By HOWARD BERGER
RALEIGH, N.C. (Dec. 29) – Given the tone of media sentiment about the contract extension accorded Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson – which ranged from lukewarm to incredulous – I expected a similar backlash when soliciting Twitter and email reaction the past 24 hours.
Reporter samplings included Damien Cox of the Toronto Star and Sportsnet (“Leafs continue to embrace mediocrity”); Jeff Blair of the Globe and Mail and Sportsnet-590 (“Wilson should have been fired last season”) and Terry Koshan of the Toronto Sun, who deemed the extension “plain wrong”. My take is that Wilson’s career standing as a coach in the NHL was worthy of financial security beyond this season; job security arriving only with a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
To my surprise, however, a number of Leaf fans that contacted me are either indifferent toward, or welcoming of, the contract extension. Here is an assortment of your responses (with Twitter names and email identification included):
@shawdarryl: Coaches control P.K. and G.A.A. Neither have improved under Wilson. He has Blue & White disease. What [message] does that send the players?
@TheRealAsifKhan: I don’t even think Brian Burke can offer that up, Howard! (in response to my requesting a mature, reasoned response to the Wilson contract).
@smiley99799: There is no god reason… only friendship.
@Timmysaddict: This avoids “lame-duck” status and sends a good message to the room. If it works out, great. If not, he can still be fired.”
@KtotheHarman: Wilson’s increased success is directly proportional to the increase in team talent. The “coached” parts of the game are weak.
@KevRolfe: The Wilson extension shows a GM that feels no pressure. Anywhere else, a coach missing the playoffs for three years is gone.
@tcue09: If you have to keep telling people how good you are, you probably aren’t that good.
@dnknjsdad: It was good to sign him. It shows some stability and shows the players they have to play for him. I just wish the P.K. was respectable.
@philroe: This proves that Burke is all talk. No accountability for Wilson; none for the organization. He plays the fans for fools.
@SandraFrape1: Atrocious how the Leafs can continue to be that bad penalty killing, with NO consequence. Instead [Wilson] gets an extension.
@StatstheFacts: His best friend (Burke) decides to give him a bundle of cash before new ownership fires [Wilson]. Terrible coach given special teams.
@willy86: It’s only money. If they tank in the second half, they will still fire him.
@joey_giles: If I had to write an opening line, I’d probably just say with was truly a merry Christmas for Wilson.
@Rorious: Don’t see how it’s a big deal. [Wilson] could still be fired tomorrow; all it does is give him some more pay. What about [Dallas] Eakins?
@TDotBowHunter: They should have waited to see if the Leafs make the playoffs. It’s the old “buddy favor” system here.
@PatC80: Wasn’t a terrible decision. If [Leafs] suck, they can still fire him at the end of the season. If not, and they make the playoffs, he’ll be around only one more year.
@hifaz_m: I’m on the fence with Wilson. The team has improved offensively, but it still lacks defensive posture and personnel on the P.K.
@noename09: It sucks.
@JamesT1970: The timing [of the extension] just bugs me… when Leafs are at their lowest point in the standings so far this season.
@wayne1706: An extension is nothing more than severance pay.
@Huntgolfride: I think the coach has his players listening and competing. All coaches know systems; few are accorded players that compete.
@gbowie22: It’s a win-and-you’re-in situation. If [Leafs] miss the playoffs, Wilson is gone. If they make it, he starts next year. That’s it.
@Big_d79: I think it’s too soon. Leafs haven’t been in the playoffs and the P.K. is awful.
@PoosterP: At the end of the day, the contract does not forbid the Leafs from firing him. They would only have to pay his salary. Big deal.
@kobe1959: Just a severance package… friends treating friends right.
Garrett Bauman of Maple Leafs Hotstove (@garrettbauman) emailed this reaction: “Regardless of how one may feel about Ron Wilson, no GM worth his salt is going to leave his coach in a lame-duck situation. It creates an unnecessary distraction for both the coaching staff and the players. Which means that in a mid-season scenario, the options are to either fire the coach or extend his contract. What often gets overlooked is the Leafs have gone from finishing with 74 points in 2009-10 to on pace for 94 points this season – a projected 20 point improvement in the span of two seasons. Considering the amount of roster turnover and relative youth and inexperience on the club, it is very difficult to justify firing the coach given that rate of progression. That said, playoffs are the key to Wilson’s future in Toronto; the suspected short length of the extension presumably does not leave ownership on the hook for a large amount of money in the event the decision is made to relieve Wilson of his duties … a realistic scenario should the team fail to make the post-season yet again.”
Leafs fan Wayne Baxter sent this email: “Hi Howard: As a long time Maple Leaf supporter, I wholeheartedly support the Ron Wilson contract extension. From my point of view it makes complete sense. When Ron took over the team he identified that the mix of players was not NHL caliber. He essentially confirmed what everyone knew. The media was screaming for a rebuild. So were the fans. ‘tear it down and rebuild from the ground up.’ When Brian Burke took over he said that he would turn the team around; i.e. change the culture and upgrade the talent. Over the past three years Burke and Wilson have taken what amounted to an expansion team and turned it into one that is finally headed in the right direction. There is not a coach alive who would have gotten any of the teams of the past three years in the playoffs. So why fire Wilson? To satisfy the the blood-lust of the media? Come on. Quite frankly I wouldn’t fire Wilson even if the team missed the playoffs this year. It needs more time to come together. Ignore the white noise of the media. Stay the course.”
Emailer Al Price had this comment: “I thought Burke wanted to clean up ‘Blue & White’ disease and the ‘culture of entitlement’. Extending Wilson after the team’s performance in his three years only feeds the problems the organization supposedly wants to fix. Rewarding failure is in the DNA of the Maple Leafs.”
From words, now, to photos… my travel log images from leaving Fort Lauderdale and arriving here in Raleigh on Wednesday, along with Leafs morning skate today at RBC Center:
YES, IT STUNG A WEE BIT TO LEAVE BEHIND THE GLORIOUS IMAGES ABOVE AND BELOW AS WE DEPARTED HOLLYWOOD-FORT LAUDERDALE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT ON SOUTHWEST AIRLINES WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON. THE NON-STOP FLIGHT TO RALEIGH-DURHAM INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT TOOK ONE HOUR AND 45 MINUTES.
IT WAS OBVIOUSLY A BIT COOLER (ABOUT 25 DEGREES F.) WHEN WE ARRIVED HERE IN NORTH CAROLINA, BUT THE SETTING SUN (ABOVE) WAS ENCHANTING; THE CRESCENT MOON AT DUSK (BELOW) EQUALLY SO.
THE HOME OF THE CAROLINA HURRICANES (ABOVE AND BELOW), SPONSORED BY ROYAL BANK OF CANADA. IT IS LOCATED MORE THAN 10 MILES FROM DOWNTOWN RALEIGH IN A PICTURESQUE, WIDE-OPEN SPOT OFF INTERSTATE-40. I VIRTUALLY LIVED HERE DURING THREE PLAYOFF SEASONS WHILE WORKING FOR THE FAN-590: 2002, WHEN THE MAPLE LEAFS PLAYED THE HURRICANES IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL; 2006, WHEN CAROLINA WON ITS ONLY STANLEY CUP, AND 2009, WHEN PAUL MAURICE TOOK THE ‘CANES TO THE CONFERENCE FINAL AGAINST PITTSBURGH. THIS IS ONE OF THE FEW PLACES SOUTH OF THE BORDER I COULD LIVE, FULL-TIME. THERE’S LOTS OF UNDEVELOPED LAND AND THE PEOPLE HERE ARE UNFAILINGLY POLITE.
LEAFS PLAYERS STRETCH (ABOVE) PRIOR TO MORNING SKATE TODAY.
ALL SEATS IN THE RBC CENTER ARE BRIGHT RED, IN HONOR OF THE HURRICANES AND NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY. THE N.C. STATE WOLFPACK PLAYS ITS HOME BASKETBALL GAMES HERE – ENJOYING A FIRECE RIVALRY WITH NEIGHBORING DUKE UNIVERSITY (DURHAM) AND UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA (CHAPPEL HILL). BUT, THE HURRICANES OUT-DRAW THE COLLEGE TEAM BY AN AVERAGE OF 3,000 PER NIGHT.
HURRICANES BANNERS – INCLUDING THE BIG ONE IN WHITE – HANG FROM THE GIRDERS (ABOVE), AS DO NUMEROUS BANNERS COMMEMORATING N.C. STATE BASKETBALL (NCAA CHAMPIONS IN 1974 AND 1983).
AN END-OF-RINK VIEW (ABOVE) DURING LEAFS MORNING SKATE TODAY.
IF YOU EVER COME TO THE RBC CENTER (AND YOU’RE NOT ON A DIET), YOU HAVE TO SAMPLE ONE OF THESE AWESOME STUFFED PRETZELS. I GET MINE WITH WARM CREAM-CHEESE IN THE MIDDLE. A TASTE TO DIE FOR.
ROOKIE MATT FRATTIN LEAVES THE ICE AT RBC CENTER AFTER THE MORNING SKATE (ABOVE), AS DOES LUKE SCHENN (BELOW), CHATTING WITH POPULAR LEAFS’ RADIO ANALYST JIM RALPH.
HEY, WHY SIT INSIDE ON A WARM WINTER’S DAY? LEAFS FORWARD CLARKE MacARTHUR (ABOVE) CHOSE TO SIT ON A CONTRAPTION NEAR THE TEAM BUS AFTER THE SKATE AND MAKE A CELLPHONE CALL.
THERE ARE ALWAYS LEAF FANS ON THE ROAD WITH THE TEAM, INCLUDING THIS NICE FAMILY FROM ORILLIA, ONT. (LEFT TO RIGHT): DAWN, ROB AND PATRICK JACKSON.
ADJACENT TO THE RBC CENTER IS CARTER-FINLEY STADIUM (ABOVE AND BELOW) – THE 57,583-SEAT HOME OF THE N.C. STATE FOOTBALL TEAM. IT OPENED IN OCTOBER 1966.
ON THE PLAZA OUTSIDE CARTER-FINLEY STADIUM ARE DISPLAYS HONORING N.C. STATE FOOTBALL ALUMNI THAT GRADUATED TO THE NFL – INCLUDING JIM RITCHER (ABOVE) AN OFFENSIVE GUARD ON THE BUFFALO BILLS TEAMS THAT WENT TO FOUR CONSECUTIVE SUPER BOWL GAMES IN THE EARLY-1990s, AND PHILIP RIVERS (IN BACKGROUND), NOW QUARTERBACK OF THE SAN DIEGO CHARGERS.