So…I have some questions about Ron Wilson.
Right off the bat, I’ll admit that much to the dismay of many readers, I quite like the Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite their lack of recent success, if I could play anywhere in the league, they’d be a top five destination. I think Brian Burke is awesome, the city’s passion is awesome, and I genuinely want them to do well.
So, I have some questions about Ron Wilson.
Today I read the James Mirtle blog on Cody Franson, and how he felt about being named the Maple Leafs 7th defenseman heading into the regular season. The recently-acquired defenseman will watch opening night from the press box, where he can eat popcorn and start cultivating some hate for the people who assigned him that seat.
How does he know he’s been relegated to 7th? Well, he happened to see Ron Wilson’s Monday media chat (the ones where he always looks just about ready to drop a cyanide capsule), where Wilson made these somewhat-harmless yet still-informative comments:
“Right now [Franson] is our seventh defenceman, but I wouldn’t hesitate to play him in any situation,” he said. “That’s just the way it is right now.”
That was, by all accounts, all Franson had heard despite the fast approaching NHL season, being under contract, and having potential falling out of his pockets. This is me being biased towards my favourite coach ever, but the Blues’ Davis Payne would be on the ice after practice talking with that kid and making sure he knew exactly what the hell he was doing on defense. A lot of younger coaches would be.
To have your only communication with a 24 year old new player go down through the media like that baffles me. I know Ron Wilson is a bit of an old-school guy (or whatever), but what does he think coaching is all about? You’re a professional communicator, for cripes sake. You’re an educator.
This is not the first time a Maple Leaf player has implied that he has no idea why he’s sitting, why he’s in the doghouse, or what he can do to improve (Brett Lebda was apparently another guy).
To make matters worse, Wilson is apparently not a big fan of speaking with the team after losses, instead opting for the good ol’ fashioned “if you don’t know what you did wrong, then I’m not going to tell you.”
(Counting on fingers) Okay, so he’s not speaking to players. He’s not speaking to the team after losses. We’re at two… (thinking) so he’s probably doing 50% (or considerably less) than what great coaches do. He’s only coaching in-game and in-practice.
Well, times have changed.
When my dad played for the Islanders back in the day, there were very few personal relationships between players and coaches. There weren’t so many “open door policies.” Not to minimize what the great coaches of yesteryear did, but a lot of it was assembling the right lines, having the best roster, and getting the on-ice matchups you wanted when you wanted them. Most coaching happened between puck drop and the final buzzer, as opposed to on whiteboards and in offices.
This is a different world than that. Most young prospects who’ve been aimed at the NHL, told they were going to make it, and groomed accordingly were, well, coddled. You don’t have to like that fact (nobody does), but every Nikolai Zherdev and Patrick Kane and Whoever TheHell has always been the most important player on his team coming up. They don’t respond well to being mindlessly sloughed aside.
Half your job as an NHL coach is doubling as an HR guy these days, which frustrates a lot of them, and wastes a lot of their time. But you can’t just not do it, or your lose your players. That Toronto roster ain’t all bad – it’s awfully early to get in your young d-man’s kitchen and commence with the scrambling of eggs. Hell, the Toronto media will do that for you.
The fact is, nobody responds well to not knowing. If you’re messing up your TPS reports at work and you actually care about your job – as these players do - wouldn’t you rather hear it from eight bosses than none, so you could improve? (“I’ve got eight bosses, Bob.” “I beg your pardon?” ”..Eight bosses.” ”Eight?” “Eight, Bob.”)
I’m not sitting here calling for Wilson’s head. Everyone can change, can improve. But distant, tight-lipped negativity gets eff-all accomplished.
I just don’t get it.