It all started last season when the Toronto Maple Leafs lost to the Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Maple Leafs fell apart when it counted and so too did Jake Gardiner, who had a horrendous game. The frustration that fans had towards Gardiner was seemingly building until it boiled over in their 6-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Monday.
On a power play with about five minutes left in the second period, Gardiner was pursuing a loose puck back into the Toronto end with Carl Soderberg close behind. Gardiner whiffed on clearing the puck and was out-muscled by Soderberg who then scored to give the Avalanche a 3-2 lead. Then, later in the game, fans booed Gardiner when he touched the puck.
Jake Gardiner didn’t see another shift for the final 5:31 of the second period after misplay on the Avs third goal.
— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) January 15, 2019
Fans booing their own player went over as well as you’d expect from this fanbase. From fans proclaiming that real fans would never boo to fans harassing Gardiner’s social media and the media cyclone whipping up endless articles, including this one, regarding the booing. So does he deserve to be booed and do true fans boo their own team’s players?
Fans Frustrated With Maple Leafs’ Effort
There has been a change in the Maple Leafs recently and not for the better. Many point to William Nylander’s return to the lineup and how he’s disrupted the team’s rhythm, which is fair given that Mike Babcock inserted a top-six winger back into the lineup who wasn’t in full form. But even with Nylander’s struggles, the thing that keeps coming up in my mind is the 4-0 loss to the New York Islanders.
That was a game the team needed to win for John Tavares as it was his first game facing his former team, but they gave an embarrassing performance with zero effort coming from anyone besides Tavares. From that game to the Colorado game, the Maple Leafs went 2-5 through seven games.
Effort is hard to quantify unlike other stats in hockey, but when the Maple Leafs are playing to their potential, they are easily one of the deadliest teams in the NHL. So when they seem to be sleepwalking through games and just coasting on their skill, it becomes frustrating to watch as we all know they can do so much better.
Losing against Boston on Saturday once again brought up all those memories of their playoff series and with it was Gardiner’s unraveling in Game 7. So when he had a very obvious defensive gaff against Colorado, it opened the floodgates. With memories of his playoff gaffs in mind, he became the obvious focus for every fan and their frustration with how this team is playing.
Does Gardiner Deserve to Be Booed?
Gardiner has always been a polarizing player. He’s a great puck-moving defenseman who just came off a 52-point season and in every metric makes the Maple Leafs a better team. In his own end, he struggles, but the same could be said for a few other offensive defensemen around the league.
Mitch Marner on Jake Gardiner being booed by #Leafs fans: “That’s disappointing. People don’t give him enough credit. That guy does everything for this team.”
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) January 15, 2019
But the real problem comes from his lapses in judgement. Every once in a while Gardiner will make a boneheaded mistake at the worst possible moment that ends up costing the Maple Leafs a goal and, unfortunately, this is nothing new. So when he failed to control the puck and was outworked by Soderberg, it was obvious that it was Gardiner’s fault, which led to him being booed. And honestly, he deserved to be booed.
He continually makes poorly-timed mistakes and it’s always on full display for every fan to see. At the same time, he shouldn’t have been the only one booed as the rest of the team deserved the same response from fans with how they’ve played and the lack of effort they’ve shown.
Where was this response to Travis Dermott throwing the puck away behind the Maple Leafs net to a waiting Avalanche player? Luckily, Frederik Andersen prevented that from costing the Leafs a goal. The Maple Leafs weren’t as lucky when Nazem Kadri was easily stripped of the puck by Mikko Rantanen who then turned around and scored.
For fans, Gardiner has become the poster boy for everything going wrong for the Maple Leafs. It’s easy to hate on him when he makes those blatant and costly mistakes. Most would rather rant about him than notice that there’s a lot more to be worried about with this team.
In the 17 games since Nylander returned to the lineup: Auston Matthews has just five goals, Kadri has one and Patrick Marleau has four points. Then there’s Nylander who has just three points in 17 games which, regardless of analytics, is simply not good enough. Right now there’s a lot of blame to go around and, despite Gardiner looking like the obvious problem, he’s the least of the Maple Leafs’ worries.
Do ‘Real Fans’ Boo?
With the fallout of Gardiner being booed, the concept of what a true or real fan does was endlessly brought up. Whether or not people thought that Gardiner is underappreciated or needed to be shipped off, there was plenty of condemnation of fans booing their own players.
This idea that true fans don’t boo is simply silly and just a way of gatekeeping the fanbase. There are no requirements beyond liking the team to be a fan nor is there a checklist of things one must experience before being given the badge of true fan. There are fans who saw the last time the Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup and then there are fans who just came on board with the arrival of Matthews.
Whether you paint your face and cheer till you can’t speak or just relax and watch the game at home makes no difference to who is more of a fan of the Maple Leafs. And sure there are those fans who take their anger out on a player’s social media, which is just disgusting, but they are still fans, as terrible as they are. Every fanbase has a group of fans that make the rest look bad.
But, ultimately, on the subject of booing, what’s so wrong with it? Nobody complains or makes a big fuss when opposing players are booed and it’s not like the Maple Leafs are the first team to be booed by their fans. Do we have such short memories to think that booing a player is the worst thing fans could do? What about when Leafs fans threw their jerseys on the ice because of the team’s poor play during the 2014-15 season or the waffle incident?
All of those things are fans expressing their frustration and anger with the team. It shouldn’t be a shock that fans booed Gardiner with how he played and how unimpressive the team around him has been in this recent stretch.
Being booed should be a wake-up call for Gardiner and the Maple Leafs that they need to be better. That, or they need to use the event as motivation to play well and stick it to those fans who booed.
Toronto Maple Leafs contributor for The Hockey Writers.
I’ve been a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs since I was a kid and have always had an interest in writing. At The Hockey Writers, I get to enjoy both of my passions as well as writing about small convoluted details in player contracts and stats.