A Sign of the Times in Leaf Land

If their struggles since the new year isn’t any indication of how the Toronto Maple Leafs are fairing, then you clearly haven’t been keeping up with the news surrounding the club. Now, there’s been discussions and speculations surrounding the effort level of the team’s top players – all of which they’ve responded to in post-game scrums.

But the numbers can’t really be argued. While it’s a statistic that’s been somewhat relegated to sidelines in terms of importance, Phil Kessel now finds himself at the bottom of the league in plus-minus rating with tied with Rasmus Ristolainen’s minus-35.

Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL, Hockey
An offensive threat, this season has shown the holes in Phil Kessel’s defensive game. (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

Sure, as former coach Randy Carlyle pointed out early in the season, there are certain rules that don’t apply to star players. Well, how is that working out for Phil now? But it’s not just Kessel who’s been struggling. In fact, his line mates aren’t far behind him in that all-so-unimportant stat – Bozak sporting a minus-34 and van Riemsdyk a slightly more impressive minus-33.

The most telling stories, however, have come in the past couple of weeks. And while they are hockey related, they are far more than just a simple line of statistical notations. They’re a commentary on the state of the franchise.

The End of a Long Tradition

Since 1952, Hockey Night in Canada has been the cornerstone for fans watching the game north of the border. For Leafs fans, it’s been a Saturday night tradition during the regular season for over four decades.

But on March 21, something changed – for both the CBC network and the Original Six franchise from Toronto.

“While the game against their Ontario rival Ottawa Senators did appear on Rogers Sportsnet, the fact that it was not in its traditional Hockey Night in Canada home was another notable development associated with the team and reflective of its embarrassing slide.”
– Toronto Sun reporter Rob Longley.

Even with the Andrew Hammond storyline, Rogers decided to air the San Jose and Montreal matchup on Saturday’s edition of HNIC – a game with much higher playoff implications.

And for the Leafs fans out there, don’t expect to see the Maple Leafs as a mainstay in the Saturday night CBC slot for the remainder of the season.

Chris Zelkovich of Yahoo! Sports explains that the ratings for the team have been somewhat disappointing over the past couple of weeks. Is it possible that Leafs Nation is starting to show their frustrations in ways that are more accepted (without throwing objects onto the ice)? Is one of the team’s owners – Rogers – finally realizing that the product is not what they paid for?

Whatever the case, a team that can usually draw more than one million for Saturday night games on CBC only drew 743,000 a few weeks back and still only drew 875,000 on Sportsbet on Saturday against the Sens, according to Zelkovich. But the rebellion of Leafs Nation didn’t stop there.

Maple Leafs, Fans Fail to Show Up

As if it wasn’t enough when National Post reporter Michael Traikos reported that an anonymous Maple Leafs’ forward said that it was ‘pretty screwed up’ in the team’s dressing room, Monday night’s game against the Minnesota Wild put the finishing touches on a historically bad week for the franchise.

The announced attendance of the Monday night Leafs-Wild game was 18,366 – a season low at the Air Canada Centre. In fact, it was the lowest attendance the team had ever seen in the 16-year existence of the ACC, according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston.

But wait, there’s more. Prior to game time, the team’s official site and secondary sites like StubHub were selling the remaining tickets – hundreds of them – for up to 50% off of their face value.

It seems that for the first time in a long time Leafs Nation is responding to the poor play of their team. TV ratings are down. Attendance is lacking. And the team’s overall performance is moving in the same direction.

Fans and players are certainly looking forward to the end of the season, but are we all in for more state-of-the-franchise responses? Either way, it’ll be a busy offseason for Brendan Shanahan’s Toronto Maple Leafs. Whether the fans return full force in 2015-16 remains to be seen.

For all the Leafs news leading up to the deadline and all season long, subscribe to THW’s Maple Leafs Weekly Digest here.

You can also follow Andrew on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes or his THW column at @Tape2TapeTHW.