TORONTO (Oct. 25) — Without question, the morale of Leafs Nation has plummeted far beneath a reasonable grade for the fourth week of October. And, the answer is simple: the 7–1 beatdown in Pittsburgh on Saturday night wasn’t merely the sixth game of a new season… but, rather, Game 656 since the Causeway Street Calamity of May 13, 2013, which began to truly define the Leafs of the salary cap era. The names and faces have all changed in the nearly 7½ years after the blown, 4–1, third–period lead of Game 7 at Boston. But, the trust in the hockey club that dissolved in those 45 minutes has never returned. And, it may now be at an all–time low — exacerbated immeasurably by coughing up that 3–1 series lead over Montreal in the Stanley Cup tournament last spring.
“Unquestionably, there’s a feeling of hopelessness among fans of the hockey club,” said Dr. Brian Goldman over the phone this morning. “Particularly among those, like myself, that have long–been addicted to the Maple Leafs. It was painfully obvious after the playoff series against Montreal that something essential about the team had to change. And, nothing did. Same management; same coach; same four–man nucleus. The past weekend [lame efforts against San Jose and Pittsburgh] brought it to the surface very quickly. It doesn’t matter that it’s early in the new season. Fans of the Leafs recognize that nothing about the team is fundamentally different. And, it hurts.”
Goldman is a renowned psychoanalyst and emergency room physician whose 2011 book about working “the witching hours” at Mount Sinai Hospital here in Toronto — The Night Shift — became a national bestseller. He has more than 73,000 followers on Twitter (@NightShiftMD) and is a long–time voice on CBC Radio. As mentioned, Brian is also a forlorn and futile zealot of the Leafs. As much as anyone, he understands the paralysis and incapacity of the enormous fan base. “I don’t take the same pleasure from winning games as I once did; it’s more a sense of temporary relief — a suspension of actuality until the truth hits,” said Goldman. “Which I think is common among those that root for the team. If the Leafs win tonight in Carolina and Auston Matthews scores two goals, the gloom will briefly subside. But, the validity of the situation will not. And, that’s the overriding emotion.”
DR. BRIAN GOLDMAN RECOGNIZES THE INTERMINABLE FUTILITY OF FOLLOWING THE MAPLE LEAFS.
Social media offers Leaf supporters a catharsis. Many have taken to Twitter, Facebook and chat forums to try and convince others of their resolve. The most–common practice among fans that hurt the deepest is to suggest they no–longer care; pay attention to or watch the hockey club. Which is overwhelmingly a fabrication. “Maybe 10 percent of such claims are true… and that could be a high estimate,” said Goldman. “Those that log onto social media, or into a chat forum, are pained to the core. Otherwise, they wouldn’t waste their time. They somehow think that others will believe them and follow suit. But, it’s all a mirage; a cover–up for the intensity of their feelings.”
More than all else, following the Leafs is an addiction — perhaps less–hazardous to that of a drug or alcohol, but equally as debilitating. “The deep–seated attachment to a professional sports team is unresolvable,” said Goldman. “It’s the reason that people keep coming back for more, even if recognizing they will suffer. As with any addiction, there’s a need to break the pattern. But, so few that emotionally invest in a sports team are capable of separation. They occasionally grow disgusted and react out of character. For example, I turned off the TV in the third period of Game 4 against Columbus (Aug. 7, 2020) because I figured it was a lost cause. The Leafs were down, 3–0, and not threatening to score. From my perspective, the series was over. I had no desire to watch the teams shake hands. But, we all remember what happened. The Leafs erupted for three goals (in a 3:34 span); sent the game into overtime and eventually won (when Matthews scored a powerplay goal at 13:10). That became the equivalent of a drug–high for an addict. Absolutely, I was in front of my television for the decisive fifth game.”
Deep down, sports fans are honest to the core. Intellectually, they recognize legitimate hope… and futility. But, the emotional resolve is more difficult. “People that watch the Leafs know, full well, that Mitch Marner will not go to the dirty areas of the ice,” explained Goldman. “They watch the powerplay failing again, with all that skill, and know that the M & M boys have said ‘screw you’ to the new assistant coach [Spencer Carbery]. The selfishness and lack of integration with the rest of the team is so evident. But, hope is the most–powerful drug of all. So, fans stay involved. Looking for the slightest glimmer. They take temporary solace when something favorable occurs. But, they all understand, not far from the surface, that the Leafs cannot truly change by staying the same.
“Management can toy with the emotion of fans. But, it cannot fool them.”