Alright, because I'm too lazy to write two things. Here's my upcoming article for the next issue of The Mike Newspaper. It may have to be edited if the Leafs get better, which I doubt will happen.
The Real Problem with The Maple Leafs (crappy title, gonna change that).
The day is May 1, 1993. My parents have let me stay up late past my bedtime. Why? Because the Toronto Maple Leafs are playing the Detroit Red Wings in the divisional semi-finals. After a long and hard fought series, the two teams had taken each other to the very limit, and now, here they were, game 7, tied 3-3, overtime. The first two minutes are a blur as the teams take turns controlling the puck, but then, with the Maple Leafs pressing hard in the Detroit zone, it happens; a moment that will forever be etched into my memory. Almost in slow motion for me as I watched it on television that fateful night, Doug Gilmour picks up the puck just inside the Detroit blue line, and throws a pass over to defenseman Bob Rouse, who puts a shot on net. The shot is wide as it slides past the skate of Detroit goaltender Tim Cheveldae, but within that second that the puck eludes Cheveldae’s grasp, right-winger Nikolai Borschevsky tips the puck into the wide open Detroit net. The Maple Leafs win, and move on to the divisional finals against the St. Louis Blues. At the time, I know nothing of the history of the Maple Leafs, or the long time absence of a Stanley Cup in Toronto, or really much of anything about the NHL. All I knew was that right there in that moment, feeling the joy of that victory, that I would be a Toronto Maple Leafs fan for the rest of my life.
Well, here we are, 16 years later, and despite three more trips to the Conference finals following that epic 1992-93 season, the Maple Leafs are still without a Stanley Cup. The team has not made the playoffs in five years, and now, as the worst the worst team in both the league and in franchise history, it doesn’t look like things are going to improve anytime in the near future. Now, I could take the time and debate the individual players, and who to bring up from the minor leagues, and which rosters and lines work best, but if you want that, you can change to any one of the six all day sports channels in existence. I’m a student of philosophy, and I’ll explain to you what, philosophically, the problem with the Maple Leafs is.
You see, recently my Maple Leaf fanhood was called into question because I remarked that I had “given up” on the Leafs this season. This was in no way an admission of ill will towards the team, and you will not see me sporting a Canadiens jersey anytime soon, it was simply the fan equivalent of washing my hands of whatever happens this season. To me, it seemed completely acceptable for a longtime fan to sit back and say “I still love my team, but I refuse to watch them this particular season.” Well, apparently I was wrong, and was immediately accused of being a “bandwagon jumper” because apparently, you’re not a real fan unless you’re willing to spend your time and money watching a team that sucks.
Therein lies the philosophical problem with the Maple Leafs. In Toronto there exists this core group of so-called “die-hard” fans who have actually convinced themselves that a bad team is still worth watching. I don’t watch the Leafs just to see them win; I watch to see them compete, to see some excitement and hockey skill. Watching a team that can’t stay out of the penalty box for more than three minutes at a time and a goalie that lets in an average of two crappy goals per game is not my idea of good hockey. Yet these fans still walk around with an air of superiority, believing that they can criticize all other fans because they still pay money to go watch the worst team in the league. It’s saddening, and more than a little annoying, because these fans are the reason why the Maple Leafs will never win a Stanley Cup.
In the land of happy butterflies and magical fairywinkles, a team can win a Stanley Cup because the fans believe that they will. But here in the real world, things don’t quite work out that way. I submit to you this evidence: October 17, 2009. In Toronto, the Maple Leafs, going into a game against the New York Rangers with a dismal 0-6-1 record, had an attendance of 19,295 fans. Toronto would go on to lose the game 4-1. Meanwhile, just over 3,500 km away in Glendale, Arizona; the Phoenix Coyotes, with a respectable 5-2-0 record, hosted the Boston Bruins. 9,162 fans, less than half the number of that at the Leafs game, watch the Coyotes win 4-1.
Other teams in the NHL would give just about anything to have even one quarter of these so-called “die-hard” fans cheering for their team. While they have to actually try to put together a winning team in order to attract fans, the Maple Leafs can rely on their “die-hards” to always make a profit. With several teams in financial trouble and the recession hitting the NHL particularly hard, Maple Leafs fans don’t realize just how good the have it, but I can assure you that team owners at Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment do. You see, this year has served as the ultimate proof of what most veteran Leafs fans already know; that even if the team puts the absolute worst product available out there on the ice, there are always people loyal (or stupid) enough to go watch them.
As for me, I’ll always treasure that goal in 1993, I will never give up hope that maybe one day I’ll get to see the Maple Leafs win a Stanley Cup, and I will never, ever, get rid of my Tie Domi jersey; but I stand by my “giving up” on this year’s team. As for the die-hard fans, you can criticize my view of things all you want, and go ahead and watch all the games, go to the arena, and cheer for a losing team to your heart’s content. The fact remains that until fans show that they really care for the team by making a dent in MLSE’s ever growing wallet, the Maple Leafs will never win a Stanley Cup. No matter how much we “beleaf.”