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Wilson the “least popular” NHL coach? It’s hard not to comment on this one

It’s hard to argue that Ron Wilson has been anything other than a highly successful NHL coach.  The fact that he has not  a Stanley Cup does not diminish, for me at least, his standing in the game.

He has made Washington, Anaheim and San Jose better on his watch and has won more games as a coach than all but a handful of guys in the history of the game.

The guy can coach.

That said, it’s hard not to notice the players’ poll (over 300 NHL players, administered by Hockey Night in Canada and the NHLPA) released on Sunday at the All-Star game in Raleigh.  While the “poll” seems to suggest that while Toronto remains a preferred destination for many players (while not near the top of the "want to play there"  list, only 5% said it was where they least wanted to play), when it comes to coaches, 24% of the players responding evidently named Wilson as the coach they would least like to play for.

Now, sometimes guys have an ‘at-a-distance’ impression of a coach that really isn’t fair.   And, once they play for him or get to know him, they actually like playing for him.

But Wilson, as I’ve often posted over the past year or so, seems to be growing ever more impatient as his time behind the Leaf bench doesn’t produce the kind of results he is accustomed to achieving.  Now three years into his “program”, the team is better on paper and has a completely re-vamped roster, but it still finds itself staring up at a lot of teams in the NHL Eastern Conference standings.

Wilson is a competitive guy who bristles too often at the straightforward, non-threatening questions asked by Toronto reporters—most of whom are actually fairly timid around the guy in their daily interactions.

Some months ago I wondered aloud why a guy with his track record, with arguably the best job in hockey in the best hockey market in the world, would sound so unhappy so often?  (Click to see the earlier story.) 

I still don’t understand it.

That an intense individual is frustrated by his team’s relative lack of success, sure, we all get that.  It’s a wins and losses business.  And often unfair to coaches.

But Toronto fans have not been impatient or unfair.  If anything, they are unbelievably patient and supportive.  So much so that they are willing, yet again, to buy into another GM’s re-build— even after that GM initially stressed that he had no patience for a five year re-build, which is exactly what we are in the midst of now.

And the media?  This is the same media that every Toronto coach has to deal with.  Some coaches have been more gracious than others.  And yes, it can be difficult dealing with the daily questions.  But a Wilson post-game “press conference” is usually filled with uncomfortable silences, caustic replies to simple questions and abrupt endings.

Now, does any of this impact why a player may not want to play for him?  I have no idea.  Privately, the company line is that he is good with the players, spends time with them—and is well regarded by his players, some of whom have defended him earnestly in public when the media suggests he could be fired.

But there has to be a reason why one quarter of the players who took part in this poll named him as the guy they would least want to play for.

It doesn’t mean he’s not a good coach.  It doesn’t mean he won’t help turn the Leafs around. 

It will just be a shame if, whenever he leaves this job, he looks back and regrets that he didn’t enjoy a great gig a whole lot more.


1 comment:

  1. Long suffering Leaf fanJanuary 31, 2011 at 7:19 AM

    I think the reason for Mr. Wilson continuing badgering with the media is that he truly believes that they are the cause for the so-call “blue &white disease.” Just by listening, you cannot help but form this opinion. Reporters ask about a certain player’s good performance, and Mr. Wilson spats back “Yeah, right, let start planning the parade route…” Ok, I get it, sometimes the media and to a greater extent, we Leafs fans will make a third or fourth line players seem like a superstar, but doesn’t everybody? After all, this past weekend goggling over (no disrespect) Jeff Skinner can be sickening. The poor kid has not even completed his first NHL season and many have tag him as a superstar! Now I understand that the media has a tendency to overrate other team’s talent while under valuing the Leafs. Can anybody still remember the hype over Tyler Myers or Dion Phaneuf? Come on guys, let the kids establish themselves in the league for 3 to 4 season before pinning a star on their chest! As far as other player’s desire, not wanting play under Mr. Wilson is a little understandable. Don Cherry said it best, “He cannot keep throwing his players under the bus, and expect them to play for him.” If the way Mr. Cherry feel, you do not have to wonder about other players feelings.