Tuesday, 14 May 2013

6 Takeaways from Leafs Loss

Well, last night wasn't as great as it could have been. With the long summer just beginning for Leafs Nation, I thought I'd offer some advice to help fans cope with disappointment.

1. Block out the haters

Here I'm talking about people who never say anything about the NHL unless it’s to mock the Leafs. These people reveled in the Leafs' loss last night just because they hate the team. 

Bruins fans were classy, and I can understand some of them getting carried away (as I’m sure I would had the Leafs won) and rubbing in the win. I can understand that Sens and Habs fans delighted in the Leafs' woes because of team rivalries. At least those people are acting out of a love for their teams. But the people who pick a team to hate for no reason are doing the whole fan thing wrong. 

Maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps I should consider picking a team in a sport that I don't follow and hate irrationally all summer long. Soccer, I'm looking at you. 

It seems that these anti-Leafs fanatics are like people who don't care about nature but hate on Canada Geese, calling them part-time Canadians, fair-weather flocks, snow cowards, and other things that sound kind of racist but (as far as you can tell) can't be construed as racial slurs because they're applied to birds.

I'm not going to tell the haters to get a life. I'd rather see them get a team (hopefully an odd one) and start a rivalry with the Leafs. Wouldn't it be great to read stuff from a Lightning fan who considers the Leafs to be the bane of Tampa Bay's existence?

2. Don't let Golf get you down

Fans of hating the Leafs and fans of other teams often deride the blue-and-white for golfing in the summer. As the team's season nears its end, you inevitably hear someone say, “Golf Leafs Golf!” 

This is a baffling aspect of Leaf-loathing because they're essentially being mocked for having a vacation. Are there any other examples of a person's vacation plans being a source of ridicule? Could you imagine making some photocopies at work and then hearing someone chant "golf Steve golf!" behind your back? Are you supposed to feel hurt by them taunting you with your trip's itinerary? 

Also, what else are the Leafs supposed to do? Should they have grabbed the refs by their collars last night and said, “No, we're not quitting. We’re gonna stick it out and keep playing overtime until we tie things up—for the fans!”

Do the fans of hating the Leafs think that the team is giving up on their jobs by having the same break that all teams (even the cup champs at some point) will have? Do fans of other teams think that the Leafs are abandoning their supporters by hitting the green? Perhaps other teams have to billet players in the households of fans during the offseason to curb expenses. Personally, I don't feel rejected when Kessel plays golf this summer instead of crashing on my couch. 

Those who sling golf-related jeers are like people who would point to Canada Geese drinking out of a river and say the following: 

Hater: Look at those big-beak-having birds coming back here to drink water from a scenic river on a splendid summer afternoon like a bunch of jerks! 
Friend: Yeah, but don’t all the birds around here drink from that river in the summer?
Hater: Yeah, but Canada Geese do it because they suck!

3. Put "Canada's team" to rest

Last night, fans of a Leafs’ rival (let's just call them "Sabres fans" for argument's sake) said things to the effect of, “I hate your team and being a fan of mine means hating yours. Nevertheless, you have to cheer for my team now as our country’s team or else you hate Canada.”

We all know that the country isn’t going to rally around a rival, so why do we obsess over this issue? Isn't hockey Canada’s game? If so, doesn't that mean all the teams to some extent (at least on account of the numerous Canadians working at all levels of their hockey operations) are Canadian? 

Shouldn’t the Pittsburgh Penguins be the most Canadian team since the scorers of the golden goal in the 2010 Olympics play there? Speaking of which, shouldn't we shelve all talk of “Canada’s team” since we’re less than a year away from cheering for Team Canada at the 2014 Olympics?

I’ve never heard Americans discuss (when the Jays and Raptors are out of the room) which MLB or NBA team is America’s team. It seems like their Americanness goes unquestioned.

Well, except for one (now-defunct) MLB team. 

So why are Canadians obsessed with this idea that one of our teams somehow embodies our national identity (good luck defining THAT btw) than others? 

Compounding the impossible task of figuring out which team represents Canada in general is the fact that 3/7 teams are named after Canadians or symbols of Canada while another represents a longstanding institution of the Canadian government.

 I am, of course, referring to the Medicine Hat "First-Past-the-Posts" who use the unfortunate team slogan, "We'll represent proportions in your face!"

The other three teams seem vaguely related to Canada: the Winnipeg Jets refer to what we use to get a "Canada" Goose eye's view of this great land. The Edmonton Oilers represent this country's longstanding tradition of infuriating nature conversationalists. And the Flames remind us that General Sherman’s Burning of Atlanta during the Civil War is important to Georgians and Calgarians alike. 

Not that each team needs to reflect Canadian national or even Canadian regional identities; I’m fine with a team naming themselves after Polkaroo if they want. It's the whole “Canada’s team” trope that brings up these sorts of (unnecessary) probing questions into which team best embodies Canadianness. 

I can already hear refs telling a team calling for a penalty as follows: “Too many men? Who, that Polkaroo? I didn’t see him on the ice. Well, maybe I’ll see him next time. Now go to the bench, ya baby.”

4. Don't try to disentangle the narrative

First we all expected that the Leafs would get swept. Then we thought they’d be defeated respectably. Then it seemed like the underdog would have its day. And then, on the last game, the narrative turned into the Leafs' meltdown caused them to miss an almost guaranteed spot (judging by the score in the 3rd period) in the 2nd round. 

While it’s true that the Leafs tanked in the third, we should probably keep in mind that this is the same Leafs team that gave up leads and let the Bruins back into games throughout the series. 

Some reporters have reminded us that a close game is preferable to a blowout, but I question that logic. A blowout would be harder to sit through in its entirety, but it would at least clean up the narrative by letting us conclude that the Leafs' storybook/underdog/Dickensian-orphan tale finally ended as the team crashed back to earth. (Side note: Dickens' novel Oliver Twist was originally about space orphans.) 

Without that ending, the narrative goes like this: the epic collapse of a team that was doomed to get swept by Boston but managed to hold off elimination twice and not only get back in but lead the series for 33 regulation minutes of the final game only to blow their Cinderella story by handing a team (heavily favoured to win this series until they became the underdog in one period) after once again playing like the team that we never thought had a chance in the first place. Yikes!

Maybe Sylvester Stallone can make sense of this story by making it into Rocky 7.

5. Keep the loss in perspective--emotional, not historical

The problem with reports dubbing this game a "historic loss" for the Leafs is that we're really talking about records and stats instead of history. Sure, something happened that hadn’t happened before, but that doesn’t make the event historical. At one time, no one had fallen off of a boat due to the sheer lack of boats off of which a person could fall. The first instance of a guy falling off a boat isn't a historical event. At one point, no team had ever made a comeback after being down one goal in the playoffs, but that kind of thing is so commonplace now that we don't consider the first instance of it to be a historic event.

Now I don’t mean to undermine the Bruins’ accomplishment: just the sense that it’s one for the ages. I'm quibbling with this aspect of the narrative because I’m not willing to swallow the underlying notion that this Leafs team historically sucked. 

So, let’s be clear on the basics: the Bruins pulled off an amazing comeback. They dug deep and found the will to win while the Leafs wilted. The Bruins proved once again that we should never count a team out in the playoffs and that no lead is safe in the playoffs.

In fact, we saw a 3-goal lead in the 3rd period evaporate in game 2 of the Ducks-Red Wings series. Did anyone check to see if that was historical?

But to make their accomplishment seem historical requires a lot of qualifiers. This is the first time in NHL (not sports or even hockey history) to overcome a three-goal deficit in a game 7 of the playoffs. NHL teams have overcome three-goal deficits in other periods (and even in 3rd periods of "non-game 7" playoff games). This month, that same team will become the first team in NHL history to win or lose a series after making up a 3-goal deficit in the 3rd period of a game 7 in the previous series. 

I'm not just talking about the Leafs here but every team that has been chastised for a poor record. The Senators, for example, hold the worst away record in NHL history (1 win and 41 losses in the 1992-93 season. In the realm of probabilities, every team will meet and exceed this same record if the league operates ad infinitum. So, is one team's previous futility historical because no other team has lost more away games in a single season up to this point? Based on the fact that we've seen 3-goal leads evaporate in the playoffs before, another team will blow this or even a greater lead at some time if the league operates long enough for this probability to occur.

So the loss was an unexpected, heart-breaking, defeat for the Leafs and fans, and an a breath-taking, inspiring comeback for Bruins fans. Let’s leave history out of it. Historical events usually refer to things that aren't repeatable, so if you want a historical comeback, check out the British rallying against the Nazis during the Battle of Britain.

6. Look on the bright side

Someday the hockey gods will smile again on Toronto.

For me, the end of the playoffs means that my dog and neighbors will be able to enjoy quiet evenings at home once again. But the Leafs and their fans in general should probably feel somewhat relieved that the team is out of the playoffs.

MLSE just hired Tim Leiweke to help win a cup for Toronto. How awkward would it have been to arrive just in time to see the team that supposedly needed his help win a champtionship before he's had a chance to apologize to fans for the team's past and current suckery?

Dave Nonis should be particularly relieved because winning the cup right now would be an embarrassment for him. Everyone knows that this is Burke's team. Nonis has tinkered with it a bit, but he hasn't done enough to make it his own yet. Commentators would never have let him live down the fact that Burke's name should have been on the cup had this team won it all. 

MLSE is probably relieved because the Leafs loss justifies Burke's firing. With this team having shown improvement but still failing to get deeper into the playoffs, MLSE has proof that Burke wasn’t getting the job done and Nonis has a mandate to improve the club.

Leafs Nation should be somewhat content with the results because rival fans would never let us enjoy being champions had the Leafs won the cup this year. Leafs fans can come up with every argument to support the idea that winning in a shortened season is as hard if not harder than winning any other year, but rival fans and haters would just smile disdainfully as all the arguments were well unfolded (with a slew of peer-reviewed secondary sources and footnotes) and then simply say (and then repeat again if the "argument" continues), "Sorry, it still doesn't count. Leafs suck." 

There's absolutely no winning this "debate" because it isn't really a debate but a conversation in which one person gives arguments and the other simply disregards them and restates his or her point. That’s why political debates don’t end like this: “Come to think of it, my opponent is right: I do not have enough experience to do this job, and my principles are generally bad for the country. I would like to withdraw my candidacy and cancel the election.” 


  1. "And the Flames remind us that General Sherman’s Burning of Atlanta during the Civil War is important to Georgians and Calgarians alike."

    Well done.

    1. Thanks, man! I appreciate the feedback.