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The Demise of Ron Wilson

We take a look into what caused Ron Wilson to lose his job as the Bulldogs' assistant coach.

Current Hamilton Bulldogs head coach Sylvain Lefebvre behind the Colorado Avalanche Bench in 2011
Current Hamilton Bulldogs head coach Sylvain Lefebvre behind the Colorado Avalanche Bench in 2011
Doug Pensinger

It's no surprise when a struggling team makes changes to its hockey operations staff, be it the coaches, or the GM. More often than not, the team needs a new voice, or a new direction, instead of new personnel. However, when a coach who was fired by an organization once before is brought back and then fired once again shortly after, it certainly raises some questions.

Ron Wilson was a long serving coach for the Bulldogs. He was in charge of the defence when he arrived as an assistant to Doug Jarvis in 2003, and was in charge of a very strong defence when the Bulldogs finally won their first Calder Cup in 2007. He also had a short stint as head coach late in 2008 - 2009 when then-head coach Don Lever was called up to be one of Bob Gainey's assistants after Guy Carbonneau was let go. When the Bulldogs hired Guy Boucher in 2009, he was not part of the coaching staff, instead going to the Chicago Wolves to work with Don Lever once again, who was the head coach at the time. When the Atlanta Thrashers (remember them?) were relocated to Winnipeg, the whole system was wiped clean, costing Wilson his job once again.

Shortly after he was relieved of his duties with Chicago, the Canadiens came calling again. He was appointed as Clement Jodoin's assistant, taking care of the forwards this time. Continuing with the coaching carousel, Jodoin was brought onto the Canadiens' coaching staff, leaving Wilson once again wondering about his future with the club.

When Marc Bergevin was hired by the Canadiens as the new GM, he set out to find a new set of coaches for the ‘Dogs. He hired Sylvain Lefebvre, and Donald Dufresne. At the time, Lefebvre had been an assistant coach for the Colorado Avalanche's AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters. Dufresne came from the QMJHL, where he had multiple stints as an assistant coach, as well as the GM of the Rimouski Oceanic for 3 years.

Ron Wilson was kept on the coaching staff when the new hiring's happened, perhaps to keep some stability with the team, seeing as they had 3 sets of coaches over 3 years. I believe he was kept on as somewhat of an advisor, being that he has won 2 Calder Cups as a coach, as well as having 10 years' experience behind the bench. He also took on a new role, managing the forwards, while Donald Dufresne watched over the defence.

To say the Bulldogs' forwards were not playing well under Wilson would be the understatement of the century. The Bulldogs sit dead last in goals for in the league, averaging just 2.13 goals a game, for a total of 95 on the season. This season, they've recorded record low shot totals (14) twice, as well as being shut out for 3 straight games.

Wilson was not dealt a great hand to start with. He inherited a very young forward core, with an average age of 23 years old. 7 of his men were rookies either fresh out of junior or the NCAA. Couple that with the NHL lockout-bolstered teams, and you have a recipe for disaster.

However, the players cannot take the full blame for the poor results so far this season. Many times this year, those of us who follow the Bulldogs closely were left scratching our heads when looking over the lineups and the lines from morning skates. It was perplexing to see players like Stortini and Hagel, who play the same role (the role of the useless player) in the lineup night in and night out, with players like Alexander Avtsin sitting, even after recording points in the games prior.

Players that the Bulldogs were expected to lean on for offense like Louis Leblanc and Mike Blunden instead found themselves playing checking roles, with young forwards still wet behind the ears getting most of the ice-time. Louis Leblanc has seen very limited power play time all year, perhaps due to his injury in December, however there's a case to be made that he would be better suited on the PP due to less skating and more offensive zone work.

Continuing on the lines, Wilson constantly juggled not only the lines, but the positions the players played. Patrick Holland, Michael Bournival, Gabriel Dumont, Steven Chaput, and Olivier Fortier have all seen time at the centre position, being switched from the wing frequently.

I truly think Wilsons undoing was not only the forward usage, but lack of a solid offensive system, which is understandable since he usually coached the defence. Wilson failed to have structure with the offense, often switching player's positions and not managing his zone starts well. There were multiple times when the Bulldogs were trailing by a goal late in the game, with an offensive zone faceoff, only to see guys like Zach Stortini or Kyle Hagel skate onto the ice. Players like that don't win you games; they're more likely to take a dumb penalty than score an important goal.

It's my belief that Sylvain Lefebvre had seen enough, and decided that it was his turn to step in and try and right the ship. We'll be paying much closer attention to how Lefebvre uses his forwards from now on to see if Wilson truly was the problem.