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Leafs Put In A Tough Spot

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

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When you write for a team’s, you tread a winding line invariably connected to your mortgage.

You can’t put the blocks to the club without reservation. No one makes a long-term living continually reminding their boss how stupid he is. I have friends in the media who bestow on me that very expectation yet it’s one they manage to consistently avoid in their own writings.

And when player and management differ, your credibility suffers when you line up behind the people who pay you without regard to the athlete’s point of view.

That’s why when you look at the trade requests from Garnet Exelby and Jamal Mayers, you have to mete out your words carefully.

Let's chew on some facts.

1. Neither one of these players has been very good this year. Now you can blame a lack of playing time, as players often do, but this is classic chicken and egg stuff. You can’t get better without ice time. You have to play better for the coach to gain confidence in you. But Mayers is 35 and while his skating and will to play remain strong, he is a fourth line player on a lineup not exactly teeming with talent. He has not been able to play his way up the ladder and that should tell you something.

2. Ron Wilson hasn’t coached more than 1700 NHL games because he is stupid. But in his demand for accountability he can shred a player with his tongue. Coaches get fired because players tire of them. The better the coach, the more often he gets hired – and fired. From Scotty Bowman to Glen Sather to Mike Keenan to Ken Hitchcock, the demands of great coaches produces a string of disaffected players. How big a problem depends not on the actions of the coach, but on the caliber of the players angry with him. Casey Stengelwas in baseball because he realized the solitary truth of managing: keep the 10 guys who hate you away from the 10 guys who haven’t yet made up their mind.

3. There is an obvious contractual question at play here. Exelby is 28 and in the last year of a contract that paid him $1.75 million. That’s nice money for a player scratched 22 times in 54 games.

Exelby knows there will be little interest in a defenceman who didn’t play much on the worst defensive team in the NHL.

Same for Mayers, who is surely looking for the last contract of his career. So when the players say they want to play, they are not being disingenuous. But they want to play for very sound financial reasons and since both are nicely paid by the Toronto Maple Leafs, I can see how that would rankle management a tad. Always nice to have players jump ship after the iceberg.

4. There’s an old saying. Academic infighting is so brutal because so little is actually at stake. Any leverage the Leafs may have had in dealing Exelby and Mayers vaporized when they went public with their trade requests. Then again, half of nothing is still nothing.
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