For the past few seasons, Leafs’ fans, the Toronto media, and it seems just about everyone has been calling for a makeover on the Toronto coaching staff. Most of that criticism is centered on head coach Ron Wilson, but it was made clear midway through the season that Wilson’s position was safe, at least for now. Still, after today, Leaf fans can still take some solace in the fact that management has seen fit to bring in some outside help to try and correct the aspects of the Leafs’ game that won’t be fixed solely through free agent acquisitions, blockbuster trades or brilliant draft picks.
Both assistant coaches Tim Hunter and Keith Acton were relieved of their duties today, while Scott Gordon and Greg Cronin were hired as their replacements. Of the two, I’m personally the most excited about Gordon, a former NHL head coach and Wilson’s assistant on the silver medal-winning American Olympic team. Gordon coached just over 2 seasons with the New York Islanders, and while they finished last in the Atlantic Division in both 2009 and 2010, it’s not as if he can be accused of wasting a team that was blessed with an influx of talent. Gordon was fired as head coach in New York after just 17 games in 2010-11, but was still brought on by Burke to help Wilson guide the American squad that nearly crushed the dreams of millions of Canadian hockey fans in Vancouver last spring (imagine the riots we woulda seen then, eh?).
Gordon’s record as an NHL coach may not be sparkling, but the reason he was given the opportunity at the helm of the Isles’ youthful franchise was his proven track record with other young players in the AHL. After guiding the Roanoke Express of the ECHL to the Kelly Cup Finals in 1999, he was given an opportunity with the Providence Bruins in 2003, when he took over as head coach. In 2007-08, he led the Bruins to the best record in the AHL, winning 55 games and earning the AHL coach of the year award. Although he spent the next three years as the bench boss of one of the worst teams in the league, he did earn some valuable experience while coaching numerous tournaments at the international level. He was Wilson’s assistant coach at the 2009 World Championships, as well as the 2010 Olympics, while earning the spot as head coach for the 2011 World Championships.
The other addition to the Leafs’ staff, Greg Cronin, joins the Leafs after a tumultuous conclusion to his career as head coach of the Northeastern Huskies. Prior to coaching the Huskies, Cronin had coached the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the AHL affiliate for the New York Islanders, for two seasons. He coached Northeastern for 6 seasons, including an impressive season in 2008-09, where they won 25 games, nearly won the regular season title for Hockey East and made it to the NCAA Tournament. He was suspended from Northeastern in 2011 after being suspected of possible recruiting violations – but hey, as long as we don’t get accused of tampering, that shouldn’t be an issue up here in the big leagues.
What’s appealing about these hires is that both men have a solid amount of involvement (most importantly, post-lockout, where the game has unquestionably seen a great deal of change) with young, developing players. The skill set they’ve obviously demonstrated in their previous work environments will certainly come in handy on the youngest team in the NHL. Nothing against Acton and Hunter, but they obviously weren’t offering a whole lot of tactical support to Wilson, evidenced by the Leafs’ awful performance in both the defensive zone and their special teams play. Hopefully, some new faces will lead to new improvements in the Leafs’ game next season.