Maple Leafs' Matt Stajan, Phil Kessel and Tomas Kaberle continue to be the talk of the town even though the team is struggling mightily. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)
Sometimes I get questions for my weekly Ask Adam mailbag that demand longer answers. Such was the case when Mitchell Foren of Halifax, N.S., submitted this earlier this week:
Hey Adam, I understand that the Maple Leafs are really bad this season, but I never remember a team in last place being talked about this much. Why?
Because they’re the Leafs, Mitch. And it will be ever thus until the NHL ceases to operate, whether you, I or anybody else finds it appropriate.
If Toronto is winning most of its games, just about all the talk on message boards and radio shows will be breathless and laden with expectations of imminent championship acquisition.
If they’re losing as often as they are these days, the NHL community will be bombarded with breakdowns of the Leafs’ deficiencies and intra-squad dramatics.
If they’re somewhere in-between those opposite extremes, the discussion points will center around the question of whether Toronto is on the verge of a return to the franchise’s heydays of the 1950s and ‘60s, or whether they’re bound to be atrocious for another season.
You’ll never be able to escape Leafs talk. For non-followers of the Blue & White, it’s like herpes of the ears and eyes: you can cope with it, perhaps even try and medicate it, but it’s never going away entirely. And it’s all because that organization is fortunate enough to have arguably the largest, most devoted fan base in the game today.
I grew up in Toronto in the ‘70s and ‘80s and just before our schoolteachers taught us daily to pronounce words in an Americanized manner, it was mandatory we memorized names such as Jiri Crha (not a comedy club in Prague, but a real-life former NHL goalie), Greg Terrion (the Matt Stajan of his day), and not one, but two Yaremchuks (Gary and Ken).
Would you find any of those dudes in the Hall of Fame? Only if they paid admission when they showed up at the gate. But we grew to love them anyway, because in Toronto, affection for the game is virtually organic; there’s no need to send players out into the community to drum up support and interest, because the drums start beating around here the moment the stork delivers you to your mom.
That said, it isn’t just Toronto that indoctrinates its citizens with love for its team. I’m sure that in Montreal, or pockets of the greater Manhattan/Boston/Chicago areas, nothing is as crucial as the performance of their collections of NHLers.
Unfortunately, no NHL city has the perfect combination of mass interest in their franchise and abundance of mass media outlets that Toronto does. If reporters are supposed to represent the fans, it’s no wonder the Leafs have a media gathering for every practice and game that shames the league’s other 29 locales.
There are more fans here than anywhere else, so there are more reporters here than anywhere else. That’s the easiest way to understand it. It may not be fair or ideal, but neither is the lifetime tenure afforded to certain NHL GMs.
(And please don’t mistake any of the above sentences to mean Torontonians are the most fervent hockey fans around; pathetic attendance at games featuring junior hockey players or the American League Marlies demonstrates this is a Leafs town, not a hockey town.)
We’re quite conscious to avoid being Toronto-centric at THN and I think we do a pretty solid job of it. But abjectly ignoring one of the largest segments of the hockey world wouldn’t make sense for either our business approach or our duty to cover stories that matter to people.
Leafs stories may not amount to squat in your opinion, but rest assured, they matter enough to enough other folks to justify blanket coverage of their every feat, fall, fart and footstep.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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