I grew up watching Leafs games with my father. We went to games whenever we could afford/find tickets, we watched the games while he called business clients and I did my homework and we got dressed up in our best blue and whites every playoff game.
I’m not going to pretend I love the Leafs because I respect the history or I identify with the players or any other BS like that. I like the Leafs because my dad liked the Leafs. I’ve been a Leafs fan as long as I can remember, and I plan on being one until 2067 when they finally win a Cup again.
So, it might be a surprise to say I’ll be cheering for the arch-rivals of the Leafs this Tuesday. You’ll be hearing calls of “tabernac!” and “vive le bleu-blanc-et-rouge” from my mouth on Tuesday night as a little part of me dies and I root for the enemy.
What could turn me to the darkside so completely? It’s pretty simple really – the Leafs need to sell, sell, sell. Quinn and the gang are putting on their game faces and saying they’re still gunning for the postseason, but I think even the most optimistic fan would have to admit a crushing defeat against the 8th place Habs would pretty much seal the deal for the Leafs playoff hopes. This season has been a total bust since Christmas and the Leafs have shown no signs of being a playoff team at all.
I was with JFJ at the start of the year. He was in a tough spot with no cap room, fan favourite players he had to dump and pressure from the top to sign a player with nothing left (Domi) because he was friends with the big boss. So, JFJ took a chance and signed some talented, but risky players to short term contracts. IF Allison could put up PPG numbers without being injured and IF Lindros could regain some of his old form and deliver some important goals and IF Belfour could continue to defy time and IF Czerkawski could chip in 20-30 goals…well, the Leafs could compete in the playoffs and after that – who knows? Now, obviously those are some big ifs…but I’d argue JFJ didn’t have much choice in the matter. He had no money to sign FA’s, he had almost no youth to bring in, and none to trade away. So, he gambled.
Obviously, he lost. But, it’s not the gamble I am upset with, it’s how the Leafs lost.
Problem 1: The Leafs can their respected medical staff. No reason is given, but a whole new squad comes in. There was a bit of an uproar at the time, but people ultimately decided it wasn’t a big deal. After listening to some insiders talk about it, I was pretty confused and upset about it. These were the guys who had kept a team full of over-the-hill players in the playoffs for years and years in a row. Why were they being let go?
Problem 2: The Leafs didn’t buy out Belfour. I can’t really pin this one on the management, because I don’t think it was ever a choice. From what I’ve heard (and what makes business sense), the money boys at MLSE told JFJ he buy out Nolan (if he won his case), but that was it. It just didn’t make sense to throw money away. But, the Leafs could have signed Cujo for 1/4 of Belfour’s salary and spent that other money on better FA’s.
Problem 3: This is the one that put me over the top. On December 12th (we’re talking MONTHS here) Lindros suffered a pretty basic wrist injury. “No biggie” everyone said. Just slice him up, fix it and he’ll be ready in 4-8 weeks for the rest of the season. During that time, we can save on the cap a bit and use the money to pay a decent player at the deadline. INSTEAD, the (new) medical staff either decides to use some crazy cast that everyone else knew wouldn’t work OR let Lindros decide the best course of action. EVERYONE said this was a stupid decision. Howard Berger from the Fan 590 was against it from day one. But, they go ahead with their cast and Lindros is out for 27 games…which is probably more than he would have missed had he just bit the bullet and had surgery. In any case, he comes back after the Olypmic break and plays three games and is now…OUT FOR THE SEASON.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but if I mess up that much at my job, I am GONE. The medical staff should be fired for such a massive blunder and I’d be taking JFJ with them for hiring them in the first place. This isn’t a 50/50 gamble that they lost…this is pure and completely wrong.
It’s not just losing Lindros that stings. It’s losing all that money and having him drop out less than a week before the trade deadline and with the Leafs basically out of it. Had he just done the surgery, the Leafs could have replaced him, and had him back now and maybe (yes, I realize it’s still only a maybe) been in the hunt for the playoffs.
I was at the game in Buffalo (had a fantastic time despite the brutal loss) and the Leafs have clearly given up this year. They played awful, there was no chemistry and they weren’t working for basically the entire first and third periods. This team is done. There is no key FA they need to add to make that 8th spot in the East. There is no magic bullet to get the skilled guys like Sundin back to where they should be. It’s not a matter of firing Quinn and getting someome else to motivate the team. They are simply finished for the year.
Yet, I am still hearing talk of being BUYERS! It’s insane.
So, I am hoping for a 10-0 blowout of the team I grew up loving and probably always will to the team I grew up hating and probably always will.
I hope they get absolutely destroyed in all areas of the game and are 10 points out of 8th. Only then do I think the Leafs will finally do the right thing and sell of anyone who isn’t Karberle, Steen, Wellwood, Stajan, Poni or their young goalies. Gone is Belfour, Sundin, McCabe (he won’t resign), Allison, even Tucker who has been the only guy who’s showed up this year. If you can get a bag of pucks for Berg or Antropov – take it.
Get as many picks and prospects as you can, sign some good leaders and role players in the off-season and stink it up next year. But, build from there.
Here’s to the Habs on tuesday night. May your game-watching experience be filled with spitting out poutine in joy as Koivu scores his 5th goal and waving your blue, red and white flag as Huet gets his shutout.
2067 isn’t looking so far away.