So Stephen Marche has offended the people of Toronto. Today on Grantland.com he posted an article calling Toronto “The Worst Sports City in the World.” That’s not the first time that a phrase along those lines has been uttered in regards to “the Centre of the Universe.” In June ESPN The Magazine considered Toronto “the worst city in North America for pro sports.”

Of course Grantland.com is run by Bill Simmons of ESPN.com. So apparently ESPN isn’t too fond of Toronto. Torontonians are used to that. A lot of people hate Toronto.

But why is Toronto such a bad sports city, according to Marche?

As it stands, the Argonauts are 2 and 6 3 and 9. The Blue Jays this year aren’t completely terrible, but when you’ve said that, you’ve said everything. They may be a rising power in the East, as many claim, but they sure haven’t risen yet. The Raptors are still in their post-Bosh wilderness (not that the Bosh period was a golden age), and Toronto FC currently rests at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. The Leafs, who matter to Torontonians more than all the other teams combined, have not won the Stanley Cup since 1967, and they haven’t made the playoffs in a franchise-record six seasons. The only team with a longer dry spell is the Florida Panthers.

Okay… when you look at it that way it’s pretty sad. Most Torontonians would agree that the city isn’t exactly successful in the professional sports realm. There are probably people reading this right now who weren’t alive when the Blue Jays won the World Series in 1993.

No one would disagree with the downright futility that is the Toronto sports scene. However, that isn’t the only reason why Toronto is considered the worst sports city in the world. Marche continues:

The tragedy of the Maple Leafs runs much deeper.

The problem with hockey in Toronto is the nostalgia that dominates how the game is played and consumed here. More than winning, Torontonians love the style of old-time hockey, a spirit of straightforwardness, brotherly violence, and what for lack of a better word I will call “not-fancyness.” Hockey commentators here love nothing more than explaining how hockey games are won by cycling the puck, driving at the net, ugly goals. “They don’t look pretty, but they win games.” They love saying that.

Despite having more money than any other hockey team in the league, the Leafs have not purchased any brilliant players in an era overflowing with brilliant players. What the Leafs specialize in is the great bush-league heroes — this is not an accident nor is it the fault of the suits. They know what their audience wants and they give it to them.

Apparently Toronto Maple Leaf fans don’t want talented players. They want grinders. To a certain extent, that’s true. Brian Burke loves to talk about “pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence,” but he isn’t the only general manager who thinks that way. The Boston Bruins just won the Stanley Cup with a pretty “truculent” team. Besides, how do you “purchase” a brilliant player anyway? Don’t free agents have a say in where they play?

They do and they’re not choosing to come to Toronto.

But are Toronto Maple Leafs fans somehow responsible for this? Do they want the “wrong” type of players on their team and that’s what is holding the Leafs back?

Cathal Kelly of the Toronto Star has his own viewpoint on Marche’s assessment:

Toronto fans, there’s a reason why the Brad Richards’ of the world won’t come here — it’s because they’re afraid of disappointing you. That’s a healthy fear. As soon as that fear fades, we’re on the path to becoming Nashville or the Islanders.

Kelly disagrees that Toronto sports fans are bad or that the city is somehow become used to losing, but he does make a good point: Why would a talented NHL player come to play in Toronto (and likely struggle) in front of a now angry fan base?

“Being a Leafs fan right now isn’t some sort of hippy celebration of ineptitude. It’s about raging against their faults,” writes Kelly.

“It’s gotten past the point where whining about how bad things are feels cathartic. It just feels like whining.”

Clearly Leaf fans aren’t happy with losing. They’re not satisfied with a group of “bush-league heroes.” They want their team to win hockey games. However, since they’re so vocal and so passionate when the team is losing, could they be scaring off high-profile free agents?

More from Marche:

Toronto fans like extravagantly ordinary players. How else to explain paying $3 million for Darcy Tucker? Or $5.5 million for Bryan McCabe? Sometimes I wonder if Toronto would even know what to do with the Sedin twins, who are less like quick-fisted farm boys and more like magical changelings conceived by elves in the Scandinavian forest.

I recently overheard a conversation in a bar about whether Sidney Crosby would ever return to hockey, and one guy said, “I told you he was made of glass.” That’s typical; Toronto wouldn’t take Sidney Crosby even if he were on offer. Not tough enough.

It’s easy to cheer for “character guys.” No one boos a player who works hard every night, fights every battle and stands up for his teammates. But people do boo elite talent when that talent isn’t scoring goals and the team isn’t winning.

Is it better to stop attending games when a team is losing than to go to the game and jeer your own team? Stephen Marche thinks so.

Marche was right when he said that the Leafs have very few marquee players in their line-up, but it’s not because management hasn’t tried to “purchase” them. It’s not even, despite how it looks, because Leaf fans don’t want those types of players. Leaf fans desperately want players like the Sedins and Crosby, but when the team struggles those are the players who will feel the vocal wrath of Leaf Nation.

And now, for whatever reason, the league’s elite do not want to play in Toronto. Is it because those players would rather join a “sure thing” and compete for the Cup or is it because they don’t want to face an angry Leafs fan base?

Comments (13)

  1. Big name Free Agents (what few there actually are these days) want to sign for big money over the longest term possible. Unlike other teams GM’s, Burke isn’t willing to cripple his teams future by signing players to these contracts, which is probably a good thing since the next CBA will likely limit how they are handled somehow and the teams that signed them will be screwed even more then they are now.
    Would any rational fan want his team to be paying Kovalchuk or Richards the kind of money they’re getting for that long? I certainly don’t and other then those two how many actual marquee FA’s have there been since the lockout? It’s kind of difficult to sign these guys when they almost always decide to re-up with their own team so you have to either trade for them (which the Leafs have been doing in acquiring Kessel and Phaneuf and young prospects with potential like Colbourne and Gardiner) or hope to draft them yourself which is a complete crapshot.

    • …so instead he cripples his team by overpaying mediocre players? And he trades away the future to get a guy like Kessel. For a team that has missed the playoffs so many times in a row, employs the most scouts, and can sign the most college FAs they have a rather poor prospect pipeline (It’s not bad but it should be top 5 which it certainly is not). They need to blow up the roster. Nearly all teams that are champions have done it through the draft. You need a core of young talented players. Toronto does not have this yet and will not acquire top talent in the draft if they keep floating around the 9-11th area in the East.

      • Other then Komisarek, who is overpaid? The entire roster is getting paid market value for the points they put up.They have a young core of talent on the blueline and up front with the Grabovski line, Lupul and Kessel. The only thing missing is that certified superstar that as I said isn’t easy to get, and the question marks in net. There’s prospect depth at every position and the system has been ranked in the top 10 in multiple industry surveys this year.

        • Tim Connolly @ 4.75mil per. Lupul @4.25 per (Two OK seasons with the Flyers and he gets that kind of money?) Matthew Lombardi @3.5 million even though he’s reached 20 goals once in his career. And most of these overpaid contracts were traded for. It’s like Toronto doesn’t WANT to leave room for anyone good. And sure their system is in the top ten (I believe they are 9th at hockeysfuture) but with the resources and sustained poor record they should be in the top 3.

          • Connelly for 2 years as a stop gap measure until the prospects develop. $4.75 for a guy who’s averaged close to a point/game for the last 4 years. Compared to the #1 Centers like Spezza and Gomez making over $7mil a season? I know who I’d rather have.
            Lupul was a salary dump from Anaheim to acquire Gardiner, same with Lombardi, salary dump from Nashville to acquire Franson. Other then trading talent for talent and not improving, how else is a team expected to make a deal?

      • Kessel was a good deal though, if you look at Chicago, there number one center had only 32 goals in Jonathan Toews and if Seguin will score over 40 goals for Boston then maybe it will be different. Kessel has been vioted on to the all-star team therefore making him an all-star.

  2. toronto SSSSUUUUCCCCKKKKKSSSS. nuff said.

  3. Even the Fletcher / Dryden / Quinn-era teams weren’t exactly stocked with young superstars; the one they managed to acquire (Sundin) was, as noted in the article, continually maligned by the fanbase because he caused a (temporary) exile for their beloved Clark.

    But the Leaf teams of the late 90s / early 00s were largely veteran clubs that relied on above-market-salaried veterans combined with otherworldly playoff goaltending. They haven’t really done the traditional build… since, well, ever.

    Oh, and the unending ability of the Ottawa Senators to blow playoff series. Can’t forget that.

  4. Like I have said on other sites reguarding the Leafs.Not big name superastar will ever play for Toronto…until the so called sports media quits their bashing of Toronto sports team.Would you want to play for a team that gets bashed in day out….for their play.Not everyone can win the game.So I am a super star hockey player and some one asks me to go play for Toronto…I look at all of the negativity in their papers…Hornsby,Simmons.Longe and other so called sports writers,,,why would I want to play for the Leafs.As for the raptors…let them go already…we still have the Detroit pistons.All in all…the leafs could win the cup…and the toronto media and the fans would still find something to bitch about.

    • Free agent signings are a risk/reward calculation by the free agent. Someone in Richards’ position last season, or Kovalchuk the year before, has to consider many factors: who are the coach/GM and what style of play do they want; what kind of support does the area have for my family; can my spouse even get a job at that location (a hockey player with an American-born reporter for a spouse/significant other is not likely to sign with a Canadian team — sorry guys); what kind of taxes will I have to pay; what kind of healthcare options do I have for my family; is it a young team (my wife will feel like she’s the other guys’ mother) or an old team (no one wants to go out — everyone’s busy helping their kids with their homework); can they pay me what I think I’m worth without blowing up the locker room, and if they do so, will the other players resent me for it;

      … and then, maybe, just maybe, they think of the fans.

      Really, guys, it’s not about you.

  5. first off heres how to fix the leafs-pressure the point guy on the pp so he has little time to think- our penalty killer has to just force him to make his own errors and he will-stop with the damn box cuz it hasnt worked-ever-second=stop racing past the blue line when u dont have control of the damn puck-every damn leafs team does this-just watch the games, i have lol-third=wilson must go and heres why,,a game against boston he told kaberle to go and watch the faceoff guy to the right-kaberle gave him a weird look,and rightfully so bcuz for watever reason wilson had,,,the puck goes back to where kaberle SHOULD HAVE AND WANTED ‘ to be-we won the faceoff obviouslty here and puck goes over blue line and he shouldnt have ever been told to go thre incase we did win it.just a stupid thing to do and i know that and apparently so did kabby.just a few views here :)

  6. MLSE DOESNT CARE ABOUT WINNING LEAFS HAVENT MADE THE PLAYSOFF FOR THA LAST SIX SEASON LIKE C’MON NOW TORONTO SUPPOSE TO BE A HOCKEY TOWN IF THIS IS A HOCKEY TOWN WE SHOULD BE MAKING THA PLAYOFFS EVERY YEAR OR TOP 8 ATLEAST….TORONTO TEAMS SUCKS BECAUSE OF MLSE THEY DONT GIVE A SHIT ABOUT THE FANS IN TORONTO…. BLAME MLSE FUCK MLSE!!!!!

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