Ron Wilson's choices are strange

Steve Lansky
March 19 2011 03:14PM

What’s the job of a head coach in the NHL? Pretty simple question. It’s to have the players, both mentally and physically, in the best position to win. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. That means getting the boys ready in the room. And it means having the best players, for any given situation, on the ice. Having the right guy out there to take the draw. Having a decent back-up in case your centre gets tossed. Having the best defensive pair on the ice in any given situation. And it also means making the best netminding choice, night after night. And, in Florida on Thursday, Wilson blew that choice, big time.

Wilson has indicated that, all along, his plan was to start Jean-Sébastien Giguère in the second night of the Leafs’ back-to-back games in Carolina and Florida this week. And, when you think about it, shouldn’t Wilson be able to start whomever he wants in goal? I mean, Giguère is, after all, a National Hockey League goaltender. He has some ability, right? He’s won a Stanley Cup – as Ron Wilson reminded us. And he’s won the Conn Smythe Trophy – as Ron Wilson also reminded us. He should be able to start against the lowly Florida Panthers, shouldn’t he?

Maybe J-S Giguère’s start was the best choice. Maybe James Reimer needed some sort of day off (even though the kid’s only just 23 years old and could probably play every day for the next month). Maybe Wilson thought it would be some sort of redemption for Jiggy, with his team’s playoff hopes fading, and he’d be able to stone the Panthers. It wasn’t.

And don’t mistake this as an indictment of the way Giguère played. Any netminder would likely have let in the first two. The third one stunk to high heaven. But the Leafs weren’t giving Jiggy any offence anyway. And that, right there, is the sole reason not to have started Giguère. The team simply, for whatever reason, has not played well in front of him over the latter part of this season. It’s like a baseball team not scoring any runs for its pitcher. That’s not the pitcher’s fault.

The third period in Atlanta on February 27th. The Leafs entered the third period winning 2-0. They lost, 3-2, in overtime. It does not matter whether Jiggy should or should not have kept that lead. Fact is, he didn’t, and it cost the team a critical point.

That’s why James Reimer should have, must have, needed to start in Florida on Thursday. But Ron Wilson had another agenda. I’d sure love to know what the hell that agenda is. Then again, maybe I wouldn’t.
 

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Steve Lansky's first exposure to the game was at storied Maple Leaf Gardens, running downstairs at the end of every period just to watch the great Dave Keon walk off the ice to the room. A decade later, while he was still in high school, Oilers' head coach Glen Sather asked Lansky, "Hey, how'd you like to be our team statistician?" In 1983, at the age of 22, Lansky became the youngest producer in the history of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada, giving him a front-row seat to the Edmonton Oilers' dynasty. Lansky also helped launch Rogers Sportsnet's fledgling hockey coverage when the network made its début in 1998. You can follow him at bigmouthsports.com and at twitter.com/bigmouthsports
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#1 doggit
March 20 2011, 03:14PM
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great post as always, steve. Wilson's got a history of doing strange things. Starting odd players in the shootout, playing hunches on personell in final minutes of games. Remember the time he put Curtis Joseph in only for the shootout? Makes me shake my head sometimes.

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#3 CoryNewb
March 21 2011, 08:34AM
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It's not like Ron Wilson has ever had a Scotty Bowman team though either. As a wings fan, I respect Scotty, but the man was handed trump. I mean...come on, how many Lafleurs, Yzermans, Larry Robinsons, Marios, Jargs and Drydens are on the leafs roster...

Good post Steve, but if the people he counted on in these "strange choices" cashed in on their opportunities, well, yeah he would look like a genius.

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#4 Rexall Robots
March 21 2011, 10:26AM
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Maybe Wilson should have played Reimer, but the fact remains that the team scored zero goals against Florida. According to Hockey DB, Reimer has exactly zero GWGs to his name. A day after looking like world-beaters in Carolina, Phaneuf and Co. were horrible against the Panthers.

Burke has put together a pretty solid team, but the difference between winning and losing in the NHL is consistency, and the Leafs are lacking.

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