Ron Wilson excited to work with Leafs' Fletcher
New coach downplays talk of potential reunion with GM Brian Burke in Toronto
Ron Wilson showed his lighter side early and often Tuesday in his first meeting with Toronto reporters after being named the 27th head coach in Maple Leafs history.
Dressed in a suit jacket, and blue and dark grey-striped tie, the 53-year-old was in a joking mood until talk shifted to the team's vacant general manager's position.
Wilson, who was fired as coach of the San Jose Sharks after their exit in Round 2 of this year's Stanley Cup playoffs, played down the potential for a personality clash with the incoming GM.
"I don't believe I've had a problem with any one of [my previous NHL bosses in Anaheim, Washington and San Jose]. Whoever comes in here as the general manager, I'm pretty confident that I can get along with them," said Wilson, who has a career NHL coaching record of 518-446-127.
"I work for [Maple Leafs interim GM] Cliff [Fletcher] right now and I'm really looking forward to that. Whether it's for two weeks or five years, I get to pick a great hockey mind and I plan on doing that."
A seventh-round draft pick by Toronto in 1975, Wilson expressed confidence in Fletcher and other members of the Maple Leafs management team to hire the right person to manage the NHL club.
The 70-something Fletcher took over as interim GM when John Ferguson Jr. was fired on Jan. 22, and has said repeatedly the GM's job with the Leafs is suited for a younger person.
That person, according to many hockey observers, is Brian Burke, who has a year remaining on his contract with the Ducks as their executive vice-president and GM.
On more than one occasion, Toronto reportedly has been denied permission to talk to Burke. It has met with former Vancouver Canucks GM Dave Nonis, a good friend of Burke's, about an unspecified position.
After meeting with Ducks owner Henry Samueli and chief executive officer Michael Schulman on April 23, Burke said he would stay on as Ducks GM for "at least one more year."
Burke a 'best friend': Wilson
But Samueli has since been battling legal issues unrelated to the team, which could prompt Burke into seeking a different environment for the start of the 2008-09 NHL season.
"I can't deny that Brian Burke is one of my best friends," said Wilson, who was born in Windsor, Ont., and raised in Fort Erie, Ont. "We started school together in 1973 at Providence College in Rhode Island. "Brian did help me land my first coaching job in Milwaukee.
"I read that our families vacation together and stuff which has never happened. Brian and I are in contact because we're friends. We do alumni things for Providence College. We help them raise money."
Wilson added that if his relationship with Burke were as tight as some in the media would suggest, they would have worked together at some point over the last 14 years.
A possible Burke-Wilson Toronto scenario was further fuelled by the reported resignation of the former's wife, Jennifer, with CBC's Living Vancouver.
However, Wilson also has a strong relationship with New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello, with whom he has never worked in the NHL.
"If you just rely on your friends, I probably wouldn't have a job," said Wilson, who called his four-year contract to coach in Toronto a dream fulfilled.
"But Brian is a good friend and he's someone I would go to war with any time."
Another dream Maple Leafs fans would probably like to see realized sooner rather than later.
With files from the Canadian Press