Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier bats a puck away against the Minnesota Wild. (Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
The Toronto Maple Leafs had their worst-ever attended game at Air Canada Centre when they took on Minnesota Monday night. But don't take that to mean Leafs fans will abandon their beloved Blue-and-White heroes. Not happening, people.
As evidenced by the Maple Leafs' 2-1 loss to Minnesota Monday – their 11th defeat in the past 13 games – they're staggering to the conclusion of the 2014-15 season. And with news the team failed to sell out the Air Canada Centre for the Wild's visit with the lowest attendance for hockey (18,366) since that building opened in 1999, it's clear fans in Toronto are tired of seeing them.
But don't take that to mean Leafs fans are about to abandon this organization. There may be a handful of non-sellouts here and there (including a potential back-to-back non-sellout when Florida comes to town on Thursday), but this will not be Chicago in the dark Bill Wirtz years. The team has been smart enough to recognize how ludicrous a ticket price increase would look after this debacle of a season, so they've announced they're freezing prices at current rates. And as team president Brendan Shanahan's plan becomes more apparent in the months and years to come, fans will find reasons to fill the rink to the ACC's officially listed 18,800-seat capacity for hockey games.
The one thing you can't drain a Leafs fan of is hope. For the better part of the past half-century, they have radiated hope – and often in eras when they really had no right to. They're aching to find some reason to feel good about the franchise every second of every day, and as the team trudges through a full-fledged rebuild, they're going to scour every corner of every player on or in the vicinity of the roster for the faintest trace of upside. This is not a criticism. This is an acknowledgement of the depth of the love they have for their team.
So whether it's 2014 first round draft pick William Nylander making his way through the system, 2013 first-rounder Frederik Gauthier getting a shot, or young components such as defenseman Stuart Percy or newly-signed NCAA star Casey Bailey having the chance to blossom before their eyes, there will always be a reason for fans to remain interested in getting out to a game. Leafs fans are all-in, always.
As the nights on the ice in Toronto are long and the joys short for the next couple years, ticket scalpers may not be able to soak Leafs fans for all they're worth, and I'm sure everyone reading these words share my deepest sympathy for the vult...gentlemen. But Toronto fans give off hope like human beings give off carbon dioxide. You can break their hearts just about any way you please, and they're still going to pick up the remains and reassemble them in anticipation that one year, eventually, that faith will be rewarded, and nothing will ever taste sweeter.
That insatiable desire to end a 48-year Stanley Cup drought is the foundation Leafs ownership has built a fortune upon. That's what will forever be in great supply to this franchise. That's what will keep Toronto's fans coming back next year, and the year after that, and the year thereafter, whether or not any particular Leafs roster is deserving of the devotion.