We sympathize with Andrew – his Leafs crashed and burned. Caps fans like us avert our eyes to such disasters, hoping whatever contagion the Leafs have doesn’t spread. The heady optimism of the Leaf’s early season gave way to “Fire Wilson!” Fire Burke!” “Fire Everyone!” Personal losses will always outweigh team loses. Andrew writes here on both, including the passing of a great lady and a great Toronto Maple Leafs fan.
“Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light….” – Dylan Thomas
Unfortunately for the Leafs, that light died out weeks ago.
On a steady decline from first in the league, we (as of this writing) are 12th in the East and 24th overall. The most shocking part of this? It is within the realms of reason that we could end up LAST in the East and 29th overall (NYI and TBL are one point behind, MTL only 3). How could a team that started off with such promise, that got an entire city buzzing, collapse into a such a rusted, tangled, dented god-damn misery of a mess?
Based on the performance of late, the coaching isn’t the issue (both Wilson and Carlyle suck? Sure, possible, but…) That leaves management and the players. Both of which are equally guilty.
We have made bad trades, bad acquisitions and have a wonderful talent for trading away mediocre players in Toronto that turn into stars in other markets (see: St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche etc.). Burke, while I love the guy, needs to give his head a shake and rethink his strategy with this club.
If he can’t, well, there’s only one option left.
As for player talent, we have some real stars on the team, but are woefully deficient in most other ways. Having goal scorers is no good if we don’t have defence or goaltending, having a good winger is no good with a shitbum centreman. We have a lot of holes that need to get filled. We also have some players that are just chronic underperformers and a relatively lacking NHL-calibre junior team.
The city and the fanbase can put up with a lot and, of course, we will anyway. But we’re getting tired and impatient. We see the same predictable moves, the same head-scratching re-signings, and wonder what the hell the TML brass are thinking. IF they even are.
It gets one to wonder if this is not part of some terribly played out and obvious trajectory? Fellow blogger Will Collie (a major Leafs fan and teriffic writer – @will_collie on twitter), made a very salient and quite shockingly apropos analogy between the NHL and WCW [not everyone follows wrasslin’, yours truly included, but I remember back to these days and Will paints a very clear and maddeningly obvious path each business took]. He sums it up rather nicely:
“If you step aside and compare this situation to the one WCW dealt with, you can see how eerily similar it actually is. They ran with a hot hand way too long (The Sundin era), failed to develop the younger pieces to eventually take over, those younger players were moved out and most importantly, failed to bring in a back bone necessary for success.
The product in 2004 looked almost the same as it did in 1999 (just like WCW’s product in 1999 was the same as 1995). They ran their few good pieces into the ground and failed to bring in a supporting cast that would work well with their franchise player (Hogan had Hall and Nash, Sundin had Roberts, Mogilny and Joseph, Kessel has nobody which is the same amount of support that Goldberg had in WCW). The issues and problems just kept adding up and now in 2012, fans haven’t seen a damn thing change.” [The full posts: Part One and Part Two]
It’s infuriating as a Leafs fan to see such an obvious thing play out in front of you. I could draw the parallel even further to another Canadian product: Blackberry. Blackberry was king for years, providing business with the kind of security they craved. It was virtually tailor made for the corporate world. And kids latched on the BBM. Loved it. Used it. And they ran with it, quite successfully. But the market started to change. iPhone and Android-powered phones became the “thing”.
They had the security now, but they also had the functionality that everyone wanted. But Blackberry had put all its money on their encryption being what will keep them relevant…while keeping new phone development on the backburner and new software at bay. This decision cut their legs out from under them, and look at them now: falling stock, unstable business and incessant rumours of takeovers. They ran with their golden boy who, unfortunately, grew up into the chartreuse man. Yes, that is an implication that chartreuse is an unattractive colour. Because it is.
And every attempt BB makes to improve, it seems to backfire. Changing out the boss isn’t really helping. Developing new isn’t producing the desired results. Keeping the same surely isn’t helping. So what to do, what to do, BlackBerry (and Brian Burke [oooooohhhhh!])?
I’d like to wave my magic wand, use my Carnac divining skills, and be able to posit some moves the Leafs should do on the offseason to ensure next year isn’t abrogated. I can make broad strokes: some debridement of the roster needs to happen. A real concerted effort to sign a new, tested goaltender needs to happen. Defence needs to, you know, happen. But that’s nothing new.
This may seemed like re-hashed old hat, but it’s an ongoing issue that sees no sign of letting up. And it’s part of understanding what March and April mean in Toronto. It’s an incredibly defeated time. We know we can’t make it, so fans start booing in the stands, chanting various FIRE (name) things. I hate to see it every year, but it comes like the bloody mosquitoes (of which I already have a bloody bite, how the actual hell?): on time, annoyingly and incessantly. It’s not right, but it’s ok. We’re going to make it anyway. I hope.
There will come a day when this isn’t the ritual in the city, when there is a playoff fever, a special feeling we have again. It will happen, but when is up for discussion. And who it will be with and who it will be under, are up in the air. It’s just a question of time.
March 22 marked two months since I lost my beloved grandmother. No one here knew her, but she was a delightful Russian lady (and I do mean lady, she was as classy and dignified as they came). And a hockey fan. She came from Russia after World War Two and settled in Montreal, only to move a decade later to Toronto. And she always loved the Leafs. And disliked Montreal.
She’d always call me after Jeopardy (it ends at 8pm here), asking if I got the Final right and then ask if any hockey was on. If she knew ahead of time, she’d call before 7 so she wouldn’t disturb the game. I always told her she was never a disturbance, but she still gave hockey that deference. And when I’d tell her that Toronto and Montreal would be playing, she’d most often say something along the lines of “Shar up, Montreal!” (that’s Russian grandmother for “Shut up, Montreal!”)
Despite being from Mother Russia, she always, loudly, cheered for Team Canada. I remember the gold medal game at the 2010 Olympics. She called me after Canada won in overtime and was so happy, but she was even happier that I was so happy. And that’s the way she always was: happiest most when those she loved were happy. I suppose she rubbed off on some of her friends, too.
Of the various images I have emblazoned in my mind from her funeral, there is one of an elderly Russian neighbour of hers, crying, in the cold, hats and gloves. But the gloves had pink Toronto Maple Leafs logos on them. I couldn’t help but look at them and smile. She’d have had it no other way. Я люблю тебя, бабушка.
[Disclosure 1: Research in Motion is a client of Craig's PR firm]. [Disclosure 2: Thank you Grandma for helping raise such a wonderful young man].