Why do so many people hate the Toronto Maple Leafs? That innocent question was posted on an NHL Facebook group recently. It got this article started. To be honest, it was a refreshing question. As a longtime fan of hockey, I don’t see the sport the same way a new fan would see it. I’ve also listened to the Leafs’ hate for so long that I don’t even really hear it anymore. But it is a thought-provoking question. This is a team that people love or hate and there is no in-between. But why? Justin Bieber wrote the team a love letter, they can’t be that bad. Judging from the social media response, some by haters, some by diehard fans, it’s difficult to answer. I took the question to the Maple Leafs’ Lounge to see if my colleagues from The Hockey Writers could come up with an answer.
Peter Baracchini, who is the co-host for the podcast Sticks in the Six, had a hard time, “I’ve been asking that question for quite some time. It’s difficult. I honestly do not have an answer.” But when prodded, Baracchini points to the oldest clash in the league. “I think it goes back to the rivalry with a lot of Toronto and Montreal fans. I know in my family, a lot of my family is Montreal Canadiens fans so, we have that rivalry going back and forth.”
A Long Time Coming
The franchise has been around for more than a century. That’s a long time to develop both a large fan base and an even large group of non-fans. Alex Hobson, who is the newest member of the Leafs’ writing team, thinks that history contributes to the loathing of the team. “The Leafs being in the hockey Mecca of the universe and not having had much success since 1967, as a result, has lots of fans feeling the need to go to war.” Hobson thinks the loyal, passionate fanbase brings it on themselves. “Toronto has the biggest fanbase in the NHL, and as a result, they’ve got probably the highest percentage of vocal fans who feel the need to go to war for their hockey team.”
Andrew Forbes, who’s been writing for The Hockey Writers for seven years covering the Leafs, says there is lots of hate to go around, “people just love to hate the big city teams. You know there’s a lot of people out there that hate the Rangers. There’s a lot of people out there that don’t like Montreal. I, for one, am not a Senators fan. It’s everywhere. I just think it’s magnified because Toronto is the Mecca for hockey.”
Overplayed Teams, Ignored Teams
I suggested it’s due to the media oversaturation. I’m not blaming the media. They are giving the audience what it wants and where they can generate the most revenue. I think it’s more than hockey. Toronto is the largest city in our country, the fourth largest in North America. If you live in Canada, you know Toronto is portrayed as the centre of the universe. “I left the southern Ontario bubble about 25 years ago, and that’s when I finally realized what centre of the universe actually meant. You only get blasted with Toronto stuff no matter where you are in Canada. When you’ve got teams like Vancouver and Edmonton and Calgary, they’re doing their thing, but you don’t hear about them; they’re not the number one team that gets shown first on the highlight reel that night, you know, not talked about, kind of gets annoying. You’re like, what about our team?”
The Old Prof, who writes a daily article about the Maple Leafs, has tried to figure out the question before, “I think it’s because Toronto is so rich. We don’t like rich people. Although on the other hand, we hate the Yankees too, and it’s because they win so much. But Toronto hasn’t won, so I’m sort of ambivalent about it.” The Old Prof says he feeds off the fans’ feelings, be it for or against the team we cover. The writers agree that it’s an ample opportunity to write about a team that stirs so much emotion. We would like to hear your feedback. Why is this franchise so despised?
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.