A day after a CBC/NHLPA player poll indicated that Ron Wilson was the coach that NHL players would least like to play for, members of the Maple Leafs organization stepped in to defend their beleaguered bench boss.
"The evidence says otherwise and it wasn't because we could offer more money because on the younger guys, we couldn't. It was a level playing field and they chose Toronto and to play for (Ron Wilson)," said GM Brian Burke. "Ron has 600 NHL wins, he won a World Cup and has a silver medal from the Olympics."
In the survey of 318 NHL players, Wilson was named by 24 percent of players as the coach they did not want to play in front of, the highest percentage received by any single coach.
Leafs assistant coach Tim Hunter downplayed the survey, saying Wilson's credentials alone were enough to dispel any such negative notions.
"Ron's record, his coaching, speaks for itself," said Hunter. "600 wins, 1,300 games coached, Canada Cup, silver medal in the Olympics. Our guys like playing for Ron."
Leafs forwad Kris Versteeg said the bright spotlight that is constantly on Wilson in hockey-mad Toronto made for a more critical perception of the 55-year-old Windsor, Ontario native.
"You're in everyone's face every day, and every team in the league gets to see every single interview you do. Obviously it's easy to scrutinize guys a little bit more," said Versteeg. "It's been good so far, me and him, we have a good relationship. I'm sure he does with a lot of other guys in the room too."
Clarke MacArthur, who leads the team in scoring with 40 points in 49 games, seconded Versteeg's "overexposure" theory.
"I like playing for him. I think a lot of it's because he gets so much air time here too. He can be sarcastic and stuff like that," said MacArthur. "He's been great for me here, and I know obviously guys like him here and that's all I can really say about that."
The Leafs, as a team, ranked fourth-last in the survey as a franchise to play for full-time.
"All I know is we haven't had any problems attracting free agents, both veteran players and entry-level guys," said Burke. "We have had eight experienced unrestricted free agents (such as Francois Beauchemin and MacArthur) sign here to play for Ron. Thirty teams were after Tyler Bozak, lots of teams wanted (Jonas Gustavsson). These kids and many others chose to be here. I could go on and on."
Burke also did not seem particularly thrilled that the "coach" question had been part of an NHLPA-sanctioned survey.
"I don't imagine (the players/NHLPA) would be too happy if the general managers got together and voted on which players aren't earning their salaries and who is the most overrated player or anything along those lines and then announced it as from the GMs or the league," he said. "I don't think that would go over too well (with the NHLPA)."
The Leafs have lost three consecutive games and are 19-25-5, which has them sitting 12th in the Eastern Conference with 43 points. They play the Florida Panthers on Tuesday in their first game back after the All-Star break.