September 29, 2008
There are different levels of honesty for an NHL head coach. There's "coach-speak," like "we just didn't execute tonight," which is his way of saying "these idiots couldn't find a hole in a slice of Swiss." There's stating the obvious, which Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson did when he said rookie goaltender Justin Pogge wasn't ready for the NHL; Pogge wasn't even ready to start in the AHL playoff last season.
But Wilson reached a rare level of honesty for an NHL coach recently, when faced with questions from the always-rabid Toronto hockey media about the team's chances this season:
"It was an exhibition game - it didn't bother me at all," Wilson said Sunday. "What bothers me is being asked asinine questions while you're trying to give young players a chance. "We're not going to win the Stanley Cup this year. There's a news flash for you."
If you wanted to know the difference between Paul Maurice and Ron Wilson, here's Exhibit A. Maurice infamously predicted a playoff berth and that Toronto would contend for the Cup before last season; Wilson has gone from making no predictions about the 2008-09 Leafs to declaring "we're not going to win the Stanley Cup this year."
Is this honestly too brutal? As we said in our Leafs preview this weekend, management has already put out the vibe that this team doesn't have NHL talent and that the playoffs aren't likely. The bar is ridiculously low, and Wilson has put his foot on it to drop it even lower.
But is it fair to the fans when the head coach declares before a single regular season shift has been completed that this is basically a lost season for the franchise? Mirtle offered this thought:
I'm of the belief that, no matter how bad you get, there's still a lot of parity in this league - and especially in the Eastern Conference. Toronto will definitely struggle to score goals this season, but they're not alone in that, and I don't think it's ludicrous to think they could steal some games and hang around longer in the race for eighth than many believe.
Add in the unpredictable Sundin factor, and those chances increase.
Look, the Leafs are likely going to be closer to Atlanta's point total from last season than their own. But that's for bloggers and pundits to declare -- not NHL head coaches.
Anyone with any modicum of professional pride on that team is going to risk his health every game to secure victory for that locker room, for those fans and for that city. Wilson's preseason "prediction" is a reckless insult to that professionalism. Some things are better left unsaid, no matter how refreshingly candid they are.