Monday, June 02, 2008

SPORTS: He Who Hesitates, Isn't Wrong

I've been meaning to write an entry the last couple of days predicting who would be the next coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the NHL. Today, all my speculation was shown to be wrong, utterly to the point of being Maple Leaf level wrong.

Apparently, Ron Wilson will be the man by this time tomorrow. Ex of the San Jose Sharks, Wilson has a better reputation with hockey men in the know, than he does with me. Sure, that sounds of sour grapes, since I'd backed the Wilson-led Sharks to win the Stanley Cup. But he's under-achieved badly with the Sharks since over-achieving with the Washington Capitals earlier in his coaching career.

The annoucement is expected to be twinned with the hardly-unexpected coronation of Uncle Cliffy, Cliff Fletcher, as the GM for the next 12 or so months. That it's a tacit admission that Brian Burke is on his way north-bound a year hence was made only the more obvious by Burke's wife's decision not to return to her TV job in B.C. come fall. She's undoubtedly picking out houses in the Toronto area as we speak. (By the way, Edwin Hills has his house on the market, and it's VERY nice).

If I'm the legal problems-plagued owners of Anaheim, I'd extort some sort of payment from Toronto (hidden, because there is a rule against that), set Burke free to get his wife a Toronto-area TV gig THIS fall, and then hire Dave Nonis, who might be Atlanta-bound ere too long. Taking ex-Vancouver GM's has worked out okay for the Ducks so far. And it's not like Burke's going to sign that contract extension. So why go through the drama?

It would be smart and politic for me to end this post right here. But I'm obviously not that smart and have never been political enough for my own good. The identity of the new Leaf coach was supposed to be ... Pat Burns.

First, let me point out the propensity of Toronto sports clubs to rehire people. Several times in fact. I've got a list for a future post that will turn your head. It includes FOUR-time hires like Tony Fernandez and Rico Carty, so take that, you Billy Martin-lovin' New Yorkers!

I thought Fletcher was going to have to find a short-term hire to cover the year between now and Burke's coronation. Money wouldn't be an object, but buying out the pay-for-no-pay dollars of coaches like Wilson and the soon-to-be available John Tortorella made them unlikely candidates. Little did I know Burke would start acting in silence so soon.

Dismissing junior grads like Peter Deboer or second-timers coming back from junior or the AHL as being too smart to get saddled with a lost year of results in Toronto, I started thinking about who was at pay liberty who might like to prove they still had it. Pat Quinn? Surely nobody is wacky enough to want a second tour of political machinations by the lawyer/coach! Nope, one man had the right qualifications.

Pat Burns. He's damaged goods in terms of health. Cancer scares will do that to you. And after the brutal last year of Roger Neilson's coaching life, most teams tread carefully. Yet there's no denying the man's ability to coach. His only blemishes are a three-year act that does not have a fourth year in in. Ever. And I hold him personally responsible for inciting the Piestany Punch-Up with his pre-game rhetoric before that critical World Junior Hockey Championships tilt between the Canadians and the Russians (or were they still the Soviet Union back then?).

Beyond that, he's proven a successful turnaround artist with the ability to coach talent. He's recently been coaching kids and you car hear that enthusiasm in his voice again. I think he'd LOVE a one-year prove-it contract. Even if it was to be a jumping point for somebody else to realize he's healthy and still got the intangibles that make winning coaches. I think he would have taken on the job.

And could any Toronto media outlet savage him the way they eventually will Wilson? We will never know.

Just four months from the start of the Montreal Canadiens' training camp.

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