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No sweet-talk from Maple Leafs and coach Ron Wilson

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson gestures on the bench during the third period of their NHL hockey game against the Vancouver Canucks in Toronto November 13, 2010. REUTERS/Fred Thornhill

Fred Thornhill/Reuters

Leave it to Ron Wilson to get right to the point.

On a day when an incredible 70 players – 60 per cent of whom have no hope of making the team – were put through physicals at the Maple Leafs' training camp, the coach made it clear he only gives a hoot about the 25 who can put Toronto in the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons.

"I'm cutting through all the B.S. here and getting right down to the NHL players," Wilson said. "I'm not worried about where we're going to be in two or three years. My primary responsibility is making the playoffs this year and getting off to a good start."

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No more talk of youth movements, which is interesting given that was all the talk at the end of last season.

No more sugarcoating the work ahead, not with Wilson's job on the line and a playoff berth both needed and so tough to get.

So while the players came into Day 1 on Friday as optimistic as ever that this is the Leafs' year, Wilson was the realist of the day, putting in perspective the challenge and how he intends to get there.

Step 1 will mean chopping that list of 70 players to 40 by Wednesday, then down to 26 or 27 by next weekend.

"I've stressed this with management," Wilson said.

That clear-cutting will give the coaching staff roughly two exhibition games with the group of 40, and three more with what will be close to the team's final roster.

Toronto will then have to be right down to 23 players or fewer by Oct. 5, the day before the regular season opens at the Air Canada Centre against the Montreal Canadiens.

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Getting to that number quickly is a must, given the need for chemistry and being ready to go out of the gate, something considered even more vital given the Leafs open the season with five home games, including four against teams that missed the postseason last year.

The NHL's collective agreement mandates that training camp lasts only 20 days, which, minus the Leafs' eight preseason games, gives Wilson and Co. only 11 practice days to incorporate the newcomers like Tim Connolly and John-Michael Liles and make a few alterations to how this team plays.

"We've got some different looks that our team's going to have to get used to," Wilson said. "We'll try and introduce that a little bit [Saturday]morning."

The coach declined to tip his hand as to exactly what those changes will be, but said he believes the team's woeful special teams will improve due to new personnel on the power play (namely Connolly and Liles) and "tweaks" the revamped coaching staff will make on the penalty kill.

"A lot of our time will be spent, starting Thursday when we have our team, on our special teams," Wilson said.

He added that he believes this will also be a quicker group, at forward and defence, and that that will translate into more offence than the 213 goals (tied for 21st in the league) Toronto produced a year ago.

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So for Wilson, that's the game plan for ending the drought, one that should be evident as soon as Monday's first preseason game against the Ottawa Senators.

But will it add up to the Leafs being a playoff team?

"Everybody thinks they are right now," Wilson said.

And it's three weeks until they have to start to prove it.

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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