The only reason the world can't ignore this sad, soft organization is because it became the first NHL franchise worth US $1 billion.
Its ability to make money hand over fist despite playing under every other team's thumb since time immemorial is infuriating to die-hard hockey fans. At worst it’s a travesty.
They've been living worst, liverwurst, really since 1968. No wonder so many Torontonians like Rob Ford. He’s fun. And competitive. Especially when he’s out of it.
Here’s something out of it. The Leafs are hoping to have their players actually compete for position during training camp. This is part of the culture change that Michael Traikos reports on. If it takes an organization, one of the oldest in the NHL, almost a million years to decide that a little internal competition might help the team along, god help us all. Next thing you know, they’ll cotton to skilled players instead of goons.
Spoke to soon. They've decided they might actually try to draft, trade, or acquire talent instead of picking dregs and desultory knuckle draggers. Toronto has, the past few centuries, liked ardent efforts from fifth line players.
There is no fifth line in professional hockey.
Which makes the Leafs even more unique: they've been serving up fifth line results, fulsomely, 90% of the time, since the Beatles broke up and the sixties busted apart.
The Leafs do vary, however, in when they kill the season, go bust, and “mail it in” as they say. Sometimes they collapse at the gate, and rally furiously for the last 15 games of the 85 game schedule when they have a probability of 1/1000 to make the playoffs and when other teams are looking past the blue and white and could care a rat’s ass if they win or lose, what with their playoff position, or tee-off times, assured. Other times they’ll start strong – for the Maple “Laffs”, that means playing a bit better than .500 hockey before they slump over the last 20 games, and lose 21 games in a row to miss yet another playoff post season.
They made the playoffs ONCE in the last 10 years. That was in 2013 when they gave up three goals in the last 11 minutes to the Boston Bruins who then went on to win in overtime. It was a record breaking seventh game collapse of epic, septic proportions. Bounced in the first round.
Just like a negative person can suck the wind out of a positive party, the Leafs can take a gruff, but competent, hockey executive like Brian Burke and leave him playoff-less. That was his record after four seasons in the city of the big choke. Even with his penchant for big strong men who could play somewhat-sometimes-half decent hockey, the Leafs cratered. Burke was fired. He's now in Calgary. Great city.
Who is, ultimately, to blame for an organization an ESPN survey in 2008 ranked 121st out of 122 big league teams?
The fans and corporations that buy the tickets. They've supported this organization through thin and thin and they've put no pocket-book pressure on the team to clean up its act and put a reasonable facsimile of a competitive unit out on the ice.
The Detroit Red Wings (valued at US $346 million) are as far ahead of the Leafs in every which way as is the city of Toronto ahead of the city of Detroit. It’s weird. For the 15 people who live in Detroit, their Red Wings have made the playoffs 23 years in a row. Incredible.
As for Kyle Dubas, the neophyte Leaf assistant GM, he’s been described as “likeable.” Likeable is what the Leafs deal in, in spades. Every other team likes, heck loves, the Leafs because they’re an easy two points any time they’re played. Mr. Dubas may be a genius at analytics and a phenomenon in assessing contract clauses and tyro talent but to extol this young man as a real-prize find is sad. Not for Kyle, more power to him. But for this team. This move is something that crackpot owner Harold Ballard would have sprung. Has Harold come back from the dead to haunt the Leafs?
Dubas is also said to have a “relentless pursuit for knowledge.” That’s nice. Most of us like learning new things. We were all happy when we could tie our shoes. That’s hardly unique. It sounds good on a resume. Walmart should hire him. But the Leafs are so desperate, to do anything “out of the box” (other than win of course) that they’ll take a flyer on a gentleman who was an agent before he went to the hockey management side – all before the age of 25. Okay, let’s say he’s a smarty pants. Good for him. And for his family.
But wait, here’s another crackerjack thing about Kyle: he loves to “talk about and debate hockey.” Sweet.
No matter how refreshing and neat this man is, no matter how easily he can speak in platitudes, no matter how president Brendan Shanahan describes Kyle as a “worker” - the organization top to bottom, in style and sense, lacks.