I have two confessions to make:
1) I am (was?) a Toronto Maple Leafs fan.
2) I have never cared less about a team I once liked ever than I do with the Toronto Maple Leafs right now.
I have not watched the Toronto Maple Leafs play a game in over a month and why would I? The team is awful, there has been no semblance of effort on the ice and they’re going to miss the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season. I could get the same amount of catharsis from having my toenails ripped out or being strapped to a chair and having Mr. Blonde from Reservoir Dogs do his worst. It’s a little sobering that I work here for a living and the team that I’m supposed to cheer for hasn’t made the playoffs since I was in the ninth grade.
Feschuk captures the scenery beautifully with his final 200 words and the outlook, for lack of a better term, is bleak.
This market, in other words, is truly captive. And Burke doesn’t appear in the mood to explain himself to the hostages.
Clearly, in a more genuine era, in a town where sports executives understood accountability, the man running the Leafs would proffer a more appropriate message to the fans. It would include descriptors like “unacceptable” and “embarrassing.” It would acknowledge the supporters’ hurt. It would suggest humility.
Burke’s tenure in Toronto, let’s be clear, could not be going worse. This season could not be more of an epic failure. The Leafs have no No. 1 goalie, no stud defenceman, no star centreman. They crashed miserably as a Wilson-coached run-and-gun team. They’re going to need a massive overhaul to even know if they can be halfway successful as a Carlyle-coached blood-and-guts unit. Wonderful Phil Kessel represents everything flawed with Burke’s methodology. The GM’s team is so far removed from being a Stanley Cup contender, it’s laughable.
And never mind the Cup — even playing in a parity-stricken league in which every other team seems to figure it out now and then, Burke can’t buy a post-season cup of coffee.
Clearly there’s a more appropriate message to the people who care about his hockey club. It starts with, “I’m sorry.” And it does not assume forgiveness, let alone employment until the Winter Classic.
Simply put, the mediocrity surrounding this franchise is baffling and it’s time that somebody own up to it. The “rebuild” has them back at ground zero, they’re on to their fourth coach since the lockout and there is absolutely ZERO reason to think it’ll change any time soon. Sure it’s a young team, but is this core of players going to be any better after playing together for five seasons? Their best player, Phil Kessel, has his best season ever and this team has never been worse to watch.
The odds of me ever truly caring about this team again have never been lower and I’m not trying to be dramatic.
What’s concerning though is the fact that I’m less attached to this team than the majority of real Leafs fans. Sure I care if they win or lose but the amount of emotional involvement tied to it is pretty lax. There are people out there (wrongly or rightly) who live and die with this team, who fly a blue and white flag above their homes and sleep in Leafs footie pajamas. It’s for those diehards that I truly want to hear that apology.
This isn’t the first time a MLSE franchise (surprise surprise) has been in this situation. After the 1998-99 season the Toronto Raptors, having been around for a whopping four seasons, finished off the best season in franchise history up to that point with a 23-27 record, four games out of a playoff spot in a lockout shortened season. After their season finale win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, then-22 year old rookie Vince Carter took a microphone, walked to center court and apologized to the fans for falling short and guaranteed a playoff spot in 2000, which they attained as promised.
Now, I don’t want to be too presumptuous here, but if a 22 year old kid can address a stadium full of fans and guarantee a milestone which hadn’t been achieved for that franchise to that point in time, I think that Brian Burke and/or Dion Phaneuf and/or Randy Carlyle and/or anyone of consequence on that team can take 10 damn seconds from their busy schedule and apologize to their fan base for one of the worst seasons in team history in an attempt to atone for how low a point this truly is for the Leafs.
As I get ready to publish this piece the Leafs are down 3-0 to the Carolina Hurricanes in what is truly a battle of futility. While Tank Nation persists in Leafs land, the team itself has become no more than comedy in skates. The unfortunate part is it’ll be the fans wearing the paper bags on their heads and not the organization which has assembled this caravan of mediocrity.
On April 5 the Toronto Maple Leafs wrap up their season against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Win or lose, someone better be there to walk up to the mic and answer the bell.