The Leafs have had a busy off-season. Before the draft, trading for Cody Franson, signing Tim Connolly and Clarke MacArthur, the Leafs have been expanding their league leading front office. One of the surprise moves was the firing of Tim Hunter and Keith Acton. The former because Ron Wilson has had Hunter at his side for years and because let's face it, who would want to tell that guy he was canned. The latter because he had somehow survived three GMs (maybe four if you count Mike Smith in that equation), three head coaches, and two Presidents of the Maple Leafs. Despite all of that time, it was never really determined what it was that he did for the Leafs. Two theories I saw mentioned at different times were that he was in charge of fitness and the penalty kill better known as two things the Leafs have been awful at since the lockout.
Anyway, that particular enigma is no longer our problem since he's finally gone and he's been replaced by Scott Gordon formerly the head coach of the New York Islanders. There's some talk that he might be Brian Burke's backup plan in case this season begins poorly and he has to fire Ron Wilson. It makes some sense that he would parachute his next coach in as an assistant because he might otherwise lose him. But what if the team comes out roaring? So this point isn't about the possible politics of the hiring but rather the kind of coach that the Leafs have in Scott Gordon. For the full story, a special thank you goes to Dominik at Lighthouse Hockey for the scouting report.
Dominik: In the beginning, when Gordon was hired, there was hope:
So for once, scraping by into the 8th seed is not the end-game. Instead, laying a foundation for the future is. That foundation includes determining whether the Islanders' young assets can play effectively at all -- but also whether they can do it in Scott Gordon's high-pressure forechecking system.
But it was never clear if he'd last long enough to get or develop the players talented enough to apply his somewhat ambitious aggressive forecheck. The easy route in hockey, especially with a poor roster, is to go Roger Nielson. Gordon could never go Roger Nielson. He was hired with the young players in mind -- to groom them along and train them in his system and play more entertaining hockey. When it worked, it was cool. When it didn't, it was ugly.
PPP: That sounds awfully similar to Ron Wilson who has both sought to implement a similar system and voiced the exact same reservations. He has spoken before that when rebuilding his easiest way to succeed would be to play the trap, shut up shop, and hope to steal points that way. The smart thing to do, however, would be to play the system that he envisions for the day when the Leafs are once again competitive so that as the team sifts through the coal any diamonds that can play the system will be identified.
Dominik: When his first season went belly up as the team was forced to rely on Yann Danis and Joey McDonald in goal, he went full-hog with the young kids. This ticked off veterans like Mike Comrie, Bill Guerin, Jon Sim and Brendan Witt. Note where those guys' NHL careers have gone.
PPP: Wilson has had a tough job to do balancing the ice-time that he gives veterans while still ensuring that the kids are exposed to the pressure situations that will help the team evaluate their long-term potential. While he has leaned on particular veteran players - Francois Beauchemin comes to mind - it has usually been done with the purpose of shielding kids as they develop. As the kids have shown themselves to be ready, they have been given more responsibility. The blue line is a great example of how the Leafs have slowly worked veterans out of the lineup as the younger players have been prepared to take on the mantle of responsibility.
Dominik: After years of mostly success in AHL (and never being promoted by the Bruins), maybe Gordon needed an assistant's job in the NHL first. He's pretty dry, a bit cantankerous in interviews, very sure of his approach. An example of his dry with can be seen here. I find this to be a refreshing "take no B.S." approach much like Ron Wilson, but it obviously doesn't rub people right.
I tend to think the angry vets knew their last payday was coming (hello, Billy McNulty Guerin) and so didn't want to be stuck in a rebuild. But no doubt his dryness and perhaps academic communication style didn't play well with longtime vets who were about to be out of hockey within a year or two. He probably needs Don King to hype his pressers.
PPP: Well that's the easiest comparison to Ron Wilson here. He's famous for being difficult with the media and often it's entertaining for Leafs fans. As we've seen in sports over and over again, the biggest crime you can commit is to make a reporter's life difficult. They may not have the gumption to do it face to face but you can rest assured that the beaking that Ron Wilson (and Brian Burke) do at the media is repaid in some of their coverage.
Dominik: Gordon's very X and O oriented; that may be a strength for an assistant. When he was canned, young Islanders alternately talked of how much they learned from him but also of how much more free they felt under Jack Capuano -- free to use their instincts, and not forcing their square pegs into round holes. His history at the World Championships isn't stellar -- but as with the Islanders, you wonder if that's more on the coach or more on his roster.
PPP: Wilson's a guy that is at both times well invested in Xs and Os - his staff have tablets on the bench so that they can immediately break down plays - and tactically stiff - how long did it take the staff to ease up on their demand that players use two hands on their stick on the penalty kill - which can be maddening.
Dominik: In short: Good at X and O tactics. At breaking the game down and identifying opposition approaches. Not necessarily a great communicator, so hard to picture as the "good cop" role you often expect in an assistant (Maybe that falls to Cronin?). I can't imagine him not helping the Leafs, considering where they've been on special teams and such. But I can't picture him lightening up the room and giving the team a needed rain delay like Crash Davis.
PPP: If Gordon is to be the replacement in the case of a poor start to the season it seems that Burke has made sure to bring in a coach that has a similar philosophy to Ron Wilson. It makes sense that Burke would want a coach that could bring some continuity since he has been ostensibly building his team to play a particular style of play. However, it could partly be seen as worrisome to keep running with a style of play that some would argue has been a failure. Anyway, it's ultimately a discussion for another day. For now, it's good to see that the Leafs continue to use their financial muscle in non-cap related ways.