If the Leafs are having a good season, there really isn’t a better place to play hockey. The media loves you, the fans love you and even a fourth line winger is treated like royalty.
It is an intense market and the interest in the team is huge and I am sure everyone appreciates this. Even when the team is losing, it’s not that bad. Ever since the Leafs brought back Doug Gilmour for the 2004 playoffs, the team has done nothing but lose and so there’s a decade of bad seasons to refer to here, and I don’t recall any of them being like the current one.
This year is different. I don’t have a study to reference, but it sure feels like it. It’s just been one stupid thing after another and combined with the cumulative effect of a decade of losing and the abject failure of players signed to long-term contracts less than a year ago, people are pretty angry.
And, apparently, people being angry in 2015 means that a disappointing season plays itself out in one overblown controversy after another.
Some players and people want to blame the media, but that isn’t fair because at this time in our history can anyone even say what the “media” is?
Because the Globe and Mail, the Sun, the Star, TSN, Sportsnet, the Fan 590, the fifty million fan written blogs, and Social Media make for some unprecedented interaction between the various factions that surround a hockey team. Instead of being the fairly simple Team >>> Media >>> Fans dynamic of the past [those are arrows, not “greater than signs”] in 2015 the interaction between these various media entities, the players, team and the fans is fluid – whether the media is “mainstream” or not is irrelevant because things aren’t segregated and cordoned off like they used to be. All this – and the losing – has culminated in creating a toxic environment around the team that isn’t fun anymore – and since this is a game and a hobby, that’s a huge problem.
Everyone is interacting in new ways, and when you combine this interaction with an ever-growing, harder-to-define-by-the-day media who are all fighting for increasingly smaller pieces of the pie, and an old-school mainstream media unsure of how to deal with the competition, as well as with frustrated players who are sick of losing and sick of being personally attacked, then you have the beginnings of a bad situation.
But that isn’t all of it, because now the fans can interact and have more of a say than ever before. And when you look at what the Leafs are as a corporate entity and the lack of success they’ve had as a franchise, and you take all that stuff I said in the last paragraph about the various medias and then you add in about a million fans that are apoplectic about constant losing, record high ticket prices, high priced team merchandise and price gouging at the arena, which is all they get in exchange for their support over eleven years which have seen two lockouts, one canceled season, zero Playoff wins, the trading of one of the best players in the game (Seguin) and two of the most caustic, disrespectful personalities in pro sports (Wilson and Carlyle) as coaches.
Then there is also the fact that we perceive players differently now – they are millionaires and we can’t afford to go to game – in this time of increased focus on income disparity.
Oh and there is the little problem the team is owned by two competing corporations that are UNIVERSALLY LOATHED throughout the country and the fact that those two companies also own virtually all of the media responsible for covering the team.
When you combine all this stuff with a team that won like four or five of their last thirty games, you would be insane to expect anything but the current toxic environment surrounding the team.
It’s a sick situation all around.
To recap: the team is not only brutal, but has been brutal for a decade, and is owned by the two most hated companies in Canada, engages in price gouging, doesn’t care that 99% of the people who care about the team have a 0% chance to see a game live and they own the media that covers them.
So yeah, take all that,then re-sign a coach that is objectively and empirically bad at his job, completely fail to address your needs at centre and the top D pairing, enter the year with an 8th place best-case-scenario, add in a scandal about saluting the fans, a goalie who doesn’t know the most respected person in modern world history, your best player calling reporters idiots, a fired coach, an offensive drought of historical proportions, your best prospect making sexist comments, one inappropriate tweet, another best player media take-down, a lawsuit by players on the team against the media corporation that also owns their team…..oh, and a whole bunch of losing.
Just like, an unfathomable amount of losing.
And to top it off, there is a player available who was born here, who could be a home-grown superstar, one who could single-handedly change the fortunes of the NHL’s version of the Cubs, and the team – even though they’ve done nothing but lose and steal their fan’s money for more than a decade – can’t have more than a 10% chance at him because they stupidly spent the first three months of the season trying to secure eighth place just so they could say they made the Playoffs, even though this would result, most likely, in a four game sweep to an actual NHL team.
When you take in all this garbage, and you combine it with the ownership being who they are, you just want to quit. I do. I am sure you do too. I’d find a new team, but there would be no emotional attachment. So if I wanna watch hockey, I’m stuck with the Leafs, who remind me more and more of a tobacco company by the day.
And to be fair, I like a lot of their recent moves. I am happy they’re going younger. But I can’t come to any other conclusion at this point: The Leafs are Toxic and following them has stopped being fun.
Covering the Leafs for the Hockey Writers.