Ronnie Wilson's War
First came the scratching of Matt Stajan. Then Vesa Toskala was pulled for a shootout. Then Jason Blake was sent to the press box. Then Pavel Kubina saw his ice time cut to less than 17 minutes per game.
Now Tomas Kaberle has been publicly humiliated, and then verbally bashed for weak play.
Well, at least you can't say Ron Wilson is picking easy targets.
No, the Maple Leaf coach is going after the big boys.
But with Kaberle, it comes with an underlying message. Don't think you're just going to ride out another lousy season and refuse to be traded.
You may soon be begging to be traded.
Kaberle, minus-1 in San Jose on Tuesday while skating only 18:58, was benched for the entire first period last night in Phoenix. Once deployed, he was horrific, and was on the ice for four Coyotes goal in a 6-3 Leaf loss.
Wilson admitted he was sending Kaberle a message in the first period.
"And he sent a message back with a minus-4," said the Leaf coach.
Actually, Kaberle was only minus-3, as he managed to also be on the ice when Blake scored his fourth of the season.
This kind of stuff, it's fair to say, just wasn't done under the coaching reigns of either Pat Quinn or Paul Maurice, Wilson's immediate predecessors. Veterans could make as many errors as they chose to make and could always count on never being benched or even having to miss a shift.
Wilson, armed with a four-year contract, has the ammunition to fight back against that lack of, in his words, "accountability," and he's doing it.
Truth is, he's been dissatisified with the work of Kaberle and Kubina for weeks, the two members of the Leaf defence corps with no-trade clauses in their contracts. New GM Brian Burke is already on record as saying such clauses are "coach-killers," and quite clearly its in the plans of the Leafs to have both players willing to waive those clauses sometime before March in order to facilitate trades elsewhere that will bring draft picks and/or players to the club.
Given how Wilson has handled these cases before with Stajan, Toskala, Blake and Kubina, you can expect Kaberle to receive a full allotment of ice time tomorrow against Washington.
But the gauntlet has been laid down. And Kaberle, it's clear, is in his final weeks as a Maple Leaf.