Admit It: The Maple Leafs Are Musty

TORONTO (Nov. 27) — If you leave a slice of bread on the kitchen counter for more than an hour, it will begin to grow stale. If you leave the same players together on a National Hockey League team that flops and flails every spring, they, too, will become musty. Which is finally — predictably — happening with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Sure, the big–money boys are putting up points, which they could accomplish in their sleep. It allows, occasionally, for seven or eight minutes of concerted effort to overcome a weaker opponent. Big deal. Even the most die–hard of Toronto hockey rooters will confess that the first quarter of the 2023–24 season has emitted major warning signs from the Blue and White. Damien Cox called the Leafs “careless” in today’s Toronto Star. Though accurate, it was an understatement. I prefer “indifferent”. The aforementioned “stale”. Or, most alarmingly, “resigned”.

Yes, the Leafs are playing as if they know what awaits them in April.

It matters not what the elite skaters are accomplishing today. Or, not accomplishing. As we’ve been telling you in this corner for ages, the prime malady on the hockey club is unresolvable — Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander and Morgan Rielly understanding reluctantly, yet clearly, that nothing of consequence can be achieved while they remain part of the same group. It is no longer a legitimate argument; hasn’t been, really, since the playoff humiliation against Montreal in 2021. In another hockey market, with ownership and top–level management committed to challenging for the Stanley Cup, the Corpse–4 would have been disassembled after blowing that 3–1 series lead to the Canadiens. But, not here in the Big Smoke. Not with fat and lazy Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment rolling in dough and running the team for its two national sports networks.

And, not without Brendan Shanahan losing complete sight of what works in the chase for hockey’s biggest prize.


The Toronto market, though becoming increasingly agitated, is still one of pretense and fantasy: that somehow — even with, arguably, the most–inept blue line in recent club annals, and amid unproven goaltending — the Leafs will eventually prevail on the hot sticks of the Corpse–4. Hasn’t yet happened in seven years. What is it about this team that conjures expectation for an eighth attempt? And, where else in the civilized world would a professional sports club be allowed to stand pat for eons with a demonstrated playoff loser? These questions have been cast aside by MLSE and Shanahan in a puzzling attempt to try and change without making change. Which never works; never will, with the Leafs, until the failed Core–4 is dismantled. And, how do you start accomplishing that?

Instead, it appears the path of least resistance will again prevail at Bay and Lakeshore… that the Leafs will move forward into the next decade with Matthews, Marner, Nylander and Rielly at the controls. Damn the results after mid–April. Tavares has only next season remaining on his pact. By then, hockey fans east of Manitoba will be salivating over Connor McDavid’s pending free–agency switch from Edmonton to everyone’s dream team in Toronto. Resources will be cut elsewhere on the already thin periphery of the roster. Heck, it’s the Maple Leafs way.

As for the moment, there is pending gloom amid Leafs Nation, which surely recognizes that no improvements were made to last year’s team. I’m told the Leaf brass was spooked over the glaring incompetence of free agent defenseman John Klingberg; that no person in the organization could fathom how terribly he performed. Apparent (and convenient) injury aside, I suspect we’ll not again see Mr. Klingberg wearing the blue and white jersey. The remainder of the blue line is status quo: Rielly… and five guys named Moe. Any five will do, it appears, in the half–century–long search for a franchise defenseman. The annual off–season hunt for roster–filling bargains — even if some arrive with more familiar names than others — cannot provide adequate support for the Big 4 up front.

It’s an old and stale narrative that seems particularly shopworn in the first quarter of this season.

The leading–role players on the Leafs cannot sustain any form of enthusiasm. Sure, they get excited when they score, but the overall sense is that there’s nothing to gain… or to be gained. In other words, the Core–4 players can sense, in their bones, the detestable deja vu: that there has been no fundamental change to the roster. In fact, it has likely regressed from a year ago. Putting up big, regular–season numbers is satisfying, but… been there, done that. Over and over. Once, with 60 goals from Matthews. Fancy figures, but no more. Sure, it’s difficult to get jacked for midweek games in the dead of winter against Nashville and Arizona. Especially when every strand of your DNA is telling you that nothing can possibly change once the regular season ends. It’s a quizzical dynamic: a quartet of men so desperately wanting to “stay together”, yet having to know it cannot achieve, as a group, anything significant. If you wonder why the Maple Leafs appear so blasé and spiritless, there’s your likely answer.


It was the professional sports drought that would never end. Until it did… on Nov. 27, 1983. And, I was there.

Among the clearest memories of my life is being at B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver, 40 years ago, for the Grey Cup game between the Toronto Argonauts and the B.C. Lions. Throughout my boyhood, when Toronto was a two–sport town (hockey and football), the Argonauts were akin to a Chinese water–drip torture. Beginning with Leon McQuay’s infamous fumble late in the 1971 Grey Cup (also at Vancouver), the Argonauts embarked on a decade of futility — much as the Maple Leafs would throughout the 1980’s. The unquestioned low point occurred Nov. 1, 1975, when the Boatmen went into Hamilton on the final afternoon of the regular season with an Eastern playoff spot guaranteed, providing they won, tied… or lost by fewer than 16 points. The Tiger–Cats prevailed, 26–10.

You can’t make that up.

And, it’s the reason I walked about B.C. Place Stadium in a daze after the Argos finally ended their 31–year title drought. Think about that: it required more than three decades in a nine–team league to win a single championship. The lengthy failure was nearly more impressive than the eventual triumph (as with the Leafs and their 57–year absence from the Stanley Cup final). But, it DID happen for the Double Blue. I saw it with my own eyes — quarterback Joe Barnes flipping a short pass to running back Cedric Minter with 2:44 left on the clock, enabling the Argos to overcome a 17–7 halftime deficit for an 18–17 victory. I actually hugged general manager Ralph Sazio, the Canadian football legend, outside the Toronto dressing room. Honestly, I did. And, he hugged back.

Here are photos and artifacts from a scrapbook I kept:







9 comments on “Admit It: The Maple Leafs Are Musty

  1. I’m getting the feeling that the ground is shifting under the leafs in terms of fan adoration. There doesn’t seem to be the same amount of coverage in mainstream media and the chatter among my acquaintances is almost nil regarding the team. Articles about the leafs in the Athletic (glorified fanzine in many instances IMO) don’t seem to attract the same volume of comments as they used to.
    I might be wrong, but it’s possible that casual fans have lost interest in watching the same dance again. Perhaps the passive play and arrogant assurances that they’re a great team are finally being met with deserving indifference.
    After some games this week, when confronted with the fact that they’ve won only 5 games in regulation the players and coach said the equivalent of “winning is hard.” I’ve never heard an athlete or highly motivated or competitive person respond to a challenge by saying “it’s hard.” Just more evidence of a complete lack of the competitive spirit, will and determination in the leadership of this group to win when it counts.

  2. if these Leafs are stale, it’s because they are bad. Expectations are high and the results are disappointing. But these Leafs are for real. Piss poor management by a piss poor new GM. No defensive strategy from the coaching staff. Tonight Seattle played defensive hockey in the third period and came back from down 3-1 to tie the game. Leafs don’t position defensively and are a collective sieve for good and plenty scoring opportunities. Seems like both Keefe and Treliving have no idea how to make things better. Why was Auston Matthews given a raise with this new contract, and what was the hurry to sign him? He’s now the highest paid player in the league but he need not be paid more than conor McDavid or Nathan MacKinnon, both of whom have had better success. You can’t run a team like the Leafs have been run and expect anything better than what they are. Total ineptitude. Two players that can help the Leafs and can fit under there impossible cap situation. Max Comtois is playing in the minors. He’s and NHL winger. Noah Juulsen is a right shot defensman with Vancouver. he plays a two way game and plays physical. But I doubt Trelving has even heard of either of them.

    1. The Leafs lost a whole bunch of defensive players over the summer. Defensive defencemen and defensive forwards. Guys that would kill penalties. Holl, Schenn on defence. Kerfoot Lafferty Acciari Aston-Reese Engvall O’Reilly. They were replaced with Gregor Benoit and Lagesson. One forward and two minor league d-men. On the penalty kill they now need to employ Matthews and Nylander because of a shortage of penalty killers. The result? Goals against are up, penalty killing is down, and no Leafs lead is safe. That’s Brad Treliving’s management.

    2. At the start of the season, in his need to get under the cap, after signing Bertuzzi Domi Reaves and Klingberg, Brad Treliving traded Sam Lafferty to the Canucks for a fifth round pick. Dubas paid a second round pick to Chicago to get Lafferty at last year’s trade deadline. Lafferty can play centre or either wing and can kill penalties. He earns 1.15 million dollars. Now, Tyler Bertuzzi earns 5.5 million. What are their stats so far this season? 5g 4a for Bert and 5g 5a for Lafferty. This is the work of Maple Leafs management.

    3. If you look at the recent history of the Leafs, the conclusion is, they haven’t made a wise move since they drafted Auston Matthews. Babcock influenced Lamoriello to fast track the Leafs to success. But they got better too fast. Then they started trading away their draft choices and haven’t stopped. Then they overpaid their players, beginning with John Tavares and continuing on with the big five. Now, the Toronto Maple Leafs are a house of cards. Sheldon Keefe says there are 3 teams behind us in the standings and we haven’t even begun to play like we can. Hogwash! Well then, what are you waiting for Sheldon? it’s the quarter mark of the season, more than 20 games in. This is a much different team than the one they iced last year at any time. A worse team. This crap we are seeing is for real. If they don’t face it right now, they will run this team into the ground with more bad moves, I.e. trading more futures to try to save the season. Better to go the other way and open up for business with the upcoming ufas they have. All of them. don’t look to add star players or big names with big contracts at high prices. Look for sweet deals, easy cheap deals. Ethan Bear is a free agent. Not the ideal d-man Leafs want, but a competent body that can fill in for injured players. Stop with the hail marys and start building the team up. Such incompetence for seven years. Why are people surprised this is the result?

  3. Well, the Leafs have all of two defencemen on the roster they drafted and developed; Morgan Rielly (11 years ago) and Timothy Liljegren (six years ago). That goes a long way to explaining why they are so depleted back there. In the salary cap era, you need to draft and develop, especially on the blue line. Just think where this team would be if they had Tavares’ 11 million to spend on two or three players.

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