Yes, Ron Wilson’s contract extension is a show of faith by Brian Burke in his coach, that much is obvious. That Burke offered his coach an extension so early in the season (November) is a somewhat larger show of confidence. Moreover, in all of his years of being a General Manager, Burke has only once canned a coach, which suggests that Burke intends Wilson to coach to the end of his deal – not to fire him halfway through next year.
What is more interesting to me is that fans aren’t in the least bit concerned. The times, they have a changed. You see, it wasn’t so long ago that Leafs fans freaked out over contract extensions they felt were undeserved. Years of the John Ferguson Jr. era had left everyone on edge, ready to go into hysterics at the slightest sign of mismanagement.
These days, folks seem to have a lot of faith in Brian Burke.
There are countless examples of threads of discussion over at Pension Plan Puppets where Leafs fans have shown their hypersensitivity to relatively small moves. (To be clear, neither the acquisition of Armstrong nor Biggs is a bad thing, but fans went crazy about what Burke gave up to get them.) But slowly, confidence in the Leafs’ General Manager has strengthened.
Burke’s first big gamble was undoubtedly the Kessel trade, and since it came on the heels of JFJ’s “buy old, sell young” philosophy, there was a lot of backlash. While Tyler Seguin appears to be a really wonderful player, Kessel leading the league in scoring has, for a time, anwyay, silenced critics of the deal, and we haven’t heard a peep about draft picks walking out the door. Burke earns a little bit of trust.
The next giant move upon which Burke will be evaluated has to be the Dion Phaneuf deal. Even when a bunch of spare parts were shipped for an All-Star defenceman, many fans, myself included, were somewhat suspicious that Phaneuf could ever come close to earning his salary, but I’d say he’s nearly there, now. As for Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Ian White and Jamal Mayers? They make this deal look better every day. Another feather in Burke’s confidence cap.
When everyone was clamoring for Tomas Kaberle to be traded, Burke was adamant that he wanted to keep Kaberle, and would do so until his contract expired, unless he was offered something substantial. Many people assumed that Burke had already waited too long, when two summers went by without a deal, when he finally pulled the trigger on a deal for Joe Colborne and a first round pick. Anyone complaining there?
So now we return to present day Toronto fandom, and Ron Wilson, a man who was lead what has easily been the league’s worst penalty kill over the last four seasons, has been locked up for an extra year. It’s not that he’s a shoe-in to be the best person available for the job. Burke has ties with Randy Carlisle, and Dallas Eakins may well be a very good head coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs one day (he was already an assistant under Maurice), but at this point, people are finally giving Burke the benefit of the doubt.