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Wilson-Franson: Hey, we needed a feud to liven things up…

If you have been to this site on a somewhat regular basis, you will know that I have posted a number of times about Ron Wilson.

I can’t much criticize him as a coach.  I mean, yes, the special teams have been pretty lousy the three years that he has been here and the Leafs have yet to make the playoffs under his leadership.

And yes, he’s never “won a Cup”, but a lot of really good coaches have never won a Cup.  The man has coached successfully in international competitions and we should acknowledge the guy, by any standards the casual fan can use, has been a “good” NHL head coach.  (If he hasn’t been “good”, then there are a lot of lousy coaches out there…His win-loss record and career win totals are up there…)

My annoyance has had much more to do with his demeanor and his attitude which seems designed to put people off—and not just the local media who would annoy a lot of us at the best of times with their persistently simplistic and often ill-timed questions.

But Ron just goes off sometimes for no apparent reason.  I’m sure you’ve seen this countless times after a game or practice, during his little daily scrums.  A reporter will say a guy played well, and Wilson makes a sarcastic comment about building statues to the player.  (The reporter was just lobbing a hanging curve, just looking to get an easy quote, likely…) If he is ever questioned about strategy, he bristles, as though no one should dare ask him that question, since he is the professional coach.

He obviously doesn’t have much regard for media types, or the fans, though I’m sure he would say he has no issue with the fans.  But it is through the media prism that we get the new most of the time, and when he dumps on the reporters, he is also dismissing the fan base with his defensive posture.

In any event, this is not new ground for me when talking about the coach, so I’ll move along.  You can check out earlier posts on the coach here and here or visit the right-hand side of this side and click on his name.

But now we come to this Franson thing.  We all heard the young defenseman express…what’s the proper term….bewilderment at being told he was sitting out the first two games of the regular season.  Now, he is back in the line-up for the Flames game Saturday night, but Wilson has said, somewhat caustically, that Franson better play well because he basically has a target on his back. 

In other words, the coaching staff knows what you said and we’ll be watching you like a hawk.  Don’t screw up or, since you broke the “code”, you’ll be back in the press box.

Is that peculiar, or what?

Hey, I get that we (and the coaches) want our athletes to be “team guys” and suck it up when they have to sit, but I can’t say I’m shocked that a young guy who has some nice elements to his game is wondering what the hell is going on here.  I mean, Franson is not Bobby Orr and the Leafs have the makings of a decent blueline corps, but, as I said the other day, this isn’t exactly the 1977 Montreal Canadiens, either, with Lapointe, Robison and Savard occupying the top three sports on defense.

So the player spoke out, sort of.  Coaches hate having their decisions questioned, especially by their players, and even more particularly in public by the players, via the media.

But that said, don’t the Leafs want guys on the team who want to play, and aren’t satisfied just sitting around and collecting their bloated pay checks?

It’s just a tad confusing.  I get both sides of this one, and normally I might “side”, if you can call it that, with the coach. 

But I just wonder how much the Leaf coach communicates with his players, eh? Not that the player being benched at any point in time will be happy if you’re a swell guy and speak with him privately to tell him he’s not playing while patting him on the back—though that might help a little.  But I have to believe that if there had been real man-to-man chats ongoing between the head coach (not the assistant coach, they don’t make these decisions) and the offended player, this would not have “gone public”.

I have no idea what Franson is going to bring to the table.  He may be really good.  He may be ordinary.  Maybe Gardiner will be so good we won’t care about Cody Franson in six months.

But the Leafs traded for the guy.  Burke talked him up leading into the season.  He has already played in 140 or so NHL games and another 16 playoff games.  (How many Leafs can say that?)  And you open the season and the guy is on the bench.  Players, especially guys new to the organization who have been with other clubs, are anxious to “prove” their worth to management and fans. 

They can’t do that sitting upstairs.

This all goes back to what we have talked about on this site this week: the decision to have young Gardiner jump the queue.  That one decision (which was unnecessary, in my view) has caused a “minor stir”, as they might have said on Seinfeld years ago.  This will probably be smoothed over over.  These things usually are, but add this to the list of reasons I wish Gardiner had simply started the season with the Marlies.


  1. Then there's the oft-confirmed reports that almost to a man, the Leafs players are very, very happy with Wilson as coach and have made it very clear to Burke that he should be kept on.......

  2. This one looks pretty clear to me. Franson did not win a spot based on pre-season play. Maybe he felt he had it anyway, maybe he was adapting - who knows? I DO know that Burke and Wilson want to rid the Leafs of that "entitlement" feeling. Every player has to earn their spot. So Cody has learned that, and we'll see how he responds.
    I also believe management wanted to see Gardiner in a couple of game situations, to assess where he really stands in the Leaf depth chart. He's done pretty well, as far as I can see. A couple of mistakes, sure, but all the D have made a few. I agree with those who say he probably could benefit from some time with the Marlies, but I also think that if he's playing better than Aulie or Franson, why would we send him down?
    I think the Toronto media have made this a bigger issue than it is. But that's Toronto!

  3. Compared to most, I react differently to Ron Wilson. I do not find him particularly caustic. He is disarmingly honest at times, which amuses me, as opposed to annoying me. What often rubs people the wrong way is his sense of humour, which tends to fly over heads. I am not inside the dressing room, but he appears to pass muster as a good coach. The military connection to sport, amply illustrated this week, has to do with hierarchies; ultimately it boils down to unquestioning deference to authority. This “code of obedience” was transgressed by Cody Franson, which as Wilson correctly indicates, places pressure on the talented defenceman. Wilson is experienced and mature enough, I think, to welcome being proven wrong by Franson. While he may not have played the “good soldier” this week, Cody Franson is anxious to prove his mettle. Good on him, although I hope he is not wound too tight, which can adversely effect performance. It is a fine line between succeeding and encumbering success by trying too hard, as we have seen, at times, with Mike Komisarek. A lot of us thought from the get-go, that preseason performances notwithstanding, Franson should have been in the top six and Gardiner with the Marlies. Now there are waiver obstacles to overcome in promoting a serviceable number seven defenseman. I hope that we are wrong about the Jake Gardiner decision, but in his case development orthodoxy might have better served development. Matt Frattin is a different kettle of fish. In every game I saw (albeit on television), his game looked NHL ready at the less demanding winger position. Without doubt, the politics are interesting. Burke would not want his prize acquisition in Cody Franson, to languish on account of an indignant/insecure coach needing excessively sycophantic players. Wilson, I assume, is better than that. In this case, I do not want to be proven wrong.

  4. Thanks KidK, as always.

    Gerund O'...nicely said....I grant that Franson perhaps did not "earn" the spot, though I don't think it was the entitlement issue management seems hung up on. (Aside...I think management often sees what it wants to see. As in, certain guys get pinned with the entitlement label. But if management likes a certain player, they may deserve to 'sit", but never will....) And you may well be right that the local media, including people like me, have made this a bigger deal than it should be, but I guess I'm still in the camp that the Leafs should have started the year with their planned "top six" and then, if they falter, someone one like Gardiner would get his shot...

    Bobby C...thanks for your well thought-out comments as well. We may see Wilson differently in terms of his public person, but we agree that his coaching track record is a good one, as I've often posted in the past.

    I concur that it will be interesting to see Franson "handle" the microscopic attention that his early benching and subsequent comments have put him under...

    I sense most Leaf observers feel this will indeed be an interesting season. The number of players who are capable of playing at this level is higher than it has been in some time. That will make for tough personnel and deployment decisions all across the roster, including in goal. Wilson will have to do his best coaching job yet in Toronto- and not a moment too soon...