Cynics may suggest that the hiring of Scott Gordon and Greg Cronin – at the expense of Keith Acton and Tim Hunter – as assistants to head coach Ron Wilson may amount to change for change’s sake. And they may not be wrong.
After all, it’s hard to get terribly excited about adding a guy with a 64-94-23 head coaching record at the NHL level (Gordon) and a guy who was suspended as head coach at Northeastern University due to alleged recruitment violations (Cronin). Especially when those hirings cost the Leafs Acton, a Leafs coach since 2000, and Hunter, a close friend of Wilson’s and a vocal element on the Buds’ bench over the past three years.
But bigger picture perspective is needed here – and the coaching changes represent a much-needed breath of fresh air for an organization looking to start a new, successful chapter. They also mark GM Brian Burke’s first acknowledgement of changes to off-ice personnel being necessary along with on-ice moves. While some fans may be unhappy to see Wilson remain at the helm, it’s worth noting that his contract was not extended and that Gordon (incidentally, a close friend of his) has the head coaching experience to provide a seamless transition if the Leafs were to start next season off poorly and a change be needed behind the bench.
So just who are these guys? Gordon was stuck in Long Island purgatory as head coach of the Islanders for two and a half seasons, but maintained his reputation in NHL circles as a bright, young coaching mind. The former Providence Bruins head coach previously worked with Wilson as an assistant on the silver medal-winning US Olympic team at the 2010 Games.
Cronin began his coaching career as an Islanders’ assistant and has since been the main man behind the bench for the AHL’s Bridgeport Tigers and, prior to his February suspension, the Northeastern Huskies. His hiring has led to some speculation that the Leafs may try to trade up in Friday’s draft to grab Cronin’s former charge, towering defenceman Jamie Oleksiak.
Leafs at the Draft
Speaking of Friday’s draft, Burke will surely spend the rest of this week working the phones, with few NHL insiders expecting him to merely stand pat and sit on the two late first rounders he currently possesses (No. 25 and 30).
However, the scouting department is certainly prepared in the event that he holds onto the picks and, interestingly, there are a slew of ‘Burke-type’ players that could be had with those selections.
LW Matt Puempel, a Peterborough Pete forward who has been linked to Toronto at No. 25, boasts speed and exceptional puck-handling abilities to counter potential questions about his size (6’0”, 190 lbs.). But perhaps most intriguing to the Leafs’ organization is his gritty fearlessness when it comes to going into corners and parking himself in front of the net. Meanwhile, Portland Winterhawks RW Ty Rattie is a scorer with plenty of character who could offer a boost to the power play.
Some of the other names that could be called around those picks are big winger Tyler Biggs (US Developmental Program), Finnish forward Joel Armia and, should they choose to go the ‘D’ route, 6’4” Youngstown (USHL) defender Jeremy Mayfield.
Check back here on Saturday, as I’ll have a complete draft wrap-up, along with my thoughts and analysis of the evening’s happenings.
About the Author
Written by Ben Fisher