Tuesday, November 9, 2010

If You Don't Like Your First Line Then Make a New One

Since he arrived in Toronto, I've been a Ron Wilson apologist.  I was happy when the team signed him despite many complaints from others about his lack of playoff success with the Sharks.

I understood the poor results of the past two seasons under Wilson given the relative lack of talent on the team and knowing that a team that had undertaken such a significant overhaul was bound to take more than a little time to come together.

Despite this, I've never liked his propensity for calling out his players publicly.

Granted, the players he targets tend to deserve it (see Toskala, Vesa) but it rarely does any good to call players out, particularly the type of personality Wilson tends to attack.  Does Phil Kessel seem like a guy who is going to have his inner fire ignited by a public lashing?  Better question: Does Phil Kessel seem like a guy that even has an inner fire?

Recently, Wilson has been calling out his first line for poor play (which has been the case), a lack of attention to detail in the defensive zone (also true), and a lack of overall effort (debatable, but he would know better than I would).

My response to Ron Wilson's incessant bellyaching is an obvious one - make a new first line then.  I'm not talking about giving the MacArthur, Grabovski, Kulemin line the first line whites in practice.  What I'm talking about is shaking your lines up a little.

I know that a lot of those who champion Wilson will claim that the Leafs have a lack of top six talent and that, as a consequence, his hands are tied.  I say, bullcrap.

The Leafs' problem is that they only have one first line forward; Phil Kessel.  Your first line if your team is succeeding will invariably have Kessel on it.

The strength of the forward corps, if there is one, is that they have a lot of guys that can play a variety of roles.  Kessel could be paired with any combination of Kulemin, Versteeg, Bozak, Caputi, MacArthur, Grabovski and Armstrong (when healthy).  Hell, you could even toss Hanson on his wing if you really wanted to.

Having agreed with Wilson's assertion (though not his method of asserting) that the first line hasn't been up to snuff, I would like to see Kulemin head back to the first unit.  The guy seems to be the one catalyst for the Leafs this year and has made whatever line he's played on better.  You're likely hamstrung into leaving Bozak on the top unit given how well Grabovski and MacArthur have played together which means you'll have to hope he can play his way out of this slump.

Whatever the line combinations are is the job of the headcoach and to some extent, if a line isn't working, it's the coach's job to make things work.  Surely, Wilson believes that his public beratings will bring this about.  I'm more inclined to think that a line shake up will do it.


Leafschatter said...

Curt, I agree with your conclusion. The first line has to be changed. I also share your distaste for "calling people out".

However, until Wilson has new pieces, I can't see him (nor would I) change the first line.

Kessel is an established 30-goal scorer with potential to be a 40 or 50-goal scorer. Everyone agrees he is a first-liner.

Versteeg is the only "established" 20-goal scorer on the team. In addition, Tyler Bozak is the player with the potential of a "first-round draft pick".

Wilson must carry-on with these players until he has new/more pieces. Hopefully, things get resolved automatically.

The levers of change are in Brian Burke's hands. Ultimately, changes will result from a trade and the recall of Nazem Kadri. The two actions are probably inter-related. I see them as being inevitable.

All we can do is sit tight and wait. Perhaps, speculate as well. Let's make it fun.

Anonymous said...

I've totally agreed that head coach should bring/recall Nazem Kadri in first or second line and try it, hopefully they'll succeed..

Curt S said...

I'm against bringing up Kadri yet. I really want him in the AHL until December to fine tune his skills.

If he's the difference between a playoff spot or not the way the team has played the past few weeks, I would be surprised.

Leafschatter said...

I think it works out either way. That being said, you want to give the 24 to 26 year olds currently on the top six until January to show what they can do.

At that point, you can separate the wheat from the chaff. Then, bring up Kadri and work out a trade.

Bozak's situation might have more urgency given he has nine more games he can play before he reaches the point where he has to clear waivers to be assigned to the minors.

Anonymous said...

I say that Ron Wilson, though caustic, WAS a good NHL coach. I suspect that he has decided that this is his last contract. He's charging up the old 401K before retiring to the Carolinas, living beside the fairway of some golf course.

Which is exactly the problem. He's got Lenny Wilken's syndrome. Mailing it in, cashing the cheques while he puts in his time.

Grant him his wish, Mr. Burke. Fire him so he can go South and collect his severance. Trust me, you will make him happy. Then for Gawd's sake, go hire some wildly successful Major Jr A coach with a solid NHL background. That would be Dale Hunter, in my book. I'm open to anybody else who compares to Hunter.

Personally I think you and Nonis should be driving to London and tossing Hunter into your trunk then driving him back to the AC Centre as fast as you can.
But, you won't.

Curt S said...

@ Anonymous

Good call on Dale Hunter -- though I wonder if the Hunter's might be so successful because they're such good GMs in London.

Having said this, your assertion that Wilson has mailed it in might not be too far off base...