In defence of Ron Wilson

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:38 PM ET

TORONTO - Sticking up for Ron Wilson and the city of Toronto is like sticking your head out of a bus and wagging your tongue at a group of kids with snowballs. You’re gonna get nailed.

But who cares.

I like the taste of frozen slush and I happen to believe that Ron Wilson is a helluva coach — despite the Leafs’ crappy record. I also believe that only weenies wouldn’t want to play hockey in this town.

Why am I ranting? Two reasons. One, I breath, I rant.

Two, this Hockey Night in Canada/NHLPA players poll, conducted over the All-Star weekend, is a bit of a piss off.

One of the questions put to players was: What coach would you least like to play for? No fewer than 24% said Ron Wilson, followed by an even grumpier guy, John Tortorella of the New York Rangers (15%) and Marc Crawford of the Dallas Stars (14%).

What does that say? To me, it says that a lot of players don’t want to be singled out and held accountable if they dog it, which is what Wilson has been known to do in Toronto.

And maybe some players don’t want to work that hard.

All I know is this: Wilson’s teams are rarely unprepared, and they almost always have a strong work ethic. Yeah, the Leafs lose a lot, but that’s more because of a lack of talent than hustle.

Looking back, I would say most of the games the Leafs have lost this year, they played as hard, if not harder, than the opposition.

Wilson’s not the friendliest guy in the world and isn’t buddies with guys in the media, but the man knows how to coach. The numbers prove that. He’s won more games in the NHL (601) than any other active coach and is seventh overall. So a lot of players don’t want to play for him? Boo friggin’ hoo.

To me, what is more damning than 24% of the players polled saying that they would least like to play for Wilson, is 21% calling Bruce Boudreau the “easiest coach to play for.”

If I were the GM of the vastly underachieving Washington Capitals, that would trouble the hell out of me. It’s certainly no feather in Boudreau’s cap.

Boudreau is easy to play for, I guess. The talented Caps are one of the biggest disappointments of the 2010-11 season, and have been even bigger busts in the playoffs under Boudreau.

Yet, when it comes to this poll, everyone seems to be talking and writing about Wilson, and how the players don’t like him.

Leafs forward Clarke MacArthur figures a lot of it has to do with Wilson’s face being in cyberspace day after day, the result of coaching in the world’s biggest hockey market.

“He gets so much airtime here, and he can be sarcastic and stuff like that,” said MacArthur. “But he’s been great for me here. Guys like him here.”

As for the Leafs being fifth on the list in terms of what team the players would LEAST like to play on, well, think about this: More NHL players, it would seem, would rather play in Phoenix than Toronto. More NHL players would rather play in a market where they are ignored and marginalized than on an Original Six franchise where hockey means everything — actually, two Original Six franchises. Toronto and Montreal tied for fifth as the teams they’d least like to play on.

Pathetic, really.

Hell, the Leafs are 19-25-5 and there was a diehard group of fans out in dreary New Toronto yesterday hoping to get an autograph or broken stick or gob of snot — anything — following the Leafs practice.

I guess a lot of players don’t mind being ignored if they can fit in nine after practice.

Leafs forward Kris Versteeg believes that media scrutiny may have something to do with Toronto’s low rating in terms of players not wanting to play for the Leafs (and the fact that the team is struggling). As an example, he pointed to the controversy in T.O. surrounding Phil Kessel being selected last at the all-star game.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous to make anything about that,” Versteeg said. “This is the top 40 players in the world, these guys have earned their right to be there, they have the respect of every guy in the league and something like that is all fun and games.”

Perhaps if the Leafs media would just dry up and blow away, Toronto would be more of a destination of choice for NHL players.

Yikes.


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