Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Time to give the Leafs tough love


I’m a diehard Toronto Maple Leafs fan. You know the type; I bleed blue and white, herald the 1993 Campbell Conference final as “the glory days,” and pretty much exemplify everything non-Leaf fans hate about Leaf fans. If Toronto won the Stanley Cup, I’d be drunk, crying, naked and/or arrested in minutes.

I’m as annoying and obsessive as any Bud fan out there. I want to read about trade rumors every day in the paper. I’ll listen to Leafs radio shows in July.

So let’s talk hockey, baby, starting with last Saturday’s Leafs/Rangers tilt. Yeah, man…what a game. With all that…puck hitting…and stuff. And the big hit by that guy. And the goals. And…

…so I didn’t watch the game. A diehard Leaf fan didn’t watch the game. Sacrilege, right? You know what’s even worse? I chose not to watch. I didn’t want to watch. Hell, I didn’t want them to win. I wanted them to get crushed. But I didn’t feel right cheering against the team I love, so I looked away.

Shut up, crybaby lynch mob attacking me and claiming I’m not a true Leaf fan because I want my favorite team to lose. No, you shut up. No, YOU SHUT UP. You’re wrong. A real fan wants the team to succeed. And by succeed, I don’t mean your definition of success. I don’t mean finish eighth. I don’t mean win a first-round playoff series. I mean contend. I mean win a friggin’ Stanley Cup. If we actually want a Cup, we need heads to roll. We need to start from square one, even if that means blowing up the team, Florida Marlins-style. And the only way that’ll ever happen is if we become bad enough that management has to make changes.

There’s a strange sense of shoulder-shrugging helplessness in Leaf Nation. We think the team has fucked itself so badly that it can never, ever recover. Wake up. It’s not that the Leafs situation can’t change; it’s just that it can’t change without a few years of suffering.

Let’s dispel a few of those “unfixable problem” myths, shall we?

MYTH: Everything is John Ferguson Jr.’s fault and firing him will solve the problem.

Fergie’s ugly situation is as much a product of his contract as it is anything else. Think about it. If someone gives you a one-year extension and openly puts a gun to your head, will you make moves to help your team in the long term or the short term? Of course he keeps throwing dough at veterans. I don’t blame the guy at all.

Say you work in sales for a big corporation and you’re struggling. Your boss tells you to make money or hit the road. Would you make modest moves for mild but definite success or would you bust out your “five-year plan” that’ll lose the company money at first but help it in the long run? What if you have kids to feed?

MYTH: John Ferguson Jr. is a competent general manager who deserves to keep his job and will make the right moves under a different contract.

I’m not contradicting myself, I swear. Just because I don’t blame him for his recent mistakes doesn’t mean he isn’t a fucking idiot. This is the same guy who signed geriatric Eddie Belfour to a colossal contract during the lockout and made Jason Allison put on skates and play “hockey” for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The current mess ain’t all his fault, but he still has to go. He couldn’t spot a good trade or draft pick if it took a shit on his face.

MYTH: All the Leafs’ financial advantages are gone in the salary cap era.

This team is still backed by the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan and sells out every game, yet its scouts may literally be monkeys trained by people with Down syndrome. I heard a great idea on the radio the other day: find the 10 best scouts in the NHL and offer to double their salaries. Maybe even triple them. We sure as Hell can afford it. Maybe then we’d draft Zetterbergs and Stastnys instead of trying to convince fans Jiri Tlusty is a future star.

MYTH: There is no suitor for Bryan McCabe.

Come on. Someone has room for him. Plenty of teams could use his point shot on the power play. The New York Rangers are reportedly pursuing Ed Jovanovski aggressively, so can you honestly tell me they wouldn’t have placed a call about McCabe, a highly similar player in skill, defensive “merit” and salary?

MYTH: Nik Antropov is untouchable.

Yeah, he’s having a breakout year, but he’s also made of Popsicle sticks and he’s an unrestricted free agent in 2009. Think the Leafs will be Cup contenders by 2009? Trading him at his peak value wouldn’t be a horrible idea.

MYTH: Leaf Nation would get angry and stop filling the building if Toronto underwent a rebuilding period.

This one gets me the most. Toronto is supposedly the “Hockey Mecca.” So how can anyone think the so-called most knowledgeable, faithful hockey fans on the planet wouldn’t understand or accept a rebuilding period? These aren’t the Nashville Predators or Kansas City Laser Hawks (just guessing at what the team name will be). We see how Anaheim built itself into a powerhouse. We see that Chicago looks scarier by the game after stockpiling high draft picks. If you’re a real Leafs fan, you know a temporary period of futility will do wonders for the greater good.

If Leaf management disagrees with the idea of Toronto accepting a rebuilding period, it’s contradicting itself. It currently maintains a mediocre status quo because “The fans will always fill the seats, so why spend more money to make the team better?” If the fans will always fill the seats, you can start from scratch and they’ll forgive you.

Better yet, Leaf management can ship off its high-priced veterans, hang way under the cap and still make profit.

“Larkin, you idiot,” you say. “It’s not that easy. No one will just inhale Pavel Kubina’s contract.”

Yes, they will. They’ll eat up his contract if you give them a totally lopsided deal. Seriously. That’s what Leafs management needs to do. It should pull a Rob Babock, swallow its pride, say “We were wrong on this one,” and systematically cast away its vets for next to nothing. Get low-round picks, young underachievers, anything. Even throw cash into the deal if you have to. But get the Kubinas, Gills and McCabes of the world off the team and start from scratch, almost as if it’s an expansion team.

Now, there are a few exceptions. Unless he requests a trade to a contender, Mats Sundin may have to finish his career a Leaf. Toronto fans are knowledgeable, yes, but they’re also more sentimental than Mom on prom night. Trading away the team’s longest-serving captain and all-time leading scorer in what could be his final season would be unforgivable for some. Same may go for fan-favourite Darcy Tucker, whom many call the "heart and soul" of the team and who took a hometown discount to stay here. Fine. Sundin can ride out his contract and we can keep Tucker around for veteran leadership.

I don’t include Matt Stajan, Kyle Wellwood, Alex Steen, and the other young vets when I say ship off the veterans. The young ones can stay, but we have to understand that these guys aren’t franchise players or “building blocks.” They’re solid yet unspectacular players who could be useable cogs in a championship machine but are also expendable. Except for you, Tomas Kaberle. We love you. Sorry for putting up with all this garbage. Please don’t leave us.

Do all these ideas sound absolutely insane? Yes. But they could fix the Leafs’ nightmare. That’s how fucked the current situation is. I know I’m not alone on this one; plenty of Leaf fans agree with me, which further suggests Leaf Nation would accept a rebuilding phase.

Quoting colleague and Leaf fan Hurk: “I just played 160 games of NHL 08 on Xbox 360 and missed the playoffs two straight seasons. I think I can be patient with the Leafs if they rebuild.”

The Leafs are in a Bizarro world right now. Moving up in the standings – say, climbing to seventh in the conference en route to being ousted by Carolina in six games in round one – is a move away from a Stanley Cup. Dismantling the franchise top to bottom and, consequently, moving back in the standings, brings us closer to glory.

If you’re a crappy Leaf fan who “really started getting into hockey when all my friends were watching their deep playoff run in 2002,” you probably think the idea of rebuilding is criminally insane. But to us real Leaf fans, the Buds are our babies. We’re their parents, and it’s about time we gave them some tough love. Don’t cheer for them; that would just validate their crappiness and encourage them to keep “trying” and playing mediocre hockey. Maybe even boo them if you can stomach it. In doing so you’ll be increasing our chances at breaking the Cup curse.

Yep, things are that bad.

-- M.L.


Anonymous said...

The Leafs need to take a page out of the Raptors playbook, and bring in a world-class GM. If JFJ was out of work, does anybody really think he'd be offered GM work elsewhere? Not a chance.

I also think the adding money to the scouting budget would pay big dividends. Leaf's drafting is just the shits...has been for more years than I can remember...last great pick was Wendy.

Maybe bring Wendy back...

And Tiger Williams...

Maybe even Johhny Bower...

Anonymous said...

The team should sack Ferguson Jr and hire his Dad. He'd be a lot more effective. (and, yes, I know he's dead)

Paul Barnes said...

I agree, the Leafs should sack everyone. But not rebuild. Toronto should focus on the Jays.

Hockey sucks.

Hayesism said...

i am far from the biggest expert on the topic, but it seems to me like a major problem is that leafs ownership doesn't really care if we win or we don't. either way, the stadium gets filled and the leafs continue to be the highest revenue/highest profiting franchise in the NHL.
so long as the team is just good enough to keep fans in a perpetual state of "maybe" what does ownership give a shit?
great ideas though, and i agree

Anonymous said...

I disagree that Toronto is a 'hockey mecca' - its a Leafs Mecca. If TO was a hockey crazy town, the Marlies would draw more than 2000 per game, St. Catharines wouldn't have a junior team, and the other OHL teams would be filling the building.

People in Toronto want to see their Leafs, and fuck the rest.

Also, am I the only one slightly offended by the new Sportsnet Connected commercials? They show leafs, raps and jays highlightsn but then a Habs/sens highlight shows, to which they exclaim something to the effect of 'who put that in there? No one wants to see that!' ... And this is a national network?

- kev

Anonymous said...

For the record, those Sportsnet commercials -- only in T.O. do we see that add. The Sens/Habs region (Sportsnet East) gets a different ad.

-- Larkin

Anonymous said...

it's like you read my thoughts and transcribed my thoughts... weird.

i also think i may be in love.. weirder?

Anonymous said...

i've given up on the leafs and am pretty happy to watch them consitently lose. i suppose by them losing enough it will create a revolution that will overthrow the current era/generations of mediocrity.

as far as money is concerned, the ownership SHOULD want the leafs to make the playoffs since that makes more business sense. the reason being that players don't get paid in the playoffs and so all ticket revenue is pretty much all profit. if the leafs make it to the finals that's at least 8 home games of revenue from ridiculously priced seats and beer.

anyways, since they consistently miss the playoffs they might as well rebuild for a better future. until then i'm cheering for them to lose.


Anonymous said...

Your best yet. Comprehensive, intuitive... and a very clever take vis a vis the super heroes comparison. I also like your new look.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Dad.

- Larkin