Leafs fined by NHL

Ron Wilson and his players talked openly of a cash prize after the Leafs coach put up cash as...

Ron Wilson and his players talked openly of a cash prize after the Leafs coach put up cash as incentive for his 600th win in San Jose. (QMI Agency/Michael Peake)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:10 PM ET

PHOENIX — If Maple Leaf fans were going to get behind Ron Wilson before this week, you’d have thought it would be to push him out the door.

But that precluded Toronto bringing a four-game win streak in here, five wins in the past six, and prior to the National Hockey League’s over-reaction to the small incentive Wilson offered his players to win a milestone game.

Readers, tweeters and call-in show bleaters were mostly in support of the Toronto coach after an undisclosed fine was levied against Toronto. Even avowed Leafs haters weighed in that it was wrong.

Wilson probably thought the story was a good angle on his 600th NHL win that he put up $600 US before Tuesday’s game in San Jose for his players to get him the W against the team that fired him.

It’s been a time-honoured tactic in pro sports in games that have meaning to a coach or player. But because it became such a big part of the post-game story, the No Humour League decided to wrap itself in its ethics code as it pertained to the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

“It was a violation of league rules,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly e-mailed the Toronto Sun. “The club will be fined in accordance.”

Essentially, there can be no sideline exchange of money between the club and the players. That regulation was meant to catch bigger fish than Wilson, but all it ultimately did was spoil a feel-good story about him becoming the seventh coach to reach 600 — and distract the Leafs before an important game.

“No comment, period,” Wilson said Thursday morning.

General manager Brian Burke said the Leafs would pay the fine and move on. But the decision perplexed the Leafs and Coyotes.

“It’s a common custom where guys play against their old team or if you have a baby or something like that,” Leafs goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere said. “You want to entice a team to win.

“I understand why the league would frown upon management doing that. Some teams might do it more than others. It might affect decisions on where guys want to go (as free agents). It’s the rule and you have to abide by the rules.

“All you need is one guy talking about it and it snowballs. To be honest, it’s dumb that we’re talking about it now. It makes no sense, but that’s the way it is.”

The prize became public knowledge after Wilson’s post-game comments and the Leafs, thinking nothing was wrong, talked of it openly. Defenceman Carl Gunnarsson, who scored the winning goal in the 4-2 decision said they would be putting the money toward a team dinner. On Thursday, worried that he’d put the coach and the team in hot water, Gunnarsson was not commenting, except to say the whole thing was “very weird.”

Phoenix coach Dave Tippett skated around the subject when asked if there was a similar story when he went back and won in Dallas for the first time after being let go there.

“No comment, but we did win and I had to buy lunch, for the coaches, not the players,” Tippett said. “I guess rules are rules. They’re written a certain way and you have to abide by them.

“Maybe things like that should be left in the dressing room and then no one has to worry about it. It’s an inconsequential thing that happens time and again with players and now and then with coaches. It’s something unfortunate that got out and to me, had no bearing.”

Shane Doan of the Coyotes thought $600 for 600 was a nice touch — “that’s thinking on your feet for (Wilson)” — and tossed in a sarcastic comment.

“I’ve never, ever heard anything about anyone putting any money up on any board,” he said, while reporters snickered. “I’m sure that’s the first time.

“They (the league) gotta to do what they’ve gotta do.”

Luke Schenn of the Leafs concluded: “It’s out of our hands ... but now we know better.”


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