TORONTO — Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson would never use the rats-leaving-a-sinking-ship analogy for what is going on with his team.
But, if the shoe fits ...
Two players now have expressed a desire to be traded away from the foundering club — centre Jamal Mayers and defenceman Garnet Exelby — and Wilson isn’t thrilled with the timing of the requests.
On one hand, the besieged head coach said it doesn’t bother him that players express a desire to be traded if they want out, adding that it happens all the time.
But his worry is that their unhappiness will spread. And the last thing the 17-27-10 Leafs need is more negativity in the dressing room, especially with back-to-back games this weekend against the New Jersey Devils on Friday in Newark and the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday back at the Air Canada Centre.
“What you don’t want is to have a pity party where guys who don’t like what’s happening to them suck other people into the same black hole,” said Wilson on Thursday after practice. “That’s an age-old problem on teams, pity parties: ‘I’m not playing well, so I want to make sure that nobody is playing well and I feel better because I have everybody in the same boat with me.’”
Wilson said there is one way for players to get back into his favour, and it’s not whining.
“Just play better, it’s simple as that,” the coach said. “Your numbers show if you’ve played well or not. Nobody is entitled to ice time. Unfortunately, a lot of players today actually believe they’re entitled (to ice time) no matter how their performance is ... without accountability and responsibility.”
Exelby, who was traded to the Leafs from the Atlanta Thrashers in July, said he is not unhappy in Toronto, or with Wilson. He just wants to play.
“I’m not being unprofessional, running around telling everybody (I want out), or moping around,” said Exelby, who has been a healthy scratch the past two games. “I’m working hard in practice and trying to get better every day and be upbeat and positive. I’m here and I’m going to play as hard as a can.”
Exelby has three assists and is a minus-five in 32 games, while Mayers has dressed in every game since Nov. 14, but his ice time has been limited. He has a goal and four assists.
The Leafs head into the Prudential Center on a four-game losing streak. The Devils are the second best team in the Eastern conference, but they are 3-6-1 in their past 10, have lost their past two and, like the Leafs, are having trouble scoring goals.
“(The Devils will) look and say: ‘Toronto hasn’t been playing very well and we can maybe use them as a springboard to get things going,’ ” Wilson said. “But hey, if we can smell blood in the water, it could be (Friday) because they’re confidence isn’t going to change overnight.”