Maple Leafs job a 'dream': Ron Wilson
The challenge is great, but Ron Wilson said on Tuesday he's elated to become head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Wilson, 53, shook hands with general manager Cliff Fletcher at a news conference officially bringing him on board as coach of the club he made his NHL debut with as a player over 30 years ago.
"Today to be able to come back and be a part of the Maple Leafs again is basically a dream fulfilled that I never got to experience," said Wilson.
Wilson previously coached the San Jose Sharks, Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks, and has an overall record of 518 wins, 426 losses, 46 overtime losses and 101 ties.
The dominoes for Wilson's hiring fell within a span of five days in early May. Paul Maurice was let go by Toronto on May 7 after two seasons on the job, with Wilson also fired after nearly five seasons with the Sharks.
Wilson received an offer from Toronto last week and mulled it over at his South Carolina home before accepting it over the weekend.
"When you've gone through the roller coaster that I've been through over the last month, you want to make sure that you take the emotion out of the decision-making process and make your decision with your head, and I think I've been able to do that," Wilson said.
It is reportedly a four-year deal worth between $6-7 million US.
He becomes the 36th head coach for Toronto since the inception of the NHL, and the 27th since the franchise became the Maple Leafs.
Toronto has not made the playoffs since 2004, finishing out of the race in the three seasons since the NHL lockout. The Maple Leafs have not won the Stanley Cup since 1967.
Wilson said he believed a team can turn its fortunes around quickly in the NHL, hoping the Leafs would be "knocking on the door" in two years.
"I view the Leafs as a team in transition," said Wilson. "It's going to require a lot of work, it's going to require a lot of energy and attention to detail, but I'm the happiest person in the National Hockey League today."
Wilson said he will spend the next few weeks familiarizing himself with the team, but singled out captain Mats Sundin, and defenders Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina for praise, among others. It is not known yet whether Sundin will return for another season.
Wilson saved his biggest praise for goalie Vesa Toskala, who played for the coach in San Jose.
The Sharks finished with at least 99 points in each of Wilson's four full seasons, but didn't manage to reach the Stanley Cup final.
Took Capitals to final
Wilson will return to Toronto to coach the NHL club he debuted with as a player in 1977-78. He played 177 games with the Leafs and Minnesota North Stars before embarking on his coaching career.
Wilson spent his formative years in Canada in Fort Erie, Ont., before his family moved to the United States. Wilson, who was born in Windsor, Ont., holds dual citizenship.
"I left Fort Erie in 1967 right after the Leafs won the Stanley Cup. It might be my fault, but I'm back," he joked.
After serving as an assistant with the Vancouver Canucks, Wilson got his first NHL head coaching job with Anaheim in 1993. After four seasons with the Mighty Ducks, he moved on to Washington and made his only trip to the Stanley Cup final in his first year as a coach with the Capitals. Washington was defeated by Detroit in the 1998 final.
He also coached the U.S. in international competition. He led a U.S. squad to a big win over Canada at the 1996 World Cup, although the Americans couldn't match that success under him two years later at the Nagano Olympics.
In addition to Toronto's longstanding woes on the ice, Wilson heads to a club with a front office situation that has not been definitively settled.
Wilson said he had no trepidation over who Fletcher's eventual successor would be, stating that he has worked well for four different general managers in his coaching career.
He added that he has a good list of names in mind for assistant coaches. Keith Acton survived the axe when Maurice and the other assistants were let go.
Toronto was reportedly denied permission on more than one occasion to talk to Brian Burke, currently under contract as general manager of the Anaheim Ducks. Wilson played with Burke at Providence College in the mid-1970s, but has never worked with him.
With files from the Canadian Press