Keeping the Charade Alive

TORONTO (June 27) — To the surprise of absolutely no one, the National Hockey League’s most–apathetic and complacent franchise is “running it back” for an eighth consecutive disaster in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

If you’re a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, you should be proud of how diligently the club is working on your behalf (sigh) to change a demonstrated culture of losing. General manager Brad Treliving confirmed today the job criteria as laid out by the Teflon Prez, Brendan Shanahan: a) Sheldon Keefe stays on as coach and, b) the Corpse–4 returns intact, this time with lengthy contract extensions. After all, why do some actual work when it’s unnecessary?

No city in North American professional sport demands less of a team than Toronto does of the Leafs. The lazy owners and management of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment understand the region is bursting with hockey zealots and take full advantage of it. Even after watching such a real team as the Stanley Cup–champion Vegas Golden Knights grow fed up with playoff incompetence after only two years, thereby prompting bold moves on the ice (Jack Eichel, Alex Pietrangelo); in the front office (Kelly McCrimmon) and behind the bench (Bruce Cassidy).

Sure, some hockey rooters in our city create a stink. The overwhelming majority, however, follow along as always, like sheep, because there is no assuring point of reference. To wit: You must be 70 years old to remember the last time the Leafs played for the Stanley Cup; more than 30 to recall the most–recent visit to the Conference final (in 2002). Young fans of the club know nothing about success in the post season, so why even break a sweat?

The MLSE business model of keeping the Stanley Cup fantasy alive — but never threatening to win — works perfectly. You can be sure the moguls on Bay St. are damned scared to learn what may happen if the Maple Leafs fluke their way to a championship one year and end the charade. Here in Toronto, pretending to care about winning is far–more lucrative than actually following through with a Stanley Cup challenge. All the while recognizing there will be minimal push–back from the gullible and fidgety local media. There is no financial or emotional stimulus to make a noticeable effort. As such, the tall thinkers at MLSE routinely assume the path of least resistance… year after year after year. With the same results — in the bank and on the ice… year after year after year.

Ken Dryden said it best, a quarter–century ago, when he was running the hockey club: Watching the Leafs is a “habit.” No different, really, than smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol and driving too fast. It may not serve your well being, but you do it anyway. In other hockey markets, a club has to show a commitment to winning in order to sustain interest. In Toronto, the Leafs merely have to show up. Management could dress 20 clowns each night — it was pretty close to that in the 1980’s — and the denizens are satisfied. They may bitch and moan with envy about teams that try to prosper, but they still cram the arena; watch every game on TV and hoard the club’s merchandise. It’s actually quite sad that the Maple Leafs are held to no standard by their admirers. But, again, what point of reference do they have? Playing for the Stanley Cup in 1967 doesn’t count anymore. Hasn’t really for 30 odd years. So, the team and its fans careen through each lost opportunity and hollow promise for the future.

Which never arrives.

Then, the cycle renews itself. Again and again.

The business model, as mentioned, is brilliant, albeit criminal. That’s the only way to describe the Maple Leafs making no systemic change from one underachieving year to the next. As I’ve written, show me an industry in which the top figurehead (Shanahan) fails to reach company goals for an entire decade, yet is allowed to keep his job… and deploy the same, losing cast. It wouldn’t fly in any environment other than hockey in Toronto. Amid the compliance of those who cover the team with such tepid resignation, setting the market tone. The fans just follow along. The club watches… and does nothing while other teams are adding players; visibly trying to improve. Remarkably, this routine is echoed and rehashed from one year to the next. Without so much as a peep of protest.

So, enjoy your Maple Leafs, once more, with Keefe behind the bench and Mr. November (Auston Matthews) leading the way each spring. It has worked so spectacularly for seven consecutive years; why not make it 10 or 11? An alternate strategy would require exertion. Perhaps some ingenuity. But, MLSE and Shanahan have grown far too smug and satisfied to extend themselves for the fan base. It’s a glaring violation of the trust lavished upon them by the hapless followers of the Blue and White. But, somehow, and tragically, it remains the Toronto way.


17 comments on “Keeping the Charade Alive

  1. This is the situation as I see it: the ownership group is not sure of what to do. The hockey people have told them they are close, and will break through at any time (after all, they have all of these great regular season records). The ownership group have probably been told that if they break up the “core 4” group (core 3 really, as Tavares’ contract is immovable), the team will go back to what it was before Shanny arrived. Between 2005 -06 and 2015-16, they made the post season once. Since the arrival of Matthews, they have made the playoffs every year. That is 50 games all told, with at least half of those being at home. So the corporation has made lots of money on those home playoff dates. They are afraid to make a bold move in case it back fires. They have some bankable stars in Marner and Matthews, and don’t want to lose that either. I went on record as saying that changes needed to be made after the debacle against the Canadiens. It’s too late now. To start making wholesale changes would be to admit they (both the board and management) were wrong, and that the franchise needs to start over (which, unfortunately, is the case). I think the team’s window for winning is closing. I hope I am wrong, but I don’t think I am.

  2. Howard,I think the static posture of the leafs is a result of the dread “blue & white” disease. The tall foreheads of Bell & Rogers know absolutely nothing of competition or competitiveness as a result of the sheltered, coddled and protected industry in which they operate, so they can’t be expected to advocate or promote proactive or brave management.The real culprits languish in the top seats of team management, though I don’t think Treliving could have been infected YET.Shanahan, and Dubas display all the symptoms. Boundless arrogance, utter contempt for the media and thus the fans, and the unwavering belief that THEY and THEY ALONE are correct in their approach (coreless fore) despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, and are determined to prove their righteousness at any cost. Dubas is thankfully gone, but the problem remains.Still, I maintain hope that Treliving will chart a better course. Ditch the video game strategy of puck possession and treat the overpaid “stars” like adults instead of spoiled children in need of constant reassurance and praise.Dubas was the embodiment of corporate sports management. Torque the star factor for media/fan adoration and attention and construct a roster that ensures regular season success to fill the seats and draw the eyes. Extra revenue from a couple guaranteed playoff dates ensures bonuses all around. I have to believe that Treliving measures success by what happens in the playoffs. Hopefully, that’s the case or else what’s the point.

  3. Unreal they could care less about the fans, keeping core 4 is a big mistake, as stated. I’ve been a fan since 1973, but not much for me to cheer for anymore, looking for another team to cheer for now.

  4. Half of the ” corpse ” finished 13th & 16th in the Hart voting…with Marner outpolling Matthews …9 votes to 4 …Matthews got 1 3rd place vote (!)…with a new contract for Matthews, the Loafs are doomed…

  5. To be honest, I’d much rather the Leafs be consistently entertaining for 82 games. Certainly they have been with the current group. Playoffs are a total crap shoot and only 1 out of 32 can win.

    1. No offense intended, but that’s the Dubas mantra, “Playoffs success is random”. It’s demonstrably NOT random. Consistent entertainment over the regular season is the lowest bar of expectations. Fans/Customers are entitled to, and should expect more.

  6. I have always stated, the biggest threat to the business model is actually winning. If the Leafs ever do win, my belief is the stands do not get filled anymore and the whole system is down the toilet. It is the crowning jewel left for Toronto, but if it makes money just “tasting it” every 30 years or so, why bother. I remember the run in 1993 and that is all I have to remember in my life, too young for the 70’s and was not alive for the last win.

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