"Don't get in a pissing match with people who buy ink by the barrel."
A saying that has long applied to politicians is also applicable in the hockey world. Even the most insignificant relationship between scribe and coach will guarantee that the coach gets an easier time of it in the morning paper.
It's a natural human tendency to feel empathy for those who are closest to you. But it's also amazing how much your attitude will change regarding a complete stranger if the smallest bit of good will exists. Which is why different industries spend billions a year in handing out trinkets to those with whom they want to do business.
Howard Berger has touched on this fact numerous times over the years, and had the guts to admit that criticizing a player like Mats Sundin was harder for the simple fact that Sundin is such a decent person and always had the time of day for the press.
Damien Cox gushes every time Wayne Gretzky's name comes up because the Great One has granted him a handful of interviews over the years. When Gretzky was getting hammered by many observers in the hockey world for his behaviour in the Coyotes fiasco, Cox dutifully played devil's advocate.
So it's perplexing that Ron Wilson is apparently one of the surliest, media hating coaches in the NHL. Toronto is one of the toughest markets in the league in which to coach. Primarily for the fact that any coach who ends up there is saddled by a freakish management outfit that seems to enjoy the whole sideshow entertainment value of watching others take the heat while they rack up the profits.
So as the Leafs are off to a horrid start, aggravated by some equally terrible expectations management courtesy of Wilson and Brian Burke, it's no surprise that Cox and others have started suggesting that Wilson is the weak link. Not outright beating the drum for Wilson's firing mind you, but it's only a matter of time. Cox planted the seed in the most thinly veiled ways, acting incredulous that anyone would dare suggest that Wilson was already in firing range while doing exactly that in the process.
Not that he is the only one in the media hinting at the need for someone to take the fall early on in what is shaping up to be one freakshow of a soap opera season even by Leafs standards. The aggravation at having been snubbed or insulted by Wilson will make many in the media gleeful at the prospect of seeing him get hung out to dry. And they will only be too happy to push the narrative along.
And once you go down the road of criticizing and ridiculing someone, especially in such a public way, there's no going back. Self-justification and dissonance ensure that any twinges of regret at ripping on the individual are set aside and the rationale always becomes, well, the son-of-a-bitch deserves it.
Does the criticism have anything to do with lack of results and the apparent inability of Wilson to motivate the Leafs to play better? No doubt. If Wilson were on better terms with the media, would they be willing to cut him more slack? It's a good bet.
As the Leafs get hammered once again, the need for an instant scapegoat mounts. Because of his self-defeating relationship with the media, Wilson has helped to ensure that they will target him as the likeliest candidate.