Habs Fans vs Leafs Fans

1964 Habs - Leafs

First of all, relax. This is neither a Leafs nor Habs bashing rant. Having lived in both Montreal and Toronto as a huge hockey fan for more than 20 years each, I have first hand experience in the cheering characteristics of the local teams’ fans. Oh boy, what a difference!

Primarily, but not entirely, the comportment of both Habs fans and Leaf fans today is steeped in hockey history. The Montreal Canadiens and a team from Toronto (not originally the Maple Leafs) are the only two franchises that have played uninterrupted since opening night of the NHL in 1917. One has been immensely more successful than the other over the past 92 years, and this in itself goes a long way in explaining the differences in current fan behavior. Nobody alive today will ever see the Toronto Maple Leafs catch up to the Canadiens in overall historical and documented success. Barring some sort of major catastrophic event, the NHL will never revert to three teams again like there where were when Toronto won its first Stanley Cup.

Since the Toronto team was purchased and taken over by Conn Smythe in 1927, the re-named Maple Leafs have won the Stanley Cup 11 times. From 1927 to date, the Canadiens have won Lord Stanley’s coveted silverware 22 times: exactly twice as often. Enough said if you want to use a quick, historical measure of total hockey success.

If you go deeper into the statistical analysis using the annually updated “NHL Official Guide and Record Book”, it’s easy to uncover the underlying reasons for the greater number of cheering opportunities that lucky Habs fans have enjoyed from the start. As of 2009 and in exactly the same number of games played in all-time NHL history (5,874), the Canadiens have scored 19,284 goals. Over the same all-time period, Toronto has scored 18,189 times. Not even close. The Canadiens have won 3,021 regular-season games, the Leafs 2,569, a significant difference. The Canadiens have had better goaltenders, as evidenced by the incomparably higher number of Vezinas in the trophy cabinet. They’ve had better defensemen, as indicated by the Canadiens’ ten Norris trophy wins compared to zero by the Leafs. In fact, they’ve had more star players in virtually every category.

Why such a staggering difference? Unlike Toronto, the Canadiens’ success story has always been realized against a background of social tension. For much of 92 years, there has always been that undeniable clash of French and English culture that has always had Montreal as its epicenter.  Fortunately, the very most of this time has been spent in a non-violent, harmonious existence. Nevertheless, the descendents of both cultures have needed an outlet, a venue where pent up frustrations and emotions could be released. So they went to a hockey game. You’ve probably heard before about how you could cut the buzz or electricity in the air at the old Montreal Forum with a knife. It’s true. The atmosphere was like nowhere else and the Canadiens fed off of it. Montreal Canadiens’ Managers were always smart and careful. They balanced their teams with healthy representation from both of Canada’s founding cultures. For every Maurice Richard, there was a Doug Harvey. For every Guy Lafleur, there was a Howie Morenz. In the dressing room and on the ice, one language was spoken – winning.

All of these historical facts lead us to why there are noticeable differences in the fan bases of both founding clubs right now. Leafs fans feel that Habs fans aren’t loyal if they only bring out their Habs gear when the team is winning. This Habs fan trait is evident enough, but a Habs fan is accustomed to a long, storied tradition of winning and supporting a team that is best at everything. Anything less than winning is unacceptable. The morning after a 7-2 loss to Boston, Leafs fans still proudly go out sporting their Leaf caps and justify their lack of shame with the standard “eternal, unwavering loyalty” excuse.

So yes, Leafs fans are probably more loyal. They make sure there is never an empty seat for a Leafs home game. This is more important in Toronto than it is in Montreal. The occasional empty seat at Montreal’s Bell Center is a clear indication to Habs Management that the team is not good enough and not living up to the preset and traditional standards.

Canadiens fans are a little more passionate about their team and everything hockey. Of course, there is good passion and there is bad passion. You’re probably more likely to witness another hockey riot in Montreal if tensions boil over, as they did in 1955. Nobody riots in ever-passive Toronto. That’s a good thing, except that acceptance of mediocrity is far more prevalent.

One thing is for sure, there are no two more knowledgeable hockey bases than Toronto and Montreal in the world. Some day, the all-time greatness torch may be passed from Montreal to Toronto, but in the first 100 years, Montreal has been better. Thus, the differences in fan expectations, and ultimately behavior. Na Na Na Na. Na Na Na Na. Hey Hey, good-bye.

Mike Moore

Mike Moore

Born and raised in Montreal, Mike has lived in the Greater Toronto Area for the past 24 years. He grew up on skates and has been a close follower of the game of hockey, especially the NHL, all of his life. An extensive library of new and vintage hockey books, magazines and other publications is a testament to Mike's love for hockey history, both the on-ice game and the business.
Mike Moore

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26 Comments

  1. Both Leafs and Habs fans don’t have to much to cheer for. Let’s all strive for mediocrity

  2. Yeah this is getting way off topic.

  3. Gainey’s basically had one good year which was built on a goalie seemingly overachieving and ridiculously unsustainable special teams.

    This is his 6th season as the GM. It’s basically impossible to argue that this is just now becoming his team.

    • While I won’t pretend that all of his years have been good, “his” or “the” team that he (Gainey) has had suffered massive injuries at times… and other times key injuries at key times.. (Koivu injury in the playoffs a few years back)

      Many variables go into the results of a season…. that have little to do with the GM.

      We’re probably a bit more off topic….

      Evaluating a GM, we’d need to look into trades, drafting, salaries…. etc… not just the season standings.

      Basically, looking at Gainey.. he’s had success as a GM before. What do I mean when I say that? He won a cup. His teams made the Stanley cup finals 3 times and he won once.

      Can he do it again? That’s one of the questions.
      How long will it take? That’s another question.

      Teams that look like longshots are sometimes in the finals. Teams that are a sure thing sometimes fall hard.

      It’s not an exact science….. but sometimes fans forget that.

  4. So maybe it’s Habs fans that are more content with mediocrity than Leafs fans.

    • Debatable…. although I won’t pretend to know what every Habs fan wants.

      I don’t believe any fan is really content with mediocrity. But I do believe fans have different ideas of the direction a team should take.

      Some would wait with Gainey… some wouldn’t.

      Gainey kept a core of players who were there when he arrived… one could debate if he should have blown up the team then to rebuild or not.

      This year is a starting point for the team Gainey built.

      Personally, I’m not a big believer in firing coachs and GMs just because fans are impatient or aren’t totally happy with the team’s results.

      There are long standing coachs and GMs who’ve been through ups and downs…. and they’re good at what they do.

  5. Yves – Again, you’re moving away from the point made by the author. If you go by that standard then Leafs fans are a much more potent group than Habs fans. We got JFJ and Paul Maurice fired, Kubina, McCabe, Tucker, and Raycroft run out of town. Meanwhile, you guys still have Bob Gainey.

  6. I suspect booing your team off the ice is basically sending a message to the team…. and management.

  7. Yeah, you don’t get it iRandy. You clearly didn’t read the links that I sent you. At no point in the past 16 years have Montreal fans boycotted the team. They have never sent a message to management. It’s a myth that’s been debunked. Nothing you or your fellow fans think you have done has had an effect on the team’s actions.

    The ACC platinum section has empty seats for two main reasons. The first is the suites underneath the seats with food and beverages and the second is that if you are one second late the usher won’t let you in until the first stoppage in play. If they showed the seats after the first break you’d see people flooding in.

  8. When was the last time Leaf fans stayed away en masse to avoid watching a losing squad? Montreal fans (and those in Chicago, it seems) get it. The only way you can send a message to management is to vote with your feet – boycott the product for a while, and the owners will make changes.

    I don’t watch many Habs games on TV, but you never seem to notice so many empty seats in the premium section in Montreal. I never understood why you’d pay so much for an event and then spend so much time out of your seat…

  9. Laughter IS the best medicine. And yes, Toronto and Montreal sell out their building and it is most certainly not a real indication of the quality of the the team.

    However, it does highlight that the author’s argument that Habs fans are somehow more discerning or that their empty seats actually represent anything different than empty seats in Toronto is absolutely false.

  10. Well, it’s the holidays, so some laughter can never hurt, right?

    The point I was trying to make was that the fact Toronto can sell out a building is no real indication on how great the team is – with this many local hockey fans, the NHL should realize that at least 2 clubs could make a ton of dough.

  11. 100% attendance wouldn’t have anything to do with the number of hockey fans within 50 miles of the arena would it?

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    Oh wow. That’s so stunningly ridiculous I can’t say anything else.

  12. Leaf fan in Habland says:

    Randy: I’m pretty sure you could put second teams in both Toronto and Montreal and not erode the fan base of either franchise. It is just too deeply ingrained. Fans of both Toronto and Montreal will always be there.

  13. 100% attendance wouldn’t have anything to do with the number of hockey fans within 50 miles of the arena would it? Yes, every seat is sold at the ACC, but how many of those seats are empty for the first 10 minutes of each period…or at the end of yet another loss?

    Think of the money the NHL could make if they moved one of the weakest teams to an arena in the GTA? Heck, it may happen over the summer if the owners get into too much red ink supporting the weaker clubs.

    Then, we’ll see how deep TML support is – right now, there are thousands of hockey fans who would gladly pay to see another home team if they only could…

  14. Also, the Maple Leafs’ franchise is the same that won the other 2 Cups so that’s 13 overall and second place in hockey history.

    For a team that overblows history so much you’d think you’d have a better grasp of it…

    • Leaf fan in Habland says:

      Nice work PPP. Looking forward to an update on that Leafs vs Habs winning percentage. Sorry to say I’ve been contributing to the Habs’ 100% attendance. Then again, they have yet to score when I’ve been in the building so I guess that is a fair trade off. ;-p

  15. Typical Habs fan patting himself on the back and conflating both the value of his behaviour and the quality of their support.

    Leafs fans feel that Habs fans aren’t loyal if they only bring out their Habs gear when the team is winning. This Habs fan trait is evident enough

    I like that you admit a supposed fault just so you can laud Habs fans’ sense of entitlement while trying to pass it off as a noble trait.

    Anything less than winning is unacceptable.

    haha yeah, that’s why the Bell Centre has been packed every game since it opened and Bob Gainey still hasn’t been run out of town.

    The morning after a 7-2 loss to Boston, Leafs fans still proudly go out sporting their Leaf caps and justify their lack of shame with the standard “eternal, unwavering loyalty” excuse.

    Breaking News: Leafs fans in ‘being an actual fan of your team’ shocker! All you need to do is turn on sports radio, read the newspapers’ comment sections, or any Leafs blog to know that Leaf fans are just as hypercritical of their team as Habs fans. Eternal unwavering loyalty isn’t an excuse it’s what being a fan is about. The fact that you try to denigrate that tells me that you’re likely a bandwagoner and have been slowly losing interest in this season. Yves gets it right.

    So yes, Leafs fans are probably more loyal. They make sure there is never an empty seat for a Leafs home game. This is more important in Toronto than it is in Montreal. The occasional empty seat at Montreal’s Bell Center is a clear indication to Habs Management that the team is not good enough and not living up to the preset and traditional standards.

    This is one of the most unbelievable canards that has ever been put forth. Here are two posts that look at the supposed effect of Habs fans on the management of the team:
    Montreal Myth Debunked
    Montreal Myth Revisited
    If Habs fans are going to get credit for the marginal improvement in their club because a few hundred seats went empty then I imagine Leafs fans will get credited with having JFJ fired because they filled the rink and booed him every chance they got.

    And what about attendance this year? A season in which the Leafs are getting pilloried for being terrible yet are a better team than the Habs? 100% attendance. Way to show your displeasure with a less than mediocre team.

    First of all, relax. This is neither a Leafs nor Habs bashing rant.

    Could have fooled me.

  16. I won’t really comment on the generalities of “Habs fans” and/or “Leaf Fans”.

    I’m a very passionate Habs fan and have been all my life. Not a bandwagon jumper at all. Good or bad, my team colors don’t change 1 inch.

    A good friend of mine I do some work with is a Leaf fan. Every bit as passionate and he’s the same. Not matter how good or bad his team is, he’s a Leaf fan and that’s that.

    I think when it comes to creating rivalries…. Leafs, Bruins, Habs…. all traditional enemies in a sense.

  17. So basically what you’re saying is that the Montreal fans are a load of spoiled whinny children who cry when they don’t get a shiny enough toy from mommy?

    I thought so ;)

  18. Well I am no band-wagoner so you know who I cheer for! Go Leafs Go!

    And Habsfan, Habs are just as bad as the Leafs right now!

  19. Leaf fan in Habland says:

    I agree Habs fans are very passionate, but I don’t know about calling Habs fans knowledgeable. I think a lot of the time the passion blocks out the knowledge. It’s one thing to get mad at a bad call against your team, but you have to know enough about the game to understand when your team has done wrong. Booing the home team (not to mention booing the US national anthem): passionate yes, classy, no. Booing the best players in the game, again, classless. It is one thing to boo players who have left your team for free agency, or someone who has delivered a dirty hit, but booing Ovechkin and Crosby? You have to be an idiot.

    To be fair, Toronto’s tendencies swing the other way. There is no reason to celebrate the return of every player who has been traded away. Mats Sundin, yes, Darcy Tucker, no.

    Oh, but speaking of unnecessary pre-game ceremonies, you can’t talk about the Habs without talking about pomp and arrogance. Viggo Mortenson? Can you say jumped the shark?

    I also disagree that the Habs dependence on french Canadian players can any longer be considered a good thing. In a 30-team NHL, you can’t decide to rely on any one demographic of players. You have to go after the best. The Montreal Canadiens would not lose any fans if they had no french Canadians on their team…as long as they won. So perhaps the addition of such players is just overcompensation for a lack of recent success? (Counter-point: Harold Ballard’s racism wrt Europeans, but come on, no Leaf fan is going to defend Harold Ballard!)

    Yes, the Leafs only have the third most Stanley Cups, and more than any other Canadian team not playing in Montreal, but did you know that the Leafs are actually 3-2 over the Habs in the Stanley Cup final? I guess there are a lot of trade offs involved in the divisional and conference alignments, but it seems a shame that we won’t get to see such a final again, without a significant restructuring of the league.

    Oh, yeah, and Leaf fans are better looking. Except for the girls, gotta give Hab fans the edge there.

  20. Leafs fans are better looking.

  21. wow unbelieveble article!
    This is one of the best article I’ve read since I’m an habs fan ;)
    cheer and to finish..

    LEAFS SUCK :)

    and just to remind you… you forgot to mention how many playoffs game the habs plays compared to the leafs :)

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