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Ask A Stupid Question...

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

It’s true: sometimes journalists ask deliberately stupid questions.

It’s a great way to get terrific quotes or lighten up the person you are talking to.

For fun, I asked Daniel and Henrik Sedin if they had always been twins. Another time I asked Pat Quinn if the final word in an answer he had just given had really been ‘pianist’ or whether I had misheard him. That was a good one. 

Most bad questions, like bad car accidents, are unintentional. Just as you are horrified to realize the car has hit a spot of black ice, your question comes out, in agonizing, unstoppable slow motion, a millisecond before full realization of the consequences of the answer. 

I once asked longtime defenceman Mark Howe to pinpoint the worst injury he ever had. Considering he spent five weeks in hospital after being impaled by an element in the old Art Ross nets, it wasn’t tough. 

I once wondered out loud in the press box of the Buffalo Auditorium if Boris Mironov had been Edmonton’s worst defenceman. What I didn’t know was that he was sitting right beside me. OK question, bad execution. But you have to admit: if he had been one of their better defencemen he wouldn’t have been in the press box.

I was curious about the ramifications of the relationship between Ron Wilson and Brian Burke. They go back, as you may have heard, to their first week of school at Providence College in Rhode Island. 

“There’s a reason best friends often don’t date,” I said. “You two have never run an NHL team together. Are you worried that the pressures of the job will affect the friendship?” 

First, guys don’t like it when you refer to their business relationship as “a date.” Wilson let that one go, which was kind. 

Second, this is a classic cart-before-the-horse question. 

It’s like when girlfriend and boyfriend (stick with me here) break up and say they can still be friends. 

Most of us have as many friends as we can use. If we want more, we can go on a cruise or join a book club, sign up at a gym or learn bridge. There are 30 head coaching jobs and 30 general manager jobs in the NHL. They are a bit more scarce than friends.You don’t worry if the job will affect the friendship. You worry that the friendship will affect the job…which it won’t. 

Really, why should it? 

The issue of a GM inheriting a coach is the first great curse of a new GM. John Ferguson inherited Pat Quinn and Cliff Fletcher inherited Paul Maurice. You know how that ended. 

It made perfect since when Burke said if Wilson wasn’t his coach, the first thing he would do is hire him. Wilson is a proven winner with deep connections to Burke in USA Hockey. They share the same pillar beliefs, although Burke spoke more about a bellicose version of the Leafs than Wilson ever has. “There will be” Wilson said, “some little differences in philosophy.” But you can abuse your friends with the truth.  Friends listen, especially long-term friends. 

Nor did Wilson buy the idea that things always had to end in a firing, as they so often do. 

“Teams that show stability in the coaching department usually end very well,” he said. “Teams where the whole group is tight and respects each other, that works better than a situation where you have turnover. Then, nobody wins. The GM doesn’t win if he’s changing his coaches.” 

Game, set, match.  It’s important for Burke to get along with Wilson just as it is for Wilson to get along with Burke. They have managed a rich friendship for three decades. That should mean unparalleled candor and trust between the GM’s office and the coach’s room. 

Looks like a winning formula to me.
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