Making a Small Thing Big
Ron Wilson's inability to comprehend he's no longer coaching in San Jose - or Washington, or Anaheim for that matter - continues to confound.
Specifically, after three full seasons with the Leafs, Wilson is still unable to get his head around the fact that Toronto is a huge hockey media market compared to the others in which he once coached, and a market in which small stories can blow up into big ones if not managed effectively. Whether Wilson wants to acknowledge it or not, being able to capably steer the team through media-infested waters is a big part of being the head coach in Toronto.
A perfect example came Wednesday when it was announced by both Wilson and defenceman Cody Franson that Franson would make his Leaf debut on Saturday against Calgary. By doing it that way, what was a one-day story will now turn into a four-day story as the Leaf Nation chews on the issue of putting Franson in the lineup after he was acquired from Nashville during the summer.
The Leafs are still 2-0, and most coaches wouldn't change a winning lineup. Moreover, as big or bigger than Franson's insertion into the Leaf lineup will be the identity of the player that comes out - Wilson didn't say - and that will now become the big debating point until Saturday's game, and probably after.
(ED. NOTE: After a day of reading people ranting and raving about things that weren't even written in this blog, let's set a few things straight. First, I'm a columnist; my job is to write opinion. You can agree or disagree, whatever turns your crank. Second, if you don't understand that in 2011 a big part of any Leaf head coach's job is to deal with the media, you're so out of it I can't help you. Third, the media is the instrument through which fans glean some, if not the majority, of their information. The more they hide, the less you know, and that's true whether you're talking about the Leafs or City Hall. The entire point of this piece was to describe how Wilson turned a small story into a big one. It's what is being talked about everywhere. It didn't have to happen that way. Again, if you can't understand that rather basic point, I really can't help you.)
Expect many to demand that Mike Komisarek be the Leaf taken out. Komisarek is this year's designated whipping boy - he was last year as well - not for his play, really, but for the fact his play doesn't match his salary. It could be Komisarek, and that's probably the sensible move, given that Franson is a right-handed shooting defenceman accustomed to playing the right side, but sending Komisarek to the press box for the first time in his Leaf career would be a huge blow to the veteran's pride.
Now, Komisarek gets to face three days of questioning about it, to which he'll probably have to throw his arms in the air and say, "I have no idea. Ask the coach."
It could also be rookie Jake Gardiner, who had the least to do with Saturday's near-collapse against Ottawa as any Leaf blueliner. Moreover, he plays the left side, which is a bad fit for Franson, or Komisarek, for that matter. If you're going to remove Gardiner, you'd be better off putting Keith Aulie, currently with the Marlies, into the lineup.
Heck, based on Saturday, you could give Luke Schenn the night off. Schenn, for a player now endowed with a big contract and one supposed to be a shut-down, stay-at-home type, was running around as much as anyone against the Senators, including inadvisedly leaving his feet several times in wild attempts to block shots rather than being a steadying influence.
But Schenn's not coming out. He's a golden boy. Wilson might say, as he did on Wednesday, that he's trying to "eliminate that sense of entitlement outside of the room,” but he's the coach who insisted on having Schenn in the NHL as an 18-year-old and preferring to hold him to a different standard than other older defencemen.
No idea, by the way, what the added bit "outside of the room" might mean. Is Wilson saying it's the media who believes there's a sense of entitlement among Leaf players? Or is it his players who feel entitled to play even when they don't deserve to?
So, given the headlines about the "disgruntled" Franson that were on the web by late Wednesday afternoon, this is now the biggest story in Leaf-land, with several more days of speculation and analysis still to come. It may be silly, but the identity of the fifth or sixth defenceman in Toronto is a bigger hockey story across the country that who's on the first line in Dallas, or Nashville or Long Island. That's just the way it is, like who's batting ninth for the Yankees and the identity of the fifth starter.
Again, in the case of Franson, this is a coach allowing a story, one that wouldn't receive nearly the play in many markets around the NHL, to become needlessly significant. Carolina was able to send first round pick Ryan Murphy back to junior on Wednesday without it becoming a big deal. That would have been impossible in Toronto, where everything's a big deal. But Wilson doesn't seem to get that.
All he had to do to effectively work this story was tell Franson on Friday night that he was playing, which would have probably become evident on Saturday in the morning skate, and then it would have had barely a day to percolate. Given the nature of the weekend sports news cycle, Sunday wouldn't have included much coverage of the story and by Monday it would have been superseded by some other story.
Wilson loves to complain about the Toronto media, about the tendency to build mountains out of molehills, about how he can't say anything nice about a player without the media "building a statue" to that player.
To some degree, he's right. But his inability to effectively navigate the Toronto media market was one of the big questions about him when he arrived here, and the Franson story shows he still lacks the skill to both use the media to create creative and useful competition within his team and to manage stories in such a way as to make them less of a distraction and pain-in-the-butt for his team.