Leaderless Leafs

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

TAMPA -- There are telling details all around him, some subtle, others less so, that remind Ron Wilson how much work lies ahead before his team becomes truly competitive.

But take this as testament to the infancy of the Maple Leafs' development that Wilson hasn't even thought about getting a "C" sewn on any sweater just yet because in his mind, there are no candidates.

"You've got to be self-motivated in this business, you can't have your hand held," Wilson said yesterday following practice at the St. Pete Times Forum where the Leafs will face the Lightning tonight.

"That's why we don't have a captain. I haven't seen one guy take charge of this group. I see some potential but I'm not going to put a "C" on somebody until I'm 100% positive he can be a true leader.

"I can't say at this moment that we have that."

Part of the reason is that Wilson has little idea who will be around next year.

Another is that he can't very well hand the honour to the player who might be the most deserving because that player happens to be 19-year-old rookie -- Luke Schenn.

But in a larger view, it speaks to Wilson's quick recognition that the culture around this team, never mind performance, is nowhere where it needs to be.

It's worth mentioning here that Wilson wasn't agitated yesterday, but rather relaxed despite the mayhem of the 5-4 overtime loss in Florida the night before. Once the TV cameras were turned off, he chatted informally about the painstaking process in front of him and the importance of not rushing.

The fact that he has that rarity of luxuries among NHL coaches -- at least two seasons of near immunity in terms of performance accountability -- makes it easier for Wilson to talk tough and preach patience.

Realistically though, it is clear he will hold all to his high standards, which is why he gets bothered by lax work habits he has seen from these Leafs.

"We've got a lot of guys who unfortunately want to believe they are working too hard when they haven't really even scratched the surface of what hard work is in this league," said Wilson, who will expect players to come to training camp in much better shape next fall.

"Bad teams are always tired. (The Leafs) have a tough practice last week (and players think) 'this is punishment.' Well, this is what good teams do. Watch how the good teams in this league practice. That's what drives me nuts."

Wilson doesn't always call out his players on their work habits -- that could get futile -- but he does take notice.

He watches who works hard and who doesn't as character (or lack of it) reveals itself.

"You just look out of the corner of your eye," Wilson said. "You make a mental note of who the first guys to get off the ice are and who are the first guys on the ice, the ones who want to make themselves better athletes."

While Wilson has been impressed with the work ethic of some -- he lauded Schenn, Jason Blake and Dominic Moore as examples yesterday -- on too many nights, there aren't enough.

"There are some nights when you want to kill somebody, but you know that whether it's next year or the year after those experiences will pay off," Wilson said. "That's the hardest part of this job: Not succumbing to short-term fixes that lead to a long-term pain.

"We could probably cut a lot of people's ice time and go into a boring trap and do a lot of these things but that's not our plan.

"This is baby steps time for us."


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