January 13, 2011
Leafs reach for road broomWilson and team try to play through distraction
By Lance Hornby, QMI Agency
PHOENIX - PHOENIX - The Maple Leafs will be trying to sweep a four-game road trip for the first time in eight years on Thursday, but don’t expect them to get any cash incentives.
The Leafs were still in a state of disbelief when the NHL hit them with an undisclosed fine after coach Ron Wilson’s $600 team prize for beating the San Jose Sharks became news for the wrong reasons. A common practice through the years to provide incentive in key games that have meaning to a coach or player, the gesture by Wilson before his 600th NHL win was judged a violation of the collective bargaining agreement. Essentially, there can be no sideline exchange of money between the club and the players.
“No comment, period,” Wilson said after Thursday’s morning skate.
General manager Brian Burke said the Leafs would not make a further issue of it, pay the fine and move on.
Wilson, who was getting severe criticism from Leaf fans in past weeks, received plenty of support judging by online reader comments and phone-in shows. Goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, one of the team’s elder statesmen, was a little perplexed by the ruling.
“It’s a common custom where guys play against their old team or if you have a baby or something like that,” 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.”
But what the league ultimately did was spoil a feel-good story about Wilson becoming the seventh coach to reach 600 wins - and distract the Leafs before an important game.
“All you need is one guy talking about it and it snowballs,” Giguere said. “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 Leafs last won all four games of an extended trip back in winter of 2003. They roared across the Southeast Division, beating Atlanta, Carolina, Florida and Tampa Bay.
Rookie James Reimer has been in goal for the previous three wins and has looked unflappable.
“Every coach will ride a hot hand,” Wilson said.
The fuss about Wilson took away from Reimer and the return of winger Mike Brown after six weeks recovering from a broken index finger. Brown was able to slide back on his left wing spot on the fourth line with Fredrik Sjostrom suffering a bruised thigh.
The Coyotes, meanwhile, go for a fifth straight home win.
“It’s very rare in the NHL where you have two teams feeling good about themselves,” quipped Coyotes coach Dave Tippett. “We’ve found a way to get points lately and watching the Leafs, they’re playing very well.”
Defenceman Michal Rozsival (ribs) will not be able to make his Phoenix debut after being acquired earlier in the week for Wojtek Wolski.