The Toronto Maple Leafs are the most financially successful team in the NHL. The Leafs are more valuable than the 5 least rich teams in the league. They are worth an estimated 1.15 billion dollars, and are the only NHL team worth more than a billion. However, the Toronto Maple Leafs have not won the Stanley Cup in 47 years. The irony of the Leafs having such monetary success with so little on the ice is staggering. An organization which virtually sells out every game and has the financial power to make itself one of the most well equipped elite franchises in all of sports. Even in a salary cap based system. A team who has just has failed to achieve hockey’s ultimate goal for so long. Why have the Leafs failed like they have? Why are they on the end of so many jokes? ESPN recently ranked them to be the worst franchise in North America of all of the major 4 sports leagues, are they?
Although some may answer that they just plain “suck”, or they do not care about winning because they are purely motivated by money, the real reason may be more complex. A sports franchise is a business. They have a management group who manufactures a product which they attempt to sell to customers. There is a front office, a team and fans. Additionally, something they don’t have in common with all businesses, including some in the same league, is that there is a portion of the media devoted to scrutinizing them to near tabloid proportions.
The Front Office
A great amount of the responsibility may fall on the people who have put together the Maple Leaf’s teams for the last 47 years. There have been many different General Mangers, Coaches, Scouts and Hockey Experts of all kinds who have failed to ice a team which was able to win the cup. Although the front office at times has made horrible decisions, they have been able to produce teams which may have been capable of winning it all that simply failed to do so.
The Leaf’s brass have made some horrible trades which have had a huge impact on the direction of the team. There are many elite level players who could have been Leafs if it was not for questionable trades since 1967. A couple of current NHL players who could be Leafs if the team did not make impulsive moves include Tuuka Rask, Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton. Although the jury is still out on the Kessel trade, the Rask trade is one that may have been truly consequential. What if Rask was in net for the Leafs instead of Reimer against the Bruins? The silver lining is that maybe the Leafs have learned from the mistakes of the past. It is easy to focus on the negatives but the Leafs have also made good transactions, especially recently, and they do seem to have turned a corner with respect to not moving young players and mortgaging the future.
The players have come in many different shapes and sizes but one thing they all have in common is they have failed to win the Stanley Cup for the Maple Leafs since 1967. Are the players who suit up for the Blue and White typically not as motivated as those for more successful teams? Are they less talented? Is the celebrity aspect of playing in the market too much for the stereotypical modest hockey player to handle?
Over a 47 year period a team is going to have it’s share of good and bad players no matter the franchise, it would be difficult to say that over the last 47 years there has not been a group of players for the Leafs who were talented enough to win the Cup. They just failed to do so. However, playing in Toronto has to be a unique experience for any player, especially if that player grew up as a Leafs fan or in the Toronto area. One way it is different than any other franchise except for maybe Montreal is that on a daily basis, the players are recognized by fans more than they would if they were playing for another franchise. The attention a Maple Leaf player has on a daily basis could be a good or bad thing, if things are going well the fans that they speak to are going to be positive, but if things are going well they are going to hear about which could really dish a blow to their confidence, a confidence that is essential for the success of an athlete.
A certain amount of accountability does fall on the shoulders of the players as it is their job to win. There are a plethora of reasons why they may have failed to do so but moving forward they need to make an effort to recognize not only the positive affects of playing for the Leafs but also the factors which may be detrimental to their game and adjust accordingly.
The fans of the Maple Leafs may not literally bleed blue, but they are willing to bleed for their favorite team. A more loyal following for a sports team may not exist. Through the good and the bad ,but mainly the awful, the fans still cannot get enough of their Leafs. The fans are the reason why the Leafs are the most successful team financially but they may also be contributing to the lack of success on the ice.
There is something unique about being a Leafs fan, imagine waking up every morning and knowing your day was going to be great until about 7 o’clock PM, at which point Chuck Liddel was going to punch you in your face. Well, that’s what being a Leafs fan is all about. Some would call it insanity but there is more to it than that. Leafs fans are loyal and patient and they know that one day Chuck Liddel is going to trip, fall and break his leg on route to the daily face punching. That is when possibly the most glorious moment in all of sports will occur and the Toronto Maple Leafs will win the Stanley Cup. Until then fans need to remember that the players are humans too and as much as they may want to crucify a certain player on any given day of the week they have to try to be patient, supportive and most of all positive because the players are aware of their mistakes and they are also aware of what a Stanley Cup would mean to the city of Toronto. Although sometimes it may not seem like it sometimes, they want it as bad as the fans do.
How many times has Phil Kessel skated this off-season? Did Phil Kessel disagree with one of his coaches? How many waffles did Phil Kessel have for breakfast today? The media following for the Leafs has reached a point where it is at times more similar to the tabloid than it is to a credible news source. Although most of the Leafs reporters are decent, honest reporters, the few who are not seem to get the most attention. Part of the reason they may report on some of the ridiculous things they do is because they are not concerned with the success of the team. They are concerned with generating a buzz and are willing to say anything to create that buzz because it makes them and their bosses money.
This lack of regard from the media could be more consequential than some would think. It may cause enough extra pressure on the players and managers to be considered a common factor for the lack of the success for the Leafs. Additionally, it causes impressionable fans to formulate opinions which do not always make sense. The players do see the headlines, as do the coaches, managers, and fans. When things are going well it might boost their confidence, but it could also overly inflate egos. When things do not go well it could also hurt their confidence more than on other teams.
The Leafs have not been successful in far too long. Overall there is more than one reason for the drought, it is probably a mixture of the players, management, fans, and media. Until the Leafs finally win their next Stanley Cup there will be doubt as to whether the team really is a legendary franchise. They have the resources and support, they just need to take the next step as an organization and commit to being successful. They cannot overreact as they have have in the past and make impulsive moves, they cannot give up on their young talent and mortgage the future, and they must do everything in their power to create an advantage on and off the ice. If the Leafs are the most successful organization financially as they have been so unsuccessful on the ice, the potential for the franchise once they succeed on the ice is boundless. What would you do to fix the Leafs?
Cover photo: (Getty Images – Joel Auerbach via Getty Images)