Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lie to me

The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you've got it made. --Jean Giraudoux

Say what you will about Ron Wilson and Brian Burke, but we know one thing: they're honest.

If they like you, they'll say so. If not, they'll say that too. And for the most part, that's been a breath of fresh air for Leaf Nation.

The John Ferguson/Paul Maurice era was marked by a relentlessly cynical optimism. Ferguson always liked the team, no matter how bad they looked on paper. Maurice famously thought they were going to make the playoffs and compete for a Cup. And the players always claimed they were just one bad bounce away from being really good.

Burke and Wilson came in started to tell it like it is. I loved it.

But here's the thing about honesty. It's not always the ...

Crap, wait a second, I just remember my wife reads this blog sometimes, and she won't like what I'm about to say. Um, hold on.

Hi honey! Say, have you seen the highlights from the Puppy Bowl? Weren't those little guys adorable? They were so just so scrappy!

OK, now that she's gone, let me get back to my point.

Here's the thing about honesty: it's not always the best policy. Sometimes, telling the truth just for the sake of it is dumb. And Ron Wilson and Brian Burke have been treading into that territory in recent weeks.

First, a little history. From the very start, Ron Wilson has refused to sugarcoat the quality of the roster. He told us in September that the team wouldn't be very good, and he's been proven right. When guys like Matt Stajan, Jason Blake and Tomas Kaberle weren't playing at the level they needed to, Wilson didn't worry about protecting anyone's feelings. He made each guy accountable, the way a good coach should (and bad coaches don't).

When Brian Burke joined the fold, he kept the honesty flowing. He didn't try to shine up a turd.

All that honesty created an atmosphere of accountability for a team that had been missing it for years. Suddenly, a locker room that had become used to being treated with kid gloves had to deal with a stiff dose of reality. Not everyone responded, but most did. And a willingless to tell the cold hard truth meant that when a player did hear praise, they knew they'd earned it.

As recently as a few weeks ago, Wilson and Burke called out goalie Vesa Toskala for his poor practice habits. Good. Toskala's a veteran and he's paid to play at a high level. If he's not committed to doing so, he should hear about.

But recently, Wilson and Burke have gone too far. And now, they may be hurting the team.

First, there was Burke's bizarre announcement that he wasn't interested in resigning Nik Antropov. While there's no doubt Burke meant what he said, his honesty probably didn't accomplish anything beyond lowering Antropov's trade value.

Next up was Dominic Moore. A few days ago, Wilson said that fans were getting "carried away" with Moore's production, and pointed out that he wouldn't be good enough to have the same sort of offensive numbers on a better team. "Scoring points on a really bad team, that's really all it is," Wilson said.

Was Wilson wrong? Probably not. But why dismiss Moore's accomplishments right before the trade deadline? And beyond that, Moore is a long-time fourth-liner who's about to taste unrestricted free agency after a career year -- what kind of coach publicly cuts a guy down under those circumstances?

Then came today's comments from Burke about rookie goalie Justin Pogge. "He has not earned the right to be here," Burke said, going on to explain that Pogge was getting NHL starts primarily to try to motivate Toskala even though the kid didn't really belong in the big leagues.

Again, brutally honest and probably 100% correct. But Pogge is a borderline prospect having an underwhelming AHL season, forced to audition for an NHL role behind a terrible defensive team. He'd hardly be human if his confidence wasn't already shakey. What possible good can come from hearing his GM cut him down to size on the radio?

For the life of me, I can't figure out what these two are thinking with some of the recent comments. So I'll take a cue from Wilson and Burke and try a little honesty myself: They sound like two guys who have suddenly become a little too interested in the sound of their own voices, and have forgotten that they're here to win.

Winning over the media folks who love a good sound bite doesn't go very far towards building a contending team. But a little bit of well-placed B.S. just might.

Lie to me, guys. Or at least play the part of the good husband, and learn when to change the subject.


  1. DGB, this is an absolute money post. One of the constant criticisms of both Burke and Wilson is that their honesty policy tends to wear thin sooner, rather than later to many players, agents and other GMs. I do hope this is a product of a rebuild year and not a constant. As a prediction, I see the constant criticism and lack of faith Wilson employs as a coaching tactic as the reason why he will be fired before his contract is up.

  2. Agreed... Burke is such a blow-hard he just needs to cork it. He also said today that if there was a trade that would get the Leafs in the playoffs that he'd make it... I hope he was lying about that one cause otherwise, yikes!

  3. Scout,

    Do you even comprehend what a hilariously lopsided trade it would take to get the Leafs into the playoffs?

    If Brian Burke can make a trade and get this team into the playoffs this season I guarantee you they'll win the cup. They'd have to go on like a 20-5 run.

  4. Aside from the Dominic Moore comments, I’ve had no problem with what Wilson or Burke has said. I especially like the comments he made about Pogge – it’s another warning to Vesa, and it let’s Pogge know that he needs to earn his spot in the NHL – he’s not just going to inherit a starting job because Vesa sucks and we’ve got no one else in the system. I’ve also heard Pogge had ‘attitude’ problems in the past, so maybe Burke’s trying to humble him a bit? In any event, they can dish out criticism, but they can also dish out praise when warranted, which is exactly how it should be. These were his comments after the game: “"I was proud of him," Wilson said of Pogge after the Leafs' 4-1 loss to the Sabres last night. "He got razzed a bit it in the first period, I'm sure that shook him up. That's part of the process. I was really happy to see the way he responded in the second and third period.He really dug in there and showed some mental toughness."

    I’m finding all of this very refreshing, I hope they keep it up.

  5. burke said it himself, no one WANTS to play in toronto. and looking at the constant and consistent ripping that the current players face, players will not want to come here unless their grossly overpaid (aka JFJ). so yea, its one thing to try to light a fire and another to cock a shotgun and fire away and see who gets hit.

  6. You see the thing about Burke is that he's kind of an idiot.
    He never got the Canucks a goaltender and (surprise, surprise) as soon as he leaves Anaheim they start to crumble.
    But is he the sort of idiot the Leafs need? Maybe. I think the real test will be to see if he blunders the Kaberle thing.
    Wilson I don't know about and no one probably will for at least another season if he's still around. He's had a good record everywhere else.

  7. I don't think you are taking Burke and Wilson's comments in the bigger picture. The comments about Moore are because they want to re-sign him. They don't want to re-sign him as more then what he is, a great 3rd line center. Pretty obvious why they remain realistic with Moore, because they don't want to pay through the nose to re-sign him.

    As for Antropov, Toskala, hell pretty much anyone else, they have said repeatedly that this will be a long project. Comments from coaches and GM's won't lower the trade value very much, especially when the number of teams on the cusp of the playoffs that are looking for a big forward or a capable backup are quite numerous.

    I think you need to look at the big picture and take their comments in context of what their plan(s) are. It's not hard to see that only about 10% of the team they have right now will be around when the rebuild is done. Heck, by next season you could see quite a number of different players. You can easily see this with the constant waiver wire shuffling of borderline NHL players going on. They are cleaning house. And they don't really care who's "feelings" get hurt.

  8. Agreed. This type of shit gets tired, and fast.

  9. off topic but after seeing pogge and toskala "light it up", i'm hating JFJ trading away tukka rask for raycroft, he traded away a premium finnish goaltender for a crappy bag of pucks. that, i think has set the leafs back more than anything else will

  10. My only concern with the Moore comments is this is a guy who has adopted the Wilson system 100% and he is punching above his weight because of it.

    Is Moore a top 6 forward, no....is he what the Leafs need to create a new locker room culture and on ice work ethic....hell yes.

    Now who knows, maybe Wilson sensed DM was getting a big head. Who knows, his comens were correct, Moore is getting points because he is getting ice time. And Wilson should have added that is because he is working hard and doing his job.