Michael Traikos of the National Post has opined that the Toronto Maple Leafs — off to their best start since 1994 — should extend the contract of head coach Ron Wilson.
“Does this earn the beleaguered head coach his contract extension? We certainly think so. After all, the Leafs are a Northeast Division-leading 9-3-1. Flip that record around — 3-9-1 — and people would undoubtedly be calling for Wilson’s head right now,” Traikos writes. “So why not reward him? Why not give Wilson, who is in the final year of a four-year contract, more time to continue growing this team? Why not let him breathe a little easier?”
It’s not a horrible idea, even though the Leafs have been subpar (at best) for most of Wilson’s tenure.
That said, his coaching history shows a tendency for success in years four and five:
In Anaheim: Best season was his fourth and final one — 36-33-13, 85 points, first playoff appearance.
In Washington: Best seasons were third/fourth — back-to-back division crowns.
In San Jose: Best seasons were fourth/fifth — 107 and 108 points respectively.
This is Wilson’s fourth season in Toronto and based on and based on an admittedly small sample size, his best. Toronto has won games despite playing without starting goalie James Reimer and No. 1 center Tim Connolly for large stretches. Phil Kessel looks great, Dion Phaneuf looks great and the team is getting contributions from everywhere (see: Crabb, Joey and Scrivens, Ben.)
That said — we’re only 13 games into the season. Still haven’t hit the quarter pole. Which means you have to take the following into account:
— The Leafs have defeated exactly three playoff teams from a year ago (the Rangers, Habs and Penguins.)
— The Leafs have yet to leave the Eastern time zone.
— The Leafs have the NHL’s worst penalty kill.
— Luke Schenn is playing less than 10 minutes a game.
— 30-goal scorer Nikolai Kulemin has just two goals.
Now look, this isn’t to urinate on the parade or anything — the Leafs are off to a tremendous start and should be applauded — but there’s a reason GM Brian Burke likes to wait at least 20 games before assessing his team’s performance.
In 2010, Colorado started 12-7-1 but finished 29th in the standings. In 2009, Columbus started 12-6-2 but ended up firing Ken Hitchcock and missing the playoffs. Getting off to a good start is great, but maintaining it is far more important.
Wilson deserves a lot of credit, but an extension? It’s way too early for that.