Are fans finally staying home?

There were quite a few numbers of significance from Monday’s Leafs game, in which they fell 2-1 to the Minnesota Wild.

For example: 1,000 – the number of career NHL games played by defenceman Eric Brewer having reached the milestone this past weekend, earning a silver stick pre-game presentation at centre ice. Or the fact that he is the 300th player in league history to reach the milestone.

Then there’s 6; the number of games in a row that the Leafs have lost, all in regulation, resulting in 0 points.
Even more startling: 408:58 the amount of time that has elapsed since Toronto has held a lead in a game. Yikes.

But how about 18,366?

That was the announced attendance at Air Canada Centre. It’s still a sizeable crowd by NHL standards. However in Toronto, it’s 453 fans shy of a sellout. It was just the second time this season that the club played below a capacity crowd.

And if the loyal fan base wants to see any improvement in this club, then a decline away from the undying devotion of Leaf Nation is exactly just the incentive that upper management needs to shed the team’s laughingstock status.

For nearly a half century since a Stanley Cup parade made its way up Bay Street, Maple Leaf Gardens – and now Air Canada Centre – has seen standing room only crowds at virtually every game. Yes, there were great teams led by Darryl Sittler and Mats Sundin.

But there was also Aki Berg. And Andrew Raycroft. And Mariusz Czerkawski, Jeff Finger, Vesa Toskala….

There’s a reason that passionate people are called ‘fans’; the word is short for ‘fanatic’.

Which precisely describes a population that continually shells out hard-earned dollars into the coffers of its team’s owners – win or lose, or in this season’s case, lose dramatically.

Humans are a fickle bunch. If we are dissatisfied with our cable or mobile company, we switch providers. If we feel a retailer is not up to par, we simply refuse to go back into that store.

Why then, should the Leafs franchise of which this year’s edition has lost 35 of its last 43 games be propped up with such blind loyalty when neither the on-ice effort by the players, nor the off-ice effort by management to improve the roster, isn’t reciprocated?

At one point in the first period, skating on the ice at the same time for Toronto were Joakin Lindstrom, Brandon Kozun, Sam Carrick, Tim Erixon and Andrew MacWilliam. No disrespect is intended to any of those players. But for about a hundred fewer dollars, you could see players of equal calibre suit up at Ricoh Coliseum for the AHL Marlies.

(Yes, Peter Holland is hurt and Nazem Kadri is suspended. Care to make excuses for the games in any of the other 48 Cup-less years?)

And yet the reality is, even in what has been the worst season in a generation for the Leafs, the failure to sellout the game (if you can call 97.6% a failure) was an anomaly. Even if Thursday’s matchup against Florida has a few empty seats, Toronto’s final home games after that are against Tampa – featuring Markham, Ontario native and star forward Steven Stamkos – plus two dates against ‘Hamburglar’ Andrew Hammond and Ottawa, before the season finale versus Montreal.

Sellouts will still rue the day.

So here’s a challenge to fans who want to see changes, beginning next season.

What’s a more effective form of protest: Paying top dollar for a ticket, plus paying as much – if not more – for a sweater, then tossing the sweater on the ice knowing you’ll never get it back?

Or not buying a ticket at all?

Sweaters aside, 453 people chose the latter option on Monday. Conventional wisdom suggests that it has a higher probability of success.


Rob Del Mundo is the author of Off The Post, and is a regular columnist at TMLfans.ca

Follow TMLfans.ca on Twitter: @Rob_DelMundo