Custom Search

Can Ron Wilson ever relax?

Watching Ron Wilson, now entering his third season behind the bench with Toronto, is quite interesting if a bit wrenching to observe as a hockey fan.

In short, he’s not an easy guy to watch.

He is clearly an engaging fellow and a good NHL coach, with impressive international credentials as a many-times coach with the U.S. national program.

He has always been known for a sense of humor but also for being rather acerbic as a way of dealing with media questions or situations he does not like, or  that he is clearly uncomfortable with.

I raise this today on the heels of his comments, expression and demeanor in the wake of a simple question after Wednesday night’s pre-season game in Ottawa.  A reporter (as annoying, yes, as their questions often are for coaches) was simply doing their job.  It was difficult to hear the precise question, but it was, on the surface, basically a general question along the lines of: “So are there some players on the bubble who will get one last chance to impress you before the regular season starts next week”, or words to that effect.

You would have thought Wilson was being asked, like Tiger Woods at one of his many recent uncomfortable press conferences, about his personal life.

Wilson responded in a manner that spoke to his discomfort, impatience and lack of respect for the job that reporters have to do.  It was as though he was saying, emphatically: stop asking ridiculous questions, with emphasis on the word “crap”.

Hey, we all realize this is Toronto.  Nazem Kadri has had more lines written about him before he has played his second NHL regular-season game than some players get through a long and productive NHL career.

That’s odd, to be sure.  But it really does go with the territory. The Leafs, and MLSE, are one of the most successful sports businesses and also one of the wealthiest sports conglomerates in the world.  The coaches, management personnel and players are all paid more than handsomely, which is fine.  But I raise that point within the context that hockey is a sport that is really third-tier at best in the U.S., and less than that in most of the rest of the world.  So the Leafs succeed financially for the very reason that fans care so much and also pay with an inordinate amount of their leisure time, interest and personal income to support (game tickets, souvenirs, etc.) the Leafs and MLSE’s longstanding and highly unsuccessful ventures in hockey, basketball and soccer.

The media, even those individuals that the everyday Leaf followers themselves may have little regard for, do, in part, represent the “fans”.  The fans don’t get to ask Ron Wilson questions often, if at all.  So as part of his task, he must meet with the reporters once or twice a day during the hockey season.  It’s not like he is being asked to pick up a grenade.

Yet when he is asked simple questions, he often looks as though he is facing an un-appetizing meal.

His response to the question I cited above was classic Wilson.  An unhappy, disdainful look.  He basically blew off the question, annoyed as he was that anyone dared bring up the fact that there may be jobs on the line, though this is precisely the time of year when coaches and management decide –and discuss quite publicly—who is or isn’t playing well and who will and won’t make the team.

Now, as Wilson rightly said, people do tend to over-react to these early season roster decisions.  Fair enough.  A guy who “makes” the team Sunday may be down with the Marlies in two weeks, and a guy with the Marlies may in turn be up with the big club.

But c’mon, this is Toronto.  If the Leafs want people to remain interested— and your organization hasn’t won anything, and I mean anything, since 1967 and has been absolutely lousy for five years— then answering simple questions in September (heaven forbid they make the playoffs in April and anyone dare asks Wilson who is playing in goal) should not induce agitation, frustration or anything else.

The fact is, people are interested if Nazem Kadri makes the team.  Should they be?  That doesn’t really matter.  What else are fans of this long-inept team going to talk about, if you are a Leaf fan?  Would the Leafs prefer that we remind them every day that budding 18-year old superstar Tyler Seguin doesn’t play here?  Or that, as a result of that same trade, yet another (possibly high) first-round draft choice will go to the rival Bruins next summer? (And I like Kessel as much as the next guy, I’m just making a point.)

People here do care, for some reason, who will be the third-line center in Toronto.  Even the fourth-line center.  What else can we discuss?  To take the cynical point of view, maybe if management and coaches had done a better job in the first place, we wouldn’t be discussing whether borderline NHL players are “in the mix”.  They would have a Cup-worthy roster already and there would be no debate in Leafland.

This entire training camp process of booking so many games to make more money for MLSE obviously wasn’t about getting enough precious practice time to work on the power play and the penalty kill (though both units looked just fine Wednesday night).  It was about money.  And, presumably, finding out if Kadri was ready or not.  And who of Mitchell, Hanson, Brent and others may earn, for now, a roster spot.

But that’s it.  There was no competition in goal.  None on defense.  None on the first two lines.

And it was the Leaf brass that went out of its way to comment publicly on Kadri all week.  But when reporters turn around and ask questions, it’s as though they’ve created an issue that doesn’t exist.

Oh well.  Wilson, like the rest of us, is who he is.  And, he’s a good hockey guy, I’m sure.

You just hope at some point he will be able to enjoy his time with the Leafs—or that at least it won’t look so constantly painful for him.  He’s not being asked to cure a multi-trillion dollar deficit or run the United States— just get paid really, really well to coach the Maple Leafs.

No comments:

Post a Comment