By Kris Harrison
Let me preface the coming argument with a short disclaimer. I am a HUGE Toronto Maple Leafs fan. I will be the first in line to buy high priced, low quality merchandise from the street side vendors lining the Stanley Cup parade route on Yonge Street. Before I am chased down the 401 and out of town, let me explain why the Maple Leafs will never win the Stanley Cup.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are not a team, they are a business. The majority of teams in the NHL are owned and operated by hockey fans. Terry Pegula, Mike Ilitch, Ted Leonsis and Mario Lemieux (to name a few) love the game and want to win. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment values profitability over the quality of the product. As long as team revenue outweighs the cost of doing business, MLSE has won the only game they wish to play. Before we enter the clichéd tirade about heartless owners let me tell you why this is. We, the fans are the real problem.
The suits in the owner’s suite over at the Air Canada Centre (when they deign to view their investment) have been trained by decades of sold-out tickets and merchandising revenues that the on-ice product is irrelevant. Like Pavlov’s dogs, they salivate at the sound of the puck drop, knowing that their bank accounts are soon to be fed once more. It does not matter that the lower bowl seats are empty at the start of each period as the corporate season ticket holders compare business cards as if they were characters in a Bret Easton Ellis novel. MLSE knows that regardless of the quality they supply, they still hold the hottest ticket in town.
But the Pavlovian response runs both ways in the Center of the Hockey Universe. The loyal fans of the team have spent those same decades being conditioned to accept failure. You hear it in every voice as you discuss the previous night’s game. In the pre-season, optimism runs high. As the season drags on, hopes falter, but rather than disgust and anger, the disappointed fans in Toronto simply shrug their shoulders and repeat the team’s unofficial mantra. “We look good for next year.” There is no passion. There are no tears. There is no public outcry for change and improvement, and the players see this.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are the hockey equivalent of Peter Pan. They coast through each season, never growing up, taking their supporters for granted and living life as if there are no consequences to their actions. The fans are the children sitting at home, plugging the Disney DVD into the player and watching it ad nauseum, knowing that the outcome will never change. Finally, the hopes and dreams of Stanley Cup glory are Tinkerbell, poisoned by Captain Hook and dying in the forest of Neverland. All Tinkerbell needs is for the children to believe in her and she will live. Clap your hands children and shout “I believe in fairies!” and she will live. But we don’t believe, not deep down in our hearts.
The fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs expect failure and MLSE is more than happy to give us what we expect. Say it to yourselves fans, clap your hands and shout “I believe in the Stanley Cup!” and truly mean it. Until we stop accepting mediocrity, we will never rise above it.
Kris Harrison is a guest columnist at TMLfans.ca