The Toronto Maple Leafs officially named Ron Wilson as their new head coach Tuesday, in what general manager Cliff Fletcher joked was "a surprise announcement."
It was widely reported for several days that Wilson verbally agreed to terms on a four-year contract over the weekend after contemplating the team's offer for a few days. The deal, believed to be worth about $6.8 million in total over the four years, was signed Tuesday.
"I'm the happiest person in the National Hockey League today," Wilson said. "I'm fulfilling a dream."
Wilson said he took his time to try and take the emotion out of his decision.
"I needed a little bit of time to wrap my head around this and make sure I was ready to handle this kind of responsibility," Wilson said on Monday. "It's been pretty unanimous from all of my colleagues, that they think I can handle this responsibility. I just needed a little bit of time to let the whole decision-making process percolate and I feel very comfortable right now."
His ultimate goal is obvious, but Wilson acknowledged that he had some work to do in order to accomplish the dream with the Leafs.
"My goal is obviously to win a Stanley Cup, personally," Wilson said Monday. "The team I was coaching in San Jose was starting to knock on that door. We're nowhere near as close with the Maple Leafs organization."
On Tuesday, Wilson said he would be patient with the re-building team.
"The job of the head coach in the NHL, there is a good part of development involved," Wilson said. "You don't have the luxury in the salary cap era of putting guys in the minors for a few years."
He would not make any concrete predictions about how quickly the team's fortunes could be turned around, but suggested it could be done relatively quickly in the new NHL.
"If we can be knocking on the door in two years, that will be a tremendous accomplishment," he said. "And then we just have to knock the door down."
As for speculation about his old friend Brian Burke joining the Leafs as the general manager at some point, Wilson said he had not spoken to Burke once about the job in Toronto. On Tuesday, Wilson said the Leafs GM search was irrelevant.
"I work for Cliff right now, and I'm really looking forward to that," Wilson said. He later added that he hoped to have a little bit of input as Fletcher re-vamped the team's roster, and the GM responded by saying he would be seeking WIlson's opinions.
Wilson also said he would be putting in a new defensive system in front of goaltender Vesa Toskala, a player he knew and liked in San Jose.
"This team needs a little more structure defensively," Wilson said. "It needs to do a better job killing penalties. I think I can help make a difference here."
Wilson, 53, has spent the last two decades behind the bench, compiling a record of 518-446-127 over his 1,091 games with the San Jose Sharks, Washington Capitals and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. His career win totals rank third among active coaches, behind Bryan Murray and Mike Keenan. He was also an assistant coach with the Vancouver Canucks in 1991 and 1992 under head coach Pat Quinn.
He enjoyed a career season in 1997-98 as head coach of the U.S. National Team at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, and also led the Capitals to the Stanley Cup Final against the Detroit Red Wings. In 1996, he coached the U.S. to victory at the inaugural World Cup of Hockey.
Wilson, who was fired last month after the Sharks were eliminated from the playoffs by the Dallas Stars, spent five years in San Jose as head coach, leading them to four straight postseason berths and the Western Conference Final in 2004. He holds club coaching records for wins (206), winning percentage (.535) and postseason games coached (52), and the Sharks put together a 206-134-45 record in the regular season and a 28-24 playoff record.