But was Wilson really the problem in Toronto? Based on his resume, it doesn’t seem likely. Many of his critics in Toronto seemed to forget that Wilson is one of the most successful coaches in NHL history, ranking in the top ten for career victories while coaching somewhere every season since 1993.
It’s too soon to say whether we’ll ever get another look at Wilson behind an NHL bench, but history suggests we may not want to count him out just yet. In the meantime, let’s take a fond look back at some of the notable moments from the long career of Ron Wilson.
September 14, 1973 - As a freshman at Providence College, Wilson begins to wonder why his annoying roommate spends all his spare time reading the thesaurus and practicing undoing his necktie.
June 3, 1975 – Wilson is picked by the Maple Leafs in the same draft that also sees Toronto select Bruce Boudreau and Ken Holland as part of the team’s patented strategy of focusing on players who have demonstrated keen intelligence and excellent leadership and zero ability to actually play hockey.
June 29, 1993 – The expansion Mighty Ducks of Anaheim make Wilson the first coach in franchise history, leading to a four year stint that he’ll later describe as enjoyable once you can get past every single kid you meet walking away muttering “Wow, Gordon Bombay did not age well”.
May 20, 1997 – Despite the team making its first playoff appearance, the Mighty Ducks choose not to renew Wilson’s contract while citing “philosophical differences”. The philosophical differences turn out to be that Wilson asserts that what we believe to be reality is fundamentally a mental construct and rejects any theory that does not ascribe priority to the mind, while the Ducks want somebody cheaper.
June 9, 1998 – Wilson leads Washington to a stunning appearance in the Stanley Cup finals. He’ll later attribute his unprecedented success as coach of the Capitals to his strategy of constantly asking team captain Dale Hunter what he’d do if he were the coach, and then doing the exact opposite.
December 5, 2002 – Wilson replaces Darryl Sutter as coach in San Jose after Sharks’ GM Dean Lombardi realizes that it would be crazy to ever expect Sutter to have success turning around a struggling team in California.
June 22, 2007 – Upon learning that the Sharks have acquired a first-round draft pick in exchange for backup goalie Vesa Toskala, a laughing Wilson is overheard predicting that any team dumb enough to make that trade will probably always be stuck with consistently terrible goaltending that will drive their coach insane.
March 1, 2008 – Wilson becomes the Sharks’ all-time leader in regular season wins, with 193. He also holds the franchise record for most big-game wins in the playoffs, with “came really close that one time”.
June 2, 2008 – Wilson meets with Maple Leafs interim general manager Cliff Fletcher to discuss the vacant head coaching role, in a job interview that takes several hours due to Fletcher’s habit of turning around and loudly repeating every one of Wilson’s answer in the direction of the large potted plant in the corner of his office that’s shaped like Brian Burke and keeps giving the thumbs up.
February 28, 2010 – Wilson and Burke see Team USA’s inspiring Olympics run come to a heartbreaking end in the gold medal game against Canada, in a loss that experts will unanimously agree was caused by their stubborn refusal to use any players from Ontario.
December 25, 2011 – Wilson gets one of those Christmas gifts that seems super cool when you open it up but winds up being broken and worthless just two months later.
February 28, 2012 – Maple Leafs fans chant “Fire Wilson” during a lackluster home loss to the Florida Panthers. Burke will later admit that he had never heard anything like that in his entire career, by which he presumably means fans at the ACC making noise.
March 3, 2012 - Sitting at home on his couch with his family and a cold beer, Ron Wilson enjoys a Toronto Maple Leaf game for the first time in four years.