Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Toronto Maple Leafs Win the Stanley Cup – Just Kidding -- You Can Start Breathing Again

Last night, one of the oldest running jokes in Canada’s biggest city changed – for a brief moment.

Toronto’s National Hockey League (NHL) team, The Toronto Maple Leafs had a complete shut-out game – the opposing team didn’t score a single goal.

This isn’t the first time the city’s hometown team had a shut-out victory – last time was in 2002 – but the fans of Canada’s national game were all buzzing with anticipation – could this be THE YEAR?

“The year” being the first time in over four-decades that the Toronto Maple Leafs win the ultimate prize at the end of the season, the league championship trophy – the Stanley Cup.

Although last night’s game was an amazing victory for the ailing team, it was expected.

The team has made significant player moves over the past few days, resulting in a shakeup of the key players. In all professional sports, from baseball, football and soccer, to hockey, whenever there are significant changes to a team, regardless of who was moved out or in, the next few games are usually amazing victories.

This has more to do with the excitement, energy and need for the new players to prove their multimillion dollar contracts are worth all those digits, than anything else.

In 1989, Toronto’s professional baseball franchise, The Toronto Blue Jays, brought in veteran center fielder Mookie Wilson to lift the teams spirits and scores. At first it worked, and fans began chanting “Moookie” to cheer on their new fan favorite. But as the excitement of the moment faded, so too did Wilson who played his last Major League Baseball game as a Toronto Blue Jay on October 6, 1991, never making the championship team which won back-to-back World Series in 1992 and 1993.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have had some big player trades over the past four decades, yet despite a loyal fan base, they never go all the way to the championships.

This has lead the hockey team to being something of an anti-hero joke to Torontonians. At the start of every hockey season the local media asks people on the streets if the ‘Leafs’ will win the Stanley Cup, and every year most think they will. And as the hockey season winds down and the Toronto Maple Leafs play their last game, many Toronto fans say are left saying “maybe next year.”

Hockey is Canada’s national sport – officially if you read up about it, it is actually curling, but there isn’t enough violence in curling to warm the hearts and minds of us peace-loving Canadians. When was the last time you heard of a bench clearing brawl in a curling match?


From the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) classic coverage of Hockey Night in Canada with the always loudly dressed and loudly opinionated Don Cherry, from coast-to-coast-to-coast, hockey is Canada’s game.

If hockey hadn’t captured our nation as much as it had, the Toronto Maple Leafs would have folded as a business long ago.

In professional sport, it isn’t whether you win or lose that matters. What does matter is fan support – if no one pays the high prices to go to the games, or pay outrageous dollars on overpriced team merchandise like hats, jerseys and bobbleheads, then the team fails as a business, and closes.

That’s what happened to Montreal’s professional baseball team – the Montreal Expos – remember them? They were even winning towards the end, with rumors of a possible playoff of America’s past time (baseball) solely happening in Canada between the Montreal Expos and the Toronto Blue Jays in the early 1990’s.

But sadly, Montreal sports fans were more into hockey than baseball, and as fewer and fewer people went to Montreal’s baseball games, eventually the team just died. The Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals in 2005.

Which brings us back to Toronto’s professional hockey team – The Toronto Maple Leafs. They haven’t had a winning season in over forty-years, yet they bring in the big bucks thanks to loyal (though somewhat misguided) fans.

Those loyal Toronto Maple Leafs fans make the team the most valuable one in the NHL – the team is worth an estimated $470 million, the league’s next most valuable teams are the New York Ranges and the Montreal Canadiens respectively.

Every so often, the owners of the Toronto Maple Leafs see fit to inject some money back into the team, and we end up with a handful of new star players, raising team and fan spirits alike.

But these team changes are really nothing more than clever ploys to keep fans and players interested, instead of actually playing to win. If the later were the case, then the ‘Leafs’ would have won Lord Stanley’s prestigious cup more frequently. The last time the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup was 1967 – that’s 43-years ago!

It has been so long since Toronto’s professional hockey team has won the championship that if they were to win it ever again, the world were surely stop spinning and we’d all be thrown off. Or at least, that would be the sensation for fans, players and even those who don’t follow the game but know of the Toronto Maple Leafs and their history of failure.

And that is what it is – a history of failure because let’s face it, in professional sport, where millions of dollars are at stake, the object of the game is to win the championship. It isn’t quite like your kid’s hockey league, where healthy fun in a team-building atmosphere teaches life lessons. In professional sport everything comes to dollars for the victor, and coal for the loser.

Despite the winning mood inspired by recent trades in Toronto, The Maple Leafs will end their season just as they have for 43-years – with nothing more than lumps of coal.

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