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Broaching The Issue Of Integrity

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Well, it happened.

The elephant in the room has a name: integrity.

When Leafs coach Ron Wilson lit into FAN590 Leafs reporter Howard Berger in his press conference, Tuesday night, he was reacting to what he perceived as questions about his integrity.

Berger asked Wilson the night before about a stick measurement late in the game against Ottawa why Wilson hadn't used similar measures earlier in the season. The two disagree over exactly what was said, but the Leafs coach clearly stewed over the inference and had his say Tuesday night.

It’s about time someone approached this question head on.

Maple Leaf fans, and yes Berger is by definition their agent, are in the most unnatural of positions - they are cheering against their team - and I honestly wonder whether the people who run the team understand that.

It is not in the Leafs’ best interest to win right now and please, don’t try to tell Leaf fans any different. They have seen more than enough hard-won games in March make for fewer options come draft day. Do you remember what Cliff Fletcher said about the team last year, how they didn’t win until it no longer mattered? To the fans, this bunch can’t win enough to get into the post-season and they can’t get losing right either.

On the other hand, suggesting to a professional coach or athlete that they should lose is ignorant. It’s like telling a horse not to run. Wilson is well within his rights to defend his integrity wherever he feels it impugned. To operate without it is to lose your moral compass and invite the censure of your colleagues. The Ottawa Senators, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning have as much to gain by losing as the Leafs do. If everyone operates in good faith, everything sorts itself out.

And yes, there is something to be said for imbuing the right values in young players such as Luke Schenn and Nikolai Kulemin.

But Leaf fans don’t care to defend Wilson’s integrity or that of Brian Burke for that matter. They want a better draft choice (forgetting for a second the mathematical nuances of the system) and they have endured a pretty rough season. If any fan base deserves a last-place finish, it’s Leafs Nation.

Here is what’s being missed here. The people who buy the tickets would lose nothing and in their mind gain lots by a disastrous March and April.

The men who run the team won’t jeopardize their standing or their values. Burke made that enormously clear when he acquired Martin Gerber at the deadline to shore up the goaltending.

Everyone is doing what’s right for them. But when Wilson talks about his integrity, he is not acknowledging that while it is in his interests to pile on more wins, it isn’t in the interests of the people paying the freight.

The Leafs were abject longshots to make the post-season. They still are. There have been two things to chew over since Christmas, the trade deadline and the draft. The deadline passed March 4.

All there is to talk about is the conflict between integrity and expediency. The coach and the GM are operating to their own code. They think it’s right for them. They think it’s right for the franchise. They are only half right, say the fans.

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