It appears that all of Toronto have fallen madly in love with Price, Donaldson, Encarnancion and the rest of the Toronto Blue Jays. Understood that it has been more than twenty years since the Blue Jays have made the playoffs, the longest streak in major league sports, but I still find this sudden blind adoration too much. Where were all of these Torontonians over the past twenty years, when the likes of Carlos Delgado, Shawn Green and Roy Halladay were wearing the good old BJ?This notion of supporting a team only when it wins is superficial to say the least. It’s not that I don’t like the Blue Jays – I remember their first game against the White Sox like it was yesterday – but I do not jibe with this fanaticism. Because it’s not just the winning, not in the least. It’s the hard grind of building, the many long seasons, the many downs….yes, that’s where true fans are born. Go Leafs Go.
Needless to say, I have returned and been disappointed in virtually every corner: The Leafs traded Kessel, The Grateful Dead devolved into something called The Dead and Company and The Bachelor concluded with a Nazi-like denigration of homosexuality. And I’m blogging about it again!
I blogged in February on The Five Big Problems of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Happily Team President Brendan Shanahan agreed on the most important point. By hiring Mike Babcock as the new head coach – $50 million for eight years – Leafs management sends a clear message to media, fans and players alike: this team must win now.
There are many next steps, the most important of which is to address player leadership, but the first step is the most important.
Said Babcock this morning: “I believe this is Canada’s team and it’s time to put it back on the map. I came here to be involved in a Cup process. I have a burning desire to win. I want to build a team that the fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs can be proud of.”
Phil Kessel is to be admired for more than his stick work and scoring touch. He’s also good at saying it like it is, even in the face of harsh criticism. “I’m embarrassed for you (sports writers). It’s disgusting the way people treat (Dion Phaneuf).” The sports writers surrounded him, and he stared them down. “I’ve had it. I think this city is a great city. I love Toronto. I love playing here. but I’m just tired of it. I’m sick of it. I don’t think it should go on any more. I think it needs to stop.” The likelihood of Kessel’s advice being heeded is as good as as seeing snakes fly.
Or maybe it’s less likely than that.
Steve Buffrey of The Toronto Sun did his best to spin Kessel’s words: Dumping on the media makes for great copy and sound bites on sports radio. And don’t kid yourself, media types love it when players dump on the media.
The truth is, no matter how Buffrey and his cohorts try to smirk it off, these rumor-mongers are none too pleased. Cathal Kelly, of The Globe & Mail, tried to take the challenge head on: “Once (a player treats reporters with respect), you’ll never rip that guy in print. You’ll criticize, but the ripping days are over. He’s not just someone you cover any more. He’s someone you know.”
The irony here is that Kelly admits to ripping people, which is Kessel’s exact point. The job of a reporter is not to rip, but to report. (Stunning as that may be.) And the idea of Kessel of becoming invested in the personal lives of those looking to attack him just to make them write good stories about him is foul indeed.
Indeed this hubris of the sportswriter is pathetic because they have nothing to have hubris about. They lack skill, ability, insight, empathy, in fact any of the characteristics that make one human. All they seem to know how to do is stand in a clump and rip people – and maybe eat a donut at the same time. They give nothing back. Whereas, Mr. Kessel does give something back with his skill, talent and straight-forward demeanor. Phil Kessel is right. Sports writers are embarrassing. They should all be put on waivers just so they can see what they are actually worth for themselves: nothing at all.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have sunk into a terrible morass from which there seems to be little escape. The players are adrift, the coach at a loss, while the media metes out blame and the fans cry in dismay. Rather than plunge into some sort of Robespierre frenzy, I suggest the following:
Problem #5: Vitriolic Toronto Sports Media. The Toronto sports media, as eager to deify as they are to condemn, is comprised of knee-jerk simpletons who make as many bad judgements as they do unintelligible puns. These clown are stupid enough to seriously suggest that Kessel be traded – Are they nuts?!? Solution: Change the channel and watch highlights of the 1993 Playoffs instead.
4. Ineffective Coaching. Ron Wilson (2008-12) and Randy Carlyle (2012-15) provided no direction for the players, beyond yelling and making snide remarks. While Horachek struggles to implement a system, it appears that his time will also be limited behind the bench. Solution: Mike Babcock needs to be hired, and Brendan Shanahan is the man to do that.
3. Infantile Fan Base. Sports fans are not known for a generosity of spirit nor intelligent analysis. For a market like the Leafs, where hockey is religion, it is all the worse. The symbolic throwing of team jerseys is emblematic of these childish reactions. Solution: Encourage your neighbor to give his jersey to a kid and maybe yell at the Flyers/Canadiens/Bruins/Rangers instead.
2. Lack of Team Leadership. Being captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs is a heavy burden to bear. It is not as much a matter of talent as it is of a confident, under-stated personality such as Dave Keon, Wendel Clark and Mats Sundin all had. Dion Phaneuf is not like these men. As skilled as he might be, he talks too much, often out of turn. Solution: Trade Dion Phaneuf and appoint a new captain in the off-season. James Van Reimsdyk is a good option to consider.
1. Team Management in Disarray. The ownership is weighed down by a bureaucratic board of governors, focused on making too much money, burdened by a history of poor management practice. This problem is the trickiest of the lot. Hopefully these suits can be swayed by Brian Burke’s wisdom: “They’ll name a street after whoever brings the Stanley Cup to Toronto.” Solution: Remind the board that they hired Brendan Shanahan to be president, and to let him do just that.
As is readily apparent to anyone reading this blog, I am an avid fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. As a kid, I kept a scrapbook of every Leaf game. I remember exactly where I was when Wendel Clark was traded for Mats Sundin – looking down at a sad-looking plant on a small wooden table in a tiny Roman hotel. My mood shifts from win to loss and win. I look forward to absolutely every game and get anxious for the season to start over the summer months. However one thing I never miss in July – in fact abhor – is the way so many of the Leaf followers use the Leafs to vent and criticize. It’s one thing to have to listen to moronic sports reporters dribble and spew – after all they get paid to write stupid things – but entirely another to hear supposed supporters spout their vitriol.
As much as these people claim to be fans of their teams, the truth is they’re not. Their anger has nothing to do with support, but instead reflects their pathetic isolation and bitter self-reflection on lives ill-led. Nothing more.As frustrated as I might get with the Toronto Maple Leafs, I always support them, yes, through the six-game losing streaks, the disappointing seasons and the 47-year Stanley Cup drought. While I can be critical, the Leafs are my team. It’s not a complicated thing. Go Leafs Go. (And to you fickle fans, I say “Go away.”)
The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the most talented teams in hockey, and yet, as CBS Sports wrote,”They are extremely streaky and volatile. You never know which team is going to show up and what exactly is going to happen.”These players know how to play. They know how to pass. They know how to score. They know how to defend. They just need a coach to move them in the same direction.Current head coach, Randy Carlyle, is the one to blame for this inconsistency. As he admitted himself after the team lost recently to Carolina, the team with the worst record in the league: ”I don’t think we were mentally ready to go out and play the type of game that was required. Simple as that.” (Whose job is that? Oh, right, the coach.)
Looks like 2015 might be a good year after all: Leafs Fire Carlyle.