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“Anonymous” doesn’t necessarily mean inaccurate

It was anything but surprising that Brian Burke and Leaf players went to some lengths to go on the record in support of Ron Wilson, on the heels of Wilson being cited, in an anonymous NHLPA poll, as the coach players would least like to play for.

Burke is nothing if not loyal, and this is not the first time Leaf players have felt compelled (obliged?) this season to show outward support for Wilson.

For his part, Wilson told reporters on Tuesday that he did not read the poll results, and besides, he puts no faith in it because it was an “anonymous” survey.  (Interestingly, on Wednesday, some Calgary players jumped to Duane Sutter's defense as well.  Sutter was also cited in the poll as a coach some players would not want to play for.)

The anomynous nature of the poll is a fair point to raise.  It’s far easier to say things or state an opinion when your name is not attached publicly to the comment.  (Click to read an earlier story about old-time anonymous sources and how it disrupted the Leafs back in 1979-'80…)

But is a Maple Leaf player (whose playing time depends on not only his performance but the whims of the coach) saying something in support of Wilson any more credible?  I mean, the news would be if some player actually came out and said, “yeah, playing for Ron stinks.  But what can you do….”

I thought it was instructive that an ex-Leaf and Burke loyalist, (and current TV analyst) Brad May gave reasons (on Sportsnet TV Monday night) why Leaf players could perhaps have an issue with Wilson.  May discussed a comment by Wilson after Nazem Kadri had played well in a game earlier this season…Wilson suggesting there were some bad habits that Kadri needed to work on.  May suggested that was a time when a player was looking for a pat on the back, not a public reminder of his flaws.

(I seem to recall Don Cherry was similarly critical of Wilson when the Leaf coach made that comment several weeks ago.)

In any event, like most people, I’m not in the dressing room so I have no idea what the guy is like to play for.  Lots of athletes have hated lots of coaches over the years.  Scotty Bowman is an obvious example that springs to mind and he was remarkably successful.  Going further back, Punch Imlach was loathed by many of his players and the Leafs won four Cups with him behind the bench in the 1960s.  Most of us don’t like it when a boss places continual demands on us, so the notion of players’ not liking coaches is not a shock.  Demanding coaches, and Wilson is one, will always have detractors.

So is this a non-story? 

No, it is a story, because, “anonymous” or not, a survey can reveal or expose something.  (If not for "un-named" sources, Nixon's presidency would have continued uninterupted.)  The fact that the Leafs made a point of responding quickly tells us that they took it seriously- not that they believe the poll is accurate, simply that they needed to show their support for Wilson.

Is the poll story credible?  Well, no less credible, I suppose,  than the organization’s attempts to talk Wilson up.  (Despite Burke's comments about players choosing to come here, does anyone believe, for example, that any free agents have signed with the Leafs in the past few years because of Wilson?  There is one reason that players have come to Toronto in a down period in the team’s history, and that’s because Burke was willing to pay them more than anyone else.)

Some things are hard to predict.  How the Maple Leaf organization responded to the “poll” was not one of those occasions.

1 comment:

  1. Just to add to what you already said - all kinds of public opinion surveys, psychological research, etc. are done on an anonymous basis. People take those results seriously - as you indicate, in part *because* they're anonymous. When people tell a political pollster who they're planning on voting for they don't list their names in the results. No idea what Wilson is talking about. Basically never even heard of a non-anonymous opinion survey...