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Wilson can rant, but this team just isn't good enough

The Great Ron Wilson Tirade that had Leafs Nation atwitter Thursday is a great example of the dichotomy that exists between a coach and the fans. Or should exist, that is.

Coaches, even those with rebuilding teams, must live in the moment. Their sorry squad may not be a Stanley Cup contender for a couple of years but the nature of their trade means they still have to lose sleep over every mistake. So they must, as Wilson did Thursday in a coolly calculated move, blow their stack now and again on their hapless charges, even singling out the only star player in Phil Kessel to drive the message home.

The fans, on the other hand, should be taking the longer view. Yes, I know, precious few Leaf fans do this, especially since Leaf general manager Brian Burke uttered the playoff word last fall, but let's pretend this is a perfect world.

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Oh, before we continue let's clear one thing up. Like most of my colleagues, your agent did think before the season started the Leafs had a shot at the NHL playoffs. I thought they were still a couple of years away from being a serious Cup contender but I did not think they would be this bad.

But they are, which brings us back to Wilson's public tantrum. As everyone in the free world knows by now, Wilson climbed all over his players for that awful 6-2 loss in Philadelphia on Wednesday, in which they handed the Flyers three power-play goals in six tries, showed off their odd specialty this season, surrendering a 2-0 lead in the first 10 minutes of the game and generally showed their customary deference whenever the Flyers wanted the puck.

Now, we could follow this with an earnest discussion on what the Leafs should do about, say, their penalty killing or their great reluctance to object to anyone camping in front of their net. But, as Bill Murray's famous chant went in Meatballs, it just doesn't matter (now there's a rallying cry for Leaf fans).

This team is simply not good enough. That is where just about any discussion should end about any facet of this season's team.

Fans and anyone else taking the long view on the Leafs should no longer give a toss about what the present team is doing. Well, maybe you should root like mad they stay out of the bottom five - to keep that first-round pick the Boston Bruins got for Kessel from becoming a lottery pick - but that's about it.

Among the Leafs forwards, for example, only four (Kessel, Nikolai Kulemin, Viktor Stalberg and Colton Orr) can be projected with any certainty to be on next season's team. So why worry about why they can't score or kill penalties? If next season's top six forwards are the same guys, this season's troubles will seem minor.

Here's how messed up this team is right now: Centre Rickard Wallin has a grand total of zero goals and three assists this season but he's now on the power play. Niklas Hagman leads the Leafs with 16 goals and he's on the fourth line.

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If there was something to take from Thursday's exercise, it was Kessel's disappearance after practice. Wilson followed his on-ice rant by telling reporters Kessel received special mention because "I could single out a bunch of guys but he's our best player. A lot of times that needs to be the message."

A good part of Wilson's eruption questioned the courage and commitment of every player, not just Kessel. But in the wake of that kind of calling out, Kessel validated his treatment by the coach when he ducked out without addressing the situation.

The affair also showed that Wilson is one of the NHL's most underrated comedians.

It was obvious to everyone that Wilson conducted his tongue-lashing in full view of the media to make sure his players were publicly embarrassed. Once practice was over, the coach complained the media should not be allowed to see such things.

He insisted, not completely correctly, that none of the other three major professional leagues in North America allow reporters to watch teams practise. Then he offered a solution to a bigger problem.

"We should have the same security for the airports as they do in the NFL," Wilson said. "There wouldn't be any issues. You can't get in to see an NFL practice. This is our office and it should be off-limits." Well, someone quite reasonably asked, why did you yell at the players in front of us? "Well, we do it here because I'm pissed off."

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So it goes when you must live for today.

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