have been warranted but when considering the goaltending available to him to that point it is hard to solely blame one man (Ron Wilson) for the first half struggles of an entire team.
With James Reimer providing superb goaltending (and a save percentage not hovering around .880) the Maple Leafs since January 1st, 2011 have been a revelation with a 23-13-6 record.Â An impressive turn around to say the least and after the Leafs big win over our little brotherâ€™s from Ottawa our record now sits at 37-32-10 â€“ not too shabby.
Ron Wilson deserves a great deal of respect for the way he continued to persevere and keep the Maple Leafs playing hard and buying into his system.Â There hasnâ€™t been much in the way of â€œFire Ron Wilsonâ€ recently but I also havenâ€™t heard many positive things being said or written about him either. He deserves a ton of credit in my opinion.
The Leafs play hard until the final horn sounds on most nights and continue to show heart no matter what the scoreboard says, having come from behind on more than a few occasions this year – the team has won five times this year when trailing entering the third period, leaving them top ten in the league in the category. When established players like Kris Versteeg, Francois Beauchemin and Tomas Kaberle were shipped out I think more than a few of us might have worried about how the remainder of this season would go but the Maple Leafs have actually played their best hockey since becoming the youngest team in the NHL.
The way Wilson didn’t coddle Keith Aulie, providing and rewarding him with big minutes, seemed to allow him to take his new role by the horns. The decision to call up Kadri and play him with Darryl Boyce and Joey Crabb shortly thereafter had more than a few fans wondering but Kadri appears to be fitting in nicely and further developing the defensive side of his game while chipping in offensively with increased frequency away from the pressures of playing alongside Kessel.
Solid goaltending, timely scoring from multiple sources and lines and a resurgent blue line being led by our captain Dion Phaneuf has Leafs nation abuzz down the stretch of the 2010-11 season.Â Although the Leafs wonâ€™t make the playoffs once again, what the team has shown for the better part of three months has given many fans around Leafs nation something to get excited about as well as much needed hope and optimism that things are indeed improving.
We have a cupboard full of draft picks, a great deal of money coming off the books and a solid crop of good young hockey players ready to make an impact at the NHL level (think Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne, Jake Gardiner, Matt Frattin, Greg McKegg etc) and in my opinion a man behind the bench who is deserving of a bit of respect and a vote of confidence.
Ron Wilson is a solid head coach.
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