ST PAUL, MN - JUNE 25: General manager Brian Burke of the Toronto Maple Leafs answers questions after day two of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft at Xcel Energy Center on June 25, 2011 in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Toronto Maple Leafs fans might want coach Ron Wilson out, but GM Brian Burke doesn't. Nor should he.
As his team did (virtually) nothing at the NHL trade deadline Monday, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke talked about the pressures of playing in Toronto.
Calling it the "toughest market" to play in, Burke made it clear he wasn't about to blow up the team he "worked so hard" to build. If the Leafs were to make a return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it would be with the team Burke had already put together, not with a bunch of fancy moves at the deadline.
Burke even talked about imposing his own trade deadline, days ahead of the actual one, similar to the roster freeze he has in place before Christmas.
When Burke was addressing the media and talking about these pressures, he might as well have been talking about his coach, too. Less than 36 hours after the press conference, Ron Wilson heard fans calling for his head after a 5-3 home loss to the Florida Panthers.
It wasn't about the loss to Florida, a wonderfully decent team that might just be good enough to sneak into the playoffs. That could have been just about anyone on the other bench and the fans would have revolted. The loss dropped Toronto to 1-8-1 over 10 games, and that slide coincides with the Leafs falling out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference. They lost again Wednesday night in Chicago.
Toronto's early surge -- and the strong play of James Reimer -- masked some significant problems on this roster. For starters, Reimer is not as good as his early statistics would suggest. He's a decent goaltender, but probably not what you could label a No. 1 NHL goaltender. As long as Jonas Gustavsson is going to struggle, however, Reimer is exactly that, by default.
The other problem is that the Maple Leafs are simply not a good defensive team. Yeah, Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul can score goals in bunches. They also have no choice, because this team gives up goals in bunches. They're often those gut-punch goals that just destroy the morale of the home team and its passionate fans.
Neither of these problems are primarily the fault of Wilson. And if the Canadian media is to be believed, one of the potential candidates to replace Wilson -- Marc Crawford -- isn't exactly known for leading teams to defensive turnarounds. The other name floating around is former Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle, who might not scream "Breath of fresh air," but certainly has a reputation for getting his teams to play well defensively.
As far as the odds of this happening, no one has said it better, in all likelihood, than Bruce Arthur.
Changing a coach would contradict Burke’s stubbornness, his loyalty, and his enduring contention that it is not Wilson’s fault that the Leafs aren’t good enough.
Burke can be cantankerous, he can be gruff, he can be blunt. But he's a loyal guy. If he makes a coaching change, it won't be something dreamed up overnight. It won't be an overreaction to another crippling home loss, or an acquiesce to his growingly-angry fanbase.
For what it's worth, Wilson's players know the pressure is on them, largely because they're the ones responsible for keeping Toronto fans from starting a mutiny.
"As much as that reflects on him, that's our playing that's really being said out there," forward Clarke MacArthur told the Toronto Star before the team's game in Chicago against the Blackhawks. "It's something where we're just getting down early in games. We're allowing other teams to play exactly the game plan they want to play. If we get up a couple of goals, we shift things. We know how to play a different game. It's a matter of trying to score first and get in the game."
The reality here is that a coaching change is probably not going to happen. While the fans are trying to put the heat on Burke to can Wilson, neither man is going to give in. For all their faults, the two have led Toronto close to the playoffs after a number of rough seasons. Not only that, but Burke's work has positioned Toronto well for the future, a future that he probably expects Wilson to be a part of ... for better or for worse.