We’re not often privy to what goes on inside an NHL locker room. HBO’s 24/7 was a distinct change in that manner of doing business, but the Toronto Maple Leafs are learning a bit of a hard (and stupid) lesson about letting internal matters get published in the local papers.
When the Leafs beat the San Jose Sharks the other night, Leafs coach Ron Wilson was shown on camera breaking out a wad of cash, $600 worth, walking back to the Leafs locker room with Francois Beauchemin. That cash was destined to land in the wallet of Carl Gunnarsson who score the game-winning goal. $600 seems like a funny number to pick out, but in this case it was appropriate as the victory was Ron Wilson’s 600th in his career.
Why was Wilson making it rain during post game? It’s simple, the Sharks are the team Wilson used to coach before coming to Toronto and as is somewhat typical in games involving a player’s (or coach in this case) old team, getting the game winner nets you a bit of cash internally.
That locker room gamesmanship doesn’t usually get talked about in the papers or discussed in public and today, we’re discovering why that is because the NHL frowns upon seeing cash being bandied about after a game and will reportedly fine the Maple Leafs for the coach’s “bounty” for victory. Eric Duhatschek of the Globe & Mail discusses the league going a bit over the top in keeping up appearances.
The problem that I foresee is that the league has – to its everlasting peril – now decided to draw a line in the sand for an act that has been commonplace for years. Coaches do it occasionally, but 90 per cent of the time, it’s a player that puts the money up – say, when Dany Heatley goes back to play Ottawa for the first time, he would post an incentive for whichever new teammate helps them win against his old team. And while a player offering up dollars from his own pocket might not be a CBA or a salary-cap violation, surely it must contravene some internal gambling regulation within the league – and run afoul of NHL policy as well.
It’s a slippery slope indeed with the NHL cracking down on these silly side bet shenanigans. After all, Wilson offering up virtual pocket change for a professional athlete in netting the game-winner doesn’t compare to the bounty accusations we’ve seen in other sports.
In the early 1990s, then Philadelphia Eagles coach Buddy Ryan faced criticism when he supposedly offered up a bounty to anyone on his defense who injured Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman during an upcoming game. At least with Wilson, there’s no actual harm being committed here. It’s not as if he turned into a modern-day Reggie Dunlop offering money to put Dany Heatley or Joe Thornton in the hospital.
These sorts of things go on in locker rooms all the time amongst players but when you’re a team that plays in a hockey-crazed city like Toronto every move, no matter how big it is, gets noticed and discussed and over-analyzed. In this case, seeing raw cash changing hands on camera raises more than a few eyebrows and the NHL is just looking to keep up appearances. At the same time, I’d hope the league is smart enough to just let boys be boys when it comes to breaking up the monotony of a long season.