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In this file photo, Toronto Maple Leafs new head coach Ron Wilson listens to questions from the media in Toronto on Tuesday June 10, 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn (Frank Gunn)
In this file photo, Toronto Maple Leafs new head coach Ron Wilson listens to questions from the media in Toronto on Tuesday June 10, 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn (Frank Gunn)

The Look Ahead

Wilson watch in Toronto Add to ...

Here's the deal with Ron Wilson: forget the record or parsing whether general manager Brian Burke said the Toronto Maple Leafs would make the playoffs or merely contend for a playoff spot.

Forget the fact his team has one forward capable of being anything other than a third-liner on even a just-okay team, or that people such as Gary Roberts have criticized the team's off-season emphasis on aerobics training.

("First of all, Gary doesn't know the program that we did ... and unless you were actually involved in all the stuff our players did anaerobically, aerobically, strength conditioning and everything else, it's really not fair for anybody on the outside to comment," said Wilson in response to Roberts's criticism.)

As head coach of the Maple Leafs, the bare minimum requirement of Wilson was that the team's young players continue to progress. Luke Schenn isn't. Mikhail Grabovski isn't. John Mitchell looks like he's flat-lined into a fourth-line player. Everything else aside, that alone would give Burke reason to at least contemplate firing Wilson if he wasn't already committed to him for U.S. Olympic coach, regardless of contractual status.

Burke's one-year anniversary as GM of the franchise is in six days time, and it's time to do some reckoning.

Ralph Lawler and Michael Smith are apparently how you say "Don Cherry" in American. The Los Angeles Clippers suspended the announcers for a game Friday after an insipid exchange Wednesday night focusing on Memphis Grizzlies Iranian centre, Hamed Haddadi. Courtesy of the L.A. Times, here is the latest instalment in Stupid Announcer Tricks:

Lawler: "Hamed Haddadi. Where's he from?"

Smith: "He's the first Iranian to play in the NBA." (Smith pronounced Iranian as "Eye-ranian," a pronunciation that offended the viewer who filed the initial complaint with the Clippers Fox affiliate.)

Lawler: "There aren't any Iranian players in the NBA," repeating Smith's mispronunciation.

Later in the 40-second exchange, Smith asks Lawler:

Smith: "You're sure it's not Borat's older brother?"

Smith: "If they ever make a movie about Haddadi, I'm going to get Sacha Baron Cohen to play the part."

Lawler: "Here's Haddadi. Nice little back-door pass. I guess those Iranians can pass the ball."

Smith: "Especially the post players.

Lawler: "I don't know about their guards."

When do the Toronto media start ripping Blue Jays president and chief executive officer Paul Beeston for "leaking" to the New York Post that Roy Halladay "is not inclined to sign with us," after his current contract expires? If it was J.P. Ricciardi, all you'd hear is whining about how he was currying favour with the U.S. media.

With the winter meetings two weeks away, Halladay is going to provide much of the grist for the rumour mill. Guesses on his destination (in order): 1. Boston Red Sox; 2. Los Angeles Dodgers; 3. New York Yankees; 4. With the Blue Jays to start the year; 5. Philadelphia Phillies.

The World Cup bobsled and skeleton campaign heads overseas this week, and NBC's already found a target for Matt Lauer and the Kleenex Brigade: John Napier.

Napier finished second in the World Cup four-man race yesterday at Lake Placid, N.Y., after winning the two-man bobsleigh race here Saturday, less than a mile from his year-round home - "the second house on the left down this entrance road," as he said - and it's true: driving in from the village of Lake Placid, there is a little log house with the name NAPIER on the mailbox.

Napier, the No.3 driver on the U.S. team who took advantage this weekend of an injury to Todd Hays, is a member of the Vermont National Guard and the unit is scheduled to be deployed to Afghanistan next year. Yesterday, he said he had been told he would likely be cleared to compete in the Olympics and join his unit afterward. "I'm ready to go to war if I have to," Napier said. "There is a chance they might let me deploy later. It's all up to the U.S. Army. It's all on them and how they want to use me."

I smell flag-bearer and little Bobby Costas sitting by a fire in a comfy sweater, don't you?

Montreal Canadiens goon Georges Laraque ought to be a topic of conversation in Colin Campbell's office after his knee-on-knee hit on the Detroit Red Wings' Niklas Kronwall Saturday night. Kronwall, whose Red Wings play the Calgary Flames on Friday, is out for at last two weeks with what could be a third-degree MCL sprain on his left knee. "Yes, it was dirty," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland told the Detroit Free Press. "It was knee-on-knee, and I believe knee-on-knee is a dirty play. I don't know if the referees saw it. I just saw Nik go down and then I got to watch it on TV and video replay." Laraque, a serial dough-head, received a minor penalty and a four-minute high-sticking minor on the same shift. No group of professional athletes have less respect for their peers than hockey players. None.

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