The Toronto Maple Leafs continue to be the punchline in many jokes throughout the hockey world. Despite their high-end talent, they still haven’t won a playoff series of any kind since 2004.
Even as the playoff losses continue to mount, interest in the Maple Leafs only continues to grow. Every regular season game feels like life and death to the most diehard fans. Then when the playoffs arrive, fans come in with the hope that this is finally the year only to have their dreams dashed again by another painful defeat.
The thing we need to focus in on is the interest not only around Toronto but around the hockey world. The Maple Leafs are consistently a hot topic even in these summer months. Whether it’s talk about Matt Murray and their ever-changing goaltending situation to how much longer Kyle Dubas will get as GM, there is always something to talk about with them.
The question “what does this have to do with the Leafs?” takes on a whole new meaning when you consider that there are many people that actually wonder the answer to this question with every move from every team. Maple Leafs’ fans are different. They care about their team to a fault knowing full well they need to be prepared to have their heart ripped out again.
But this is where the story actually begins. The interest is already strong in the Maple Leafs while enjoying zero recent playoff success. Imagine what happens when they actually start winning in the playoffs.
Maple Leafs’ Success Is Good Business
Fans of 31 other NHL teams are going to hate the next statement with a passion. Maple Leafs’ fans are going to love the next statement with “the Passion.”
If the Maple Leafs start to win when it matters, it’s good business for the NHL.
If you are a fan of the 31 other teams, I get it. Your hatred would rise straight to the top even more than it already is. And if you’re a Maple Leafs’ fan now, you know this is the truth. To understand the context of this, we have to look at this from the business side of things.
All you have to do to understand this is look at both the ratings and the way Maple Leafs’ fans travel. Then when couple those items with the reaction of other fan bases to Maple Leafs’ things, you see why their success would be good business.
Let’s set the scene. It’s Game 6 of the first round of this past playoffs. The Maple Leafs found themselves up 3-2 looking to advance for the first time since 2004 while knocking the two-time Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning out.
The game itself was good. Each team had several chances to put it out of reach. When the dust settled, the game required overtime. If the Maple Leafs scored, euphoria. If the Lightning scored, drama.
You know what happened next. The Lightning showed why they were the defending champions and forced a Game 7 back in Toronto. Unless you wanted the Lightning knocked out because of how good they were, you were rooting for Game 7.
Game 7 arrives. Again, it was a great game between the two best teams in the Eastern Conference. Nick Paul’s two goals were too much for the Maple Leafs to overcome.
Lightning 2, Maple Leafs 1. Once again, the Maple Leafs are one of the first playoff teams to find the offseason. Despite not making round two again, their interest league-wide only grew as a result.
There were new questions to answer. There’s more pressure than ever to find the answer. Oh and the clock is ticking until Auston Matthews’ next mega-deal. For this team, even their failures get noticed and put under a microscope.
Imaging a Maple Leafs’ Cup Run
Let’s now put our imagination to work. Let’s assume that the Maple Leafs win a playoff round soon. If you thought the rating were good in round one, imagine what they’d be later in the playoffs.
Some perspective now. Game 7 between the Lightning and Maple Leafs in the United States drew 1.68 million viewers on TNT. This was the second-highest viewing ever on cable for a first-round playoff game. This game was of interest to fans of all hockey teams. Either the champs were out or the Maple Leafs failed again.
So back to the Maple Leafs and playoff success. No matter if we’re talking about Maple Leafs’ fans or fans of other teams rooting against them, they each count towards ratings. There’s only a couple of teams that have the “reverse following” effect the Maple Leafs have. The Edmonton Oilers fit in this category. So do the New York Rangers. The Chicago Blackhawks were that team in the 2010s when they won three Stanley Cups.
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The Maple Leafs present the perfect blend of passionate fans who cheer for them no matter what along with enough fans of other teams that can’t stand them. They’re a ratings boom. It’s as simple as that. The longer the Maple Leafs actually stay in the playoffs, the better off the NHL will become on their bottom line.
What would a Maple Leafs’ Cup run look like? At first there would be instant reaction from everyone. You’d see both relief and joy in Toronto that a playoff-round win finally happened. Then you’d see them realize there’s three more rounds to go to get to their ultimate goal.
And then everywhere else, you’d get a combination of reactions from “it’s about time” to “oh no, here we go again about the Maple Leafs.”
Why Maple Leafs Draw Fans
Let’s face the facts here. As a casual hockey fan, the chances of you watching the Maple Leafs is higher than with most other teams assuming it’s not your team.
First, look at the star power. Matthews reached 60 last season. When you have that kind of star in the league, fans will watch. Then consider they have other stars in Mitch Marner and John Tavares and you have a situation where their games will be fun to watch. Casual fans have a better chance of tuning in if the game is expected to be fun.
Second, look at the Maple Leafs’ recent history. Casual fans want to see if they can finally overcome the first hurdle. The ramifications of this cannot be understated. With each failure comes with another year of Matthews not hoisting the Stanley Cup. How much longer can they keep the team together like this under this leadership? That will draw people in.
Finally, look at the hatred amongst other teams. There is no team in hockey that has this dynamic perfected as well as the Maple Leafs do. Hatred means you care whether you want to admit it or not. In turn, you are likely tuning them in.
And through it all, the NHL’s bottom line benefits. If the Maple Leafs can ever figure it out in the playoffs, it actually would benefit everyone leaguewide.
The league wants fans to tune into their product. Certain teams carry the power to bring more than just their own fans in. The Maple Leafs are one of those teams.
That’s why their success is ultimately good business for the NHL. Love them or hate them, the Maple Leafs do having you caring about them. At least they have that going for them at this point.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2022-23 season will mark nine seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.