Whether or not you are a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, you have to admit that the franchise is a very important cog in the wheel that moves the National Hockey League.
According to Forbes, since 2006 Toronto has been the most valuable franchise in the NHL, with the only exception being in 2014-15. That says a lot for a team that has made the playoffs only once since 2006.
The Maple Leafs are in a dramatic rebuild, and need a potential star to be the face of the franchise that could lead them to future glory. Luckily, they won the right to draft budding star Auston Matthews 1st overall in the upcoming NHL entry draft. This is not only important for Toronto, but all of the hockey world, even if most would rather not admit it.
Growing up near Pittsburgh, I am proof of the impact that a star can have on a market. The “Steel City’s” sports foundation was built by Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Greene, and many other Steelers and Pirates legends. In 1984, Mario Lemieux made Pittsburgh a hockey town. I am part of a generation of hockey fans built by Lemieux, and Jaromir Jagr. The impact that they had on a little commonwealth created numerous NHL players, and built dozens, if not hundreds of ice rinks in the surrounding area. In an age that many consider hockey to be little more than a niche sport, how important will Toronto’s international influence be once they get Matthews on the ice?
This is not to say that Matthews is going to be the next Lemieux, or for that matter even the next Connor McDavid, but in all likelihood he is going to be a star, and an important one.
Continuing a Golden Age of Talent
The NHL has an amazing opportunity right now. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, and many current stars are still in their prime. Add McDavid, Jack Eichel, and eventually Matthews to the mix, and you have endless promotional opportunities. The game has as much talent as ever, and the league should be actively working to grow the game for current fans, and inspire new generations of followers.
Marc Crawford just compared Auston Matthews to Anze Kopitar but with more offensive potential.
— Platinum Seat Ghosts (@3rdPeriodSuits) May 3, 2016
It would have been nice to see Matthews potentially boost a struggling team like Columbus or Winnipeg, but for the sake and growth of the game, hockey needs the forward in Toronto. In many ways, the Maple Leafs are to hockey what the Yankees are to baseball. Nearly anywhere in the world, people recognize the Yankees “NY” logo. They know who Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez are. The franchise has recognition that goes beyond baseball.
Hockey and the NHL will continue to have success regardless of how Toronto does, but the game needs every possible edge to continue to grow, and climb out of the shadow of the NFL, MLB, NBA, and even NASCAR.
Toronto, New York, Chicago, Boston, and Montreal are among the most crucial markets the in the league, and may have the biggest exposure. That is not to say that small markets cannot have a big impact on the game. My experience is living proof of this. But you have to admit that having one of the next big names playing in Toronto just feels important.
The table is set for NHL leadership. If they can start making better decisions with their on-ice product as well as doing a better job of promoting the game, the sky is truly the limit.
Until next time.