TORONTO (Jan. 8) — It isn’t often, if ever, that TSN gets its clock cleaned on a big story involving the Toronto Maple Leafs. But, it happened this week with the William Nylander contract extension. Elliotte Friedman and Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet, the National Hockey League’s Canadian broadcast partner, had the scoop well in advance of Darren Dreger and Pierre LeBrun, who played catch–up on the story from the outset. As for the Leafs… well, it is now complete. The brazen lack of urgency, inspiration and ingenuity that fans of the team allow Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has doomed the club for at least the next two seasons, and likely beyond.
None of Nylander, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and Morgan Rielly — the lone movable assets on the current roster — can be discarded by any means: trade, waivers, buy–out or demotion. Brad Treliving and the Teflon Prez, Brendan Shanahan, have ceded control of the club to the Corpse–4 (plus one). They need permission to maneuver these players in any way. It marks the first time in modern franchise history that the Leafs cannot make a meaningful roster trade. Instead, Treliving will need to offload more futures and draft choices at the Mar. 8 deadline for the quick fix (Alex Galchenyuk, Nick Foligno, Ryan O’Reilly) that always fails. Astonishingly, Marner, close to a 100–point player, can walk for free after next season and there’s not a thing the Maple Leafs can do; he has a no–movement clause until his contract expires. As do the others. It’s their team to run. More reward for the franchise stalwarts that have withered for seven consecutive years in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Honestly? That’s how you manage a hockey club?
Any supporter of the Leafs that finds comfort in the easy and lamentable strategy is whistling past the graveyard. There is nothing about this talented, yet buttery soft, nucleus that lends itself to a Stanley Cup challenge (quadruple that statement as it pertains to the blue line, devoid of a Norris Trophy type since Borje Salming, 44 years ago). The better part of a decade is hardly a small sample–size of playoff impotence. So, I return to my theory on MLSE’s hockey wing: It will forever assume the path of least resistance, knowing there will be minimal push–back in the market. While also fully understanding, amid abundant evidence, that this group cannot prevail when it matters. It explains the luminous, albeit criminal, business model of the Leafs: Do whatever is easiest to placate fans while ensuring the club does not win a championship. Ending the Stanley Cup charade is far too risky. Keep the imaginary chase alive. Stay predictable. After nearly 60 years, the market has proven its financial and emotional resilience, pathetic though it may be. Why induce fundamental change when it is never solicited by those who pay the freight? Good regular seasons and another franchise scoring chase by Matthews is more than sufficient.
BRENDAN SHANAHAN MUST CONSTANLY CHUCKLE AT HOW EASY IT IS TO EXECUTE THE MLSE BUSINESS MODEL AND FOIST A PERENNIAL PLAYOFF LOSER ON FANS OF THE MAPLE LEAFS. NOTHING IN TORONTO SPORT REQUIRES LESS EFFORT. NOTHING GENERATES FEWER RESULTS.
Leafs Nation should be thrilled the team is moving into next season with five players gobbling up $54,153,000 of the marginally increased salary cap. Leaving all of $33,547,000 to put together an actual team; to allocate among the other 18 men. That equates to $1,863,722 per player… or enough to compensate a fourth–line reserve.
A Norris Trophy threat? Not important to the Leafs.
I’ll tell you one person who is smiling beneath the grass: Harold Ballard. Not since that buffoon ran the Leafs have fans and media been so readily played for fools. Many of Ballard’s teams, in fact, were more playoff–worthy than the current collection. Especially in the years with Salming, Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald, Tiger Williams and Ian Turnbull when no club could defeat the Montreal Canadiens. Good regular seasons and a bit of a playoff push easily sufficed. Even after a dismal season did the Ballard Leafs occasionally show character: 1986 and 1987 come to mind. Goalie Ken Wregget heated up in early April. The ’86 Leafs, coached by Dan Maloney, stunned Chicago with a first–round sweep after the Blackhawks had finished 29 points higher. The ’87 Leafs (32 wins, 70 points) knocked off St. Louis then came within a victory of eliminating Detroit and reaching the Cup semifinals.
The overpaid underachievers on the current team should be so fortunate.
SPORTSNET, OWNED BY THE LEAFS, CELEBRATES THE BIG SIGNING AFTER OUTRACING TSN.
Still to be asked by any of the brave souls in the mainstream media is why the Leafs continually bank on (and richly compensate) players that come up small when the stakes increase. Probably because reporters know the Leafs will fib their way through another easy exercise. Just sign your own people. It requires much less effort than replacing them with potentially better playoff performers. Shanahan, in particular, must enjoy the leisure accorded him by the big bosses at Rogers and Bell, which own 75% of MLSE. He somehow breezes from one season to the next, playoffs be damned. That’s a pretty good gig… if you can land it.
So long as ownership allows for such apathy, the Leafs will never change.
Nor will their Stanley Cup résumé. That is for certain.
“GET YOUR HOCKEY LINE–UPS!”…
Maple Leaf Gardens Centerspread Designs, 1936 to 1969
Some notable Maple Leaf Gardens hockey programs in my collection.
MAR. 19, 1936. A 2–2 TIE WITH BOSTON. EDDIE SHORE WAS STILL THE KINGPIN ON DEFENSE FOR THE BRUINS, JUST MORE THAN TWO YEARS AFTER ENDING THE CAREER OF LEAFS COUNTERPART IRVIN (ACE) BAILEY. THE “KID LINE” OF CONACHER, PRIMEAU AND JACKSON LED TORONTO TO THE STANLEY CUP FINAL, WHERE IT LOST TO DETROIT. KING CLANCY PLAYED DEFENSE FOR THE LEAFS.
MAR. 1, 1947. A 5–4 LOSS TO DETROIT. NHL ROSTERS, AFTER WORLD WAR II, RETURNED TO NORMAL. THE LEAFS, COACHED BY HAP DAY, WOULD WIN THEIR FIRST OF THREE CONSECUTIVE STANLEY CUPS. A ROOKIE NAMED GORDIE HOWE WORE NO. 17 FOR THE RED WINGS.
DEC. 29, 1956: DESPITE A 6–3 WIN OVER CHICAGO, THE LEAFS WERE MEDIOCRE, FINISHING OUT OF THE PLAYOFFS WITH A 21–34–15 MARK FOR 56 POINTS. BUT, PIECES WERE IN PLACE FOR THE 1960’s STANLEY CUP DYNASTY, INCLUDING TIM HORTON, GEORGE ARMSTRONG, DICK DUFF AND BOB PULFORD. FUTURE LEAFS COACH MIKE NYKOLUK PLAYED ON DEFENSE. HALL–OF–FAMERS FRANK MAHOVLICH (LEAFS) AND BOBBY HULL (BLACK HAWKS) WOULD DEBUT THE FOLLOWING SEASON.
NOV. 23, 1963: A 4–1 LOSS TO THE BRUINS THE DAY AFTER PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY WAS ASSASSINATED IN DALLAS. STILL THREE SEASONS BEFORE BOSTON WOULD BE RESCUED BY BOBBY ORR. LOTS OF FUTURE NHL COACHES ON HAND: AL ARBOUR, RED KELLY, GEORGE ARMSTRONG (BRIEFLY, IN 1988–89), RON STEWART, BILLY HARRIS, BOB PULFORD (TORONTO). ED JOHNSTON, TOM JOHNSON, MURRAY OLIVER (BOSTON). FORBES KENNEDY OF THE BRUINS WOULD ONE DAY BECOME LEGENDARY IN A MAPLE LEAFS UNIFORM. MOSTLY, FOR BAD REASONS.
JAN. 2, 1965: A 3–1 VICTORY OVER DETROIT. THE YEAR AFTER WINNING A THIRD CONSECUTIVE CHAMPIONSHIP, THE LEAFS WOULD LOSE TO MONTREAL IN THE CUP SEMIFINALS. COMPONENTS OF THE MONSTER TRADE (MAR. 3, 1968) BETWEEN THE TEAMS WERE IN PLACE: FRANK MAHOVLICH AND CARL BREWER (TORONTO); NORM ULLMAN, FLOYD SMITH, PAUL HENDERSON (DETROIT).
OCT. 29, 1966: A 3–3 TIE IN THE FIRST VISIT TO TORONTO BY BRUINS’ ROOKIE BOBBY ORR. NO ONE EXPECTED THE LEAFS TO WIN THE STANLEY CUP, BUT PUNCH IMLACH’S OLDSTERS CAME THROUGH YET AGAIN. AND, WHO OF VINTAGE CAN FORGET THE “PUT A TIGER IN YOUR TANK” ESSO ADS?
APR. 11, 1967: DESPITE LOSING GAME 3 OF THE SEMIFINALS TO THE HEAVILY FAVORED BLACK HAWKS, THE LEAFS WOULD REBOUND FOR A SHOCKING, SIX–GAME UPSET… THEN DO THE SAME TO MONTREAL IN THE TITLE ROUND. A MONTH LATER, PHIL ESPOSITO, KEN HODGE AND FRED STANFIELD WENT FROM CHICAGO TO BOSTON IN THE MOST–LOPSIDED TRADE OF ALL TIME.
OCT. 25, 1967: A 4–2 VICTORY OVER LOS ANGELES IN THE FIRST VISIT TO MAPLE LEAF GARDENS BY AN EXPANSION TEAM. KINGS’ COACH RED KELLY AND GOALIE TERRY SAWCHUK HAD BEEN VITAL COGS IN TORONTO’S STANLEY CUP TRIUMPH A HALF–YEAR EARLIER. FUTURE JUNIOR HOCKEY COACHING LEGEND BRIAN KILREA PLAYED CENTER FOR THE ORIGINAL L.A. TEAM.
NOV. 22, 1969: DESPITE A 4–0 SHUTOUT OVER DETROIT, DESINTIGRATION OF THE STANLEY CUP LEAFS WAS WELL UNDERWAY. JIM GREGORY AND JOHN McLELLAN WERE IN THEIR FIRST YEAR MANAGING AND COACHING, AFTER IMLACH HAD BEEN FIRED THE PREVIOUS APRIL. MAHOVLICH, BREWER, PETER STEMKOWSKI AND GARRY UNGER, ACQUIRED FROM THE LEAFS, WERE ALL PERFORMING WELL IN RED AND WHITE. PAT QUINN (23) WAS A ROOKIE TORONTO DEFENSEMAN.