Tank the idea of tanking

Coach Ron Wilson expects the Leafs to improve their conditioning next season. (Sun Media/Michael...

Coach Ron Wilson expects the Leafs to improve their conditioning next season. (Sun Media/Michael Peake)

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

There were as many hard words being thrown around as hard hits during and after the Maple Leafs' 3-2 overtime win over the New York Islanders on Tuesday night.

Leafs coach Ron Wilson got into it with a radio reporter following the game, suggesting that the radio guy had questioned his integrity. The radio guy didn't see it that way.

As well, between the second and third periods, with the lacklustre Leafs trailing the last-place Islanders 2-1, veteran forward Jamal Mayers stood up in the locker room and kindly suggested that it was time for the players to liberate their craniums from a certain part of their anatomy.

GREAT DEBATE

The bottom line is this. The players and coaches at the Air Canada Centre are becoming increasingly sensitive over the Great Tank Debate -- that is, whether they should play hard for the rest of the season and finish as high up in the standings as possible -- thereby pleasing the ACC faithful who pay huge money for tickets. Or, should they tank the rest of the season, thereby finishing lower in the standings and improving their chances at drafting London Knights star John Tavares or Swedish defence sensation Victor Hedman?

But, to a man, the players and coaches insisted that the latter option basically is outrageous.

"If you want to teach players to be losers, then yeah, sure, do that," said Mayers, when asked if tanking is a good idea. "But if you want to teach them to be professionals and get this organization going in the right direction, which the coaching staff and management is doing, then you have to teach guys how to win. Anything less than that is unacceptable."

Forward Lee Stempniak was asked about the possibility of losing on purpose.

"It's never crossed my mind, and I hope no one else's in the locker room," Stempniak said. "I guess fans are entitled to think what they want. But for us it's a matter of going out and trying to win. I think it would be cheating the fans and ourselves to go out there and not put forth our best effort.

"The big thing for us to is to try to win here, end the year on a good note."

Laying a foundation at this point in the franchise's rebuild is the key, said Wilson, adding that not playing as hard as they can, or not trying to win, would impede that plan.

"We're going through a phase right now where I challenge our players to get better every day and the only way you can do that is by attempting to win," Wilson said.

The one area Wilson expects the Leafs to improve next season is conditioning, although an upgrade in talent also would be nice.

"You'd like to have as the cement, as your foundation, a work ethic. And part of that is your conditioning," Wilson said. "We're not anywhere near where I want to be. The 'no-quit, try-to-do-anything-during-a-game-to-win, never-give-up' attitude ... if we can instill that in the players who will be here in the future, it will only make it easier in two or three years from now."


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