Leaf therapy reveals fatal flaws: Strobel

The doctor is in: Time to put the Leafs on the couch and get to the heart of the problem(s)....

The doctor is in: Time to put the Leafs on the couch and get to the heart of the problem(s). (Toronto Sun Illustration)

Mike Strobel, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:41 PM ET

We’re looking at this recurring Leafs nightmare all wrong. We need to apply better psychology.

See, Ron Wilson’s firing fixes nothing.

Let me run some names past you: John McLellan, King Clancy, Red Kelly, Roger Neilson, Floyd Smith, Dick Duff, Punch Imlach (again), Joe Crozier, Mike Nykoluk, Dan Maloney, John Brophy, George Armstrong, Doug Carpenter, Tom Watt, Pat Burns, Nick Beverley, Mike Murphy, Pat Quinn, Paul Maurice and the newly departed Mr. Wilson.

Each had the exquisite pleasure of coaching the Maple Leafs after 1967.

Each was fired, forced or flogged out of town or foisted on the front office. And a few other “f” words.

And this has resulted in how many Stanley Cups?

Exactly. So if it’s not the coach, then who?

Us. It’s our fault. The media. The fans. We’re cruel, insensitive bastards.

Every year we wail and slobber and grind our teeth in frustration and cry for blood.

James Reimer is a sophomore dink. The defencemen are a missing link. Nikolai Kulemin is a Russian twink.

Don Cherry could barely refrain from socking that nice Mr. Wilson right in the kisser.

The “fire Wilson” chants last week were unusually harsh, but on any given night, the Air Canada Centre mob groans, grumbles, boos and taunts.

Hogtown headlines hum with more angst, rage, dismay and disgust than if Iran had tested a nuclear bomb.

Fans Win! exulted our front page Saturday, with a shadowy photo of the late, unlamented Mr. Wilson.

My goodness. In this hockey hellfire, the next scapegoat, Randy Carlyle, ex of the Ducks, will need all the psychological help he can get.

Of his new team, Mr. Carlyle said Saturday: “First and foremost, they’ve got to feel a lot better about themselves than what they are right now...

“We have to rekindle their spirit.”

Bingo! If only Mr. Carlyle could hire Burrhus Frederic Skinner as an assistant coach — and fan adviser.

(Ed. note: Uh, you mean that Manitoba Moose guy?)

No, silly boss, I mean B.F. Skinner, maybe the most influential shrink of the past century. He’s the father of “positive reinforcement.” Unfortunately, he’s unavailable. In fact, he’s dead.

Rats loved Prof. Skinner. Whenever they pulled his lever, they got a snack.

“It’s the heart of cognitive behavioural therapy,” says my favourite shrink, Dr. Irvin Wolkoff, “and it works.”

Irv’s advice? “Coach Skinner would first do a behavioural analysis of the Leafs and determine what needs to be reinforced, such as skating fast, passing nicely, taking blistering shots or smiling at the fans.”

Then we wire the Leafs for electric shock therapy? Especially the goalies? Zap ‘em good when they screw up?

“No, no, there are certain limits,” says Irv. Not to mention certain laws and the union.

“That’s punishment, aversive conditioning. Our reaction to the Leafs troubles has been to hate them, to wear paper bags over our heads.

“That won’t work. Paradoxically, it may even increase the (bad) behaviour. The Leafs devalue themselves, lose self esteem and can’t play.”

Which is just what Carlyle said Saturday.

So, back to us. Positive reinforcement is two-sided, my shrink tells me.

If the rats are good, feed them. If they’re bad, don’t feed them — but don’t punish them either.

If Dion Phaneuf is in position or Jonas Gustavsson doesn’t trip over his own crease or John-Michael Liles gets a point or Luke Schenn plays like a grownup — then cheer lustily and give ‘em a snack.

But if Phaneuf goes flat-footed or Gustavsson stumbles or Liles is blanked or Schenn plays like a big, goofy kid ­— do NOT boo, hiss or mock. Do nothing. Say nothing. Withhold positive reinforcement.

The Leafs will gaze wide-eyed around the big, eerily silent barn and say, “yikes, we really better start playin’!”

“It’ll take about half a game,” Doc Wolkoff figures. “Then we’ll give them a nutritious energy snack.”

So it’s up to us.

And if Skinnerian positive reinforcement doesn’t work, there’s always Pavlov and his “conditioned reflex” work on dogs.

Simple. We ring bells at the ACC.

The Leafs suddenly drool — and attack the net.

Strobel’s column runs Wednesday to Friday, and Sunday. mike.strobel@sunmedia.ca, 416-947-2265 or twitter.com/strobelsun

 

 


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