MONTREAL – Only hours before his dismissal, players inside the Leaf dressing room defended the job of Ron Wilson, pointing the finger squarely in their own direction.
But on Friday evening – as first reported by Darren Dreger – Wilson was fired as head coach of the slumping Leafs. A major skid which saw the club lose 10 of 11 games ultimately spelt the end for Wilson with former Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle set to take over behind the bench against the Canadiens on Saturday.
"No one in the room's thinking it's him," Clarke MacArthur told TSN.ca just hours before Wilson's dismissal. "Everyone in the room's looking at themselves and saying what just happened here and how can we fix it. No one's looking at him. It's about looking at our self in the mirror and figuring something out."
"You win games, that's how you prevent coaches getting fired," Dave Steckel noted strongly in conversation with TSN.ca on Friday afternoon. "Bottom line. That's all it is."
Wind of the dismissal filtered to Leaf players during the dinner hour in downtown Montreal. Upon arriving back at their hotel, the team assembled for a meeting led by President and General Manager Brian Burke.
"We take ownership in what we've done as a team as of late," Cody Franson said following the dismissal. "It's definitely partly on our shoulders. You can't put everything on the coach like that. It's unfortunate the way it folded out, but it's part of the game and we have to try and move forward."
In freefall since early February, the Leafs have fallen to 12th in the Eastern Conference (65 points) with 18 games still to play.
"We aren't that far out," Franson added. "We have to do everything we can to make a real solid push at this thing. It hasn't gone our way in the last little while here, but the time hasn't run out on us yet so we're going to make a solid push.
"Ronnie will be missed. He was a good coach. Hopefully we can go in and play well for Randy."
A former Leafs draft pick, Carlyle won a Stanley Cup with Burke and the Ducks in 2007, dismissed by the club after a 7-13-4 start this season.
"He did well," Mike Brown said, one of two Leafs – the other being Joffrey Lupul – to have played for Carlyle with the Ducks. "He won the Cup in Anaheim. He's a good coach."
Burke resisted calls for Wilson's firing earlier in the week, obviously sensing the need for a dramatic shake-up with slightly over a month left in the season and his team in danger of missing the postseason for the seventh consecutive season.
"This was not an easy decision for me to make," Burke said via statement. "I want to thank Ron for all of his hard work and dedication to our organization over the past four seasons."
Plagued by troubles defensively during the recent skid, the Leafs have yielded four or more goals against in eight of the past 11 games. They've not been helped one bit by increasingly shaky goaltending from James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson. How Carlyle can impact a spiraling club without stability between the pipes remains to be seen.
Wilson concludes his Toronto tenure with a record of 130-135-45, unable to reach the postseason at least once with an NHL club for the first time in his coaching career. An assistant coach with Wilson since their days together in San Jose, Rob Zettler will be reassigned within the organization.