Burke, Wilson dynamic duo

 

This, folks, is going to be quite the duet.

 
 
 
 
 

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This, folks, is going to be quite the duet.

Brian Burke, about to conclude a multi-year, multi-million-dollar contract with the Maple Leafs to be their new president and general manager, will inherit as head coach his buddy and former teammate from their Providence College days, Ron Wilson.

"Shooting From the Hip" will now replace "Spirit Is Everything" as the new Leafs corporate motto.

Some days it will be fun, other days angry, a few days sarcastic. But watching Burke and Wilson combine forces for the first time in their long, successful hockey careers will be anything but dull.

Headline writers, sharpen your pencils.

Together, they represent probably the most colourful hockey duo in Toronto since the days when Harold Ballard and King Clancy used to hang out in the bunker at Maple Leaf Gardens.

"It'll either work really well," said one NHL figure who knows both Burke and Wilson well, "or it won't work at all."

Burke and Wilson like to kiddingly call each other "Lou" from the days they played for New Jersey Devils boss Lou Lamoriello at Providence, plus a few less printable names. Wilson loves to tell the story of how he and Burke actually got in a fight in practice at Providence one day. Wilson, the team star, saw Burke coming during a drill and let his stick do the talking. An outraged Burke took offence and grabbed Wilson.

The winner of the scrap? That depends on who's telling the story.

Wilson is among the most cerebral of coaches. He'll talk to you at length about being "bi-handed" like Brett Hull and how brain functions allow left-handers to shoot right-handed effectively. He loves HBO's Mad Men and reruns of Curb Your Enthusiasm, thought it was fitting to have Jamal Mayers take a ceremonial faceoff for the Leafs to commemorate the historic election of Barack Obama and loves to have evening Skype teleconference sessions with his 2-year-old grandchild.

Burke, a father of six, believes in beginning all discussions with a verbal equivalent of a ball-peen hammer to the forehead. He loves rum and arguments and is the ultimate partisan, fiercely protective of his players.

Wilson is in the first year of a four-year deal worth in the neighbourhood of $1.6 million (U.S.) per season. Burke will have a deal that runs two years longer at about $2.8 million per season. Only the Jersey combination of Lamoriello and Brent Sutter is believed to earn more.

How will they fare as a GM/coaching team? Based on their respective track records, it seems reasonable to assume they'll at least get the Leafs back to the post-season by 2010 or 2011. Wilson is one of the winningest coaches in NHL history and guided the U.S. team to its upset triumph over Canada in the 1996 World Cup, while Burke won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim two years ago.

While friends, they aren't exactly soulmates and have very different core beliefs on the sport. Burke loves blood 'n' guts hockey, while Wilson was the finesse player who competed in Europe and relies on brains and computers to coach.

Wilson's worst habit, according to some who have worked with him, is to start referring to "I" too much when the going gets tough and his players as "they." Burke is a "we" and "us" guy but also a first-class manipulator of the media.

Burke has fired big-name coaches, including Mike Keenan. He inherited Mike Babcock in Anaheim but refused to offer him more than a one-year contract, so Babcock took the hint and bolted to Detroit.

He could fire Wilson, too, but then again, he might ask him to coach Team USA in the 2010 Olympics.

For both, being employed by the Leafs is the biggest professional opportunity of their lives.

"This may work out because they need each other," one source said.

Now they just have to figure out how to read from the same songbook.

 
 
 
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7/24/2014 9:44:12 PM
 
 

 
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