The Toronto Maple Leafs enjoy one of the most passionate fan bases in all of sports, but fans are sick and tired of the heartbreak. It’s been 16 years since they won a series. Enough’s enough.
However, as any Leafs fan will tell you, this particular wound is picked often enough to assure no healing occurs. For the fourth straight year, the Leafs have failed to win a series – all be it a five-game qualifying round this time around.
It was a frustrating, slow affair against the Blue Jackets, as the Leafs failed to score a goal in two of their three losses. Both shutouts were recorded by Joonas Korpisalo, who is quickly making a name for himself in these playoffs.
Korpisalo’s play devastated Leafs nation during Game 5, as Columbus held a 1-0 lead deep into the third. The Leafs core were unable to crack the Finn, undone yet again by their own impotence when it mattered most.
For fans who bleed blue, it’s a familiar refrain.
Whether you count the qualifying round as “playoffs” or not, the fact remains – the Leafs have not won a series (any series) since 2004. That is a lifetime ago for some, and a painfully dull memory for others. Not because it did not have flare and panache (it did), but because it just seemed ‘normal’ back then. Trust me. I was there.
Back then, the Toronto Maple Leafs won things. Sure, we never saw the boys in blue make it all the way to a Stanley Cup final, but it wasn’t out of the question to see them a mere four games away.
You could count on slapping around Daniel Alfredson’s Senators a bit (short-side, Patrick Lalime) and then you would face New Jersey..Philadelphia..Buffalo..one of the other perennial contenders.
Sometimes, like in 1999 (my absolute earliest memory as a Leafs fan) and 2002, the team would actually make the conference final! In both those cases, our opponent lost the final, and that in itself was a fun talk at recess, or around the dinner table – did that mean we could have done better, or did their loss mean we would have gotten smashed too? It was a fun time.
Sure, we never “won it all”, but Toronto hasn’t won it all in over 50 years. If THAT’S your bar, you might as well pick another team, bud. Leafs nation learned long ago – you’re not getting parades like some other cities. Toronto ain’t “title town”.
Or is it? The average Toronto sports fan has seen Toronto FC hoist an MLS cup, and make a couple more finals while they’re at it.
Fans have seen the Argonauts win a Grey Cup, and millions pack the streets for a Raptors parade. They even saw the Blue Jays play in back-to-back ALCS’s.
And those aren’t distant memories, told to the young by cynical, weathered sports fans through misty eyes. These all happened in the last five years.
What have the Leafs done in those five years?
- 2017-First round loss to the Capitals
- 2018-First round loss to the Bruins
- 2019-First round loss to the Bruins
- 2020-Qualifying round loss to the Blue Jackets
Lets face it Leafs nation – we’ve got Stockholm syndrome. We’re in an abusive relationship, and we can’t get out. Our captors own our hearts – and we can’t find the strength to quit them.
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However, it doesn’t mean we can’t be angry. It doesn’t mean we can’t ridicule this team. And it doesn’t mean we have to keep peddling this bizarre narrative that we’re “close.”
The Toronto Maple Leafs, as constructed, are losers. Pure and simple. You can get angry at that label all you want, but if you never win anything – you are, by definition, a loser.
The Kyle Dubas philosophy has failed. There is no logical reason to believe that next season will be any different, not while four players demand essentially half of the salary cap.
It turns out, running a National Hockey League team like a teenager runs his NHL 20 franchise, (when he knows full well he’s just going to get the new game next year) isn’t a recipe for success in this league. The lack of planning ahead has come back to bite Dubas, and made it a foregone conclusion that one of the four has to be moved.
The cap is not going up for a good few years thanks to this entire Covid-19 situation and the relief Dubas was foolishly banking on is not coming. To be fair to him, there’s not much he can do; he’s painted himself into such a corner that the actual playbook of possibilities is pretty small.
Still, it would be unfair to say that the fault lies only in the executive box. These players have under-performed yet again, falling apart when it mattered most– an elimination game.
And the excuses? The pathetic, bending over backwards explanations of why this continues to happen? They’re just the texts you hide from your friends, pretending everything’s alright.
“Oh, but they’re young.” Nonsense. That would made sense in 2017, when the likes of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander were playing in their first playoff series ever. We’re well passed that now –we’re two Game 7s passed that. They got plenty of experience.
“Oh, but they just ran into a hot goalie.” Hello? This is hockey. Every single year, someone runs into a hot goalie. If you can’t overcome that, you’re not going to win.
“Oh, but Mike Babcock..” He’s been gone a long time. Everyone loved blaming everything on Babock – THIS is not on him.
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“Oh, but Sheldon Keefe needs a full year.” Mike Sullivan was hired mid season and the Penguins won the cup. Try again.
“Oh, but it was such a weird situation…” …that everyone is experiencing, not just Toronto.
“Oh, but they were unlucky.”
“Oh, but that should have been a penalty.”
“Oh, but there were no fans…”
Garbage. It’s all garbage. Like this team has been, for almost a decade.
We all buy the jerseys, the cups, the mugs, the coasters, the hats, and we let them wiggle their way into our hearts every April. Every April, this is the year. It never is.
And yet? I can’t quit them. And you can’t either.
How long did Liverpool wait, before winning the Premier League this year? How long was the Cubs’ drought, before the north side of Chicago got to celebrate a World Series?
This is what being a loyal fan is. We open ourselves to them every season, expecting that this year will be the year. We stick with them through thick and thin, no matter how many times they tear our still-beating heart from our chest. No matter how many times they lose a Game 7 to Boston, no matter how many times the stars play like a bunch of peewees, we take it, and we’re back next year, new jersey and all.
All I’m saying is – you don’t have to like it.