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Let’s try to get excited about this loser hockey team

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Friends, I have a confession. I don’t have the sunniest character. I physically own several Radiohead albums. I watch action movies and count all the times the main character should have been killed. My favorite superhero is Eeyore. You get it.

This actually fits pretty well with being a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. It means I’m prepared. When the Leafs inevitably collapse and crush the hopes of everyone who supported them, at least I get the grim satisfaction of expecting it. I shout I KNEW IT ALL like an angry relative at the conclusion of a British murder mystery: yes, the victim (my dreams) is still dead, but at least it’s some sort of justification.

The problem is that the pendulum has swung too far this time. A 3-1 lead over the Montreal Canadiens, and wasting what was probably their best shot at a cup in years to come, is a notable failure, even for this renegade failure committee masquerading as a hockey team. Even the true believers struggle to get excited for this season. For once, all Leaf fans seem to be as miserable as I usually feel.

This is not funny. It’s also a really bad way to be in September. Goods used for the team that imploded in the form of a clown shoe in April or May, but now the spring failures have become so comically stupid that they have escaped the limits of their usual season and infect us in the fall. That is a problem. Hockey is important in this country because the weather has been totally shit for about five consecutive months. If we don’t have a game on Tuesday against the Sens in January to distract us from the fact that it’s minus a billion outside and the sunset happened at lunchtime, what have we got? Nothing!

Desperate times call for desperate measures. So despite my general distaste for, you know, joy, let’s find reasons for the Toronto Maple Leafs season.

1. Hockey is a fundamentally unfair crap ruled by evil gods.

Now you could say it doesn’t make you feel better. And yes, the evil gods have been out to get us before. For example, when Joonas Korpisalo topped Dominik Hasek during five games against the Leafs in 2020. How could a bunch of great attacking players forget to score? Yes, sure, gripping sticks too tight, choking artists, swapping everyone etc. But it was also just a really crappy result. Ditto for the Leafs who lose a series to the Habs while outscoring them 18-14. that is strange! why did it to happen? not me to get the! I’m so confused and fierce I am write in intermittent italics!

Sorry. Like I said, the Leafs have been on the wrong side of these dice for so long that it’s hard not to see more than blind luck at play. And maybe there is. But the fact remains that a single puck from a skate at the right time could have waved off one of the last two series. In a game that focuses on the movements of vulcanized rubber on an ice sheet, improbable things aren’t so improbable after all. Just because there is so much beyond human control of hockey, it’s entirely possible that the Leafs limp into the playoffs, play worse than they’ve done for the past five years and still win a series.

Blind luck has long been the foe of the Leafs. But despite how it feels, it’s blind, and it’s just as possible for Toronto to make these things happen to them the bad that happens to someone else.

2. Ending curses.

At this point I understand if you don’t buy. Yes, luck can go either way, but the Leafs have failed so many times in such seemingly safe situations that even rational fans have to wonder if they pissed off a dead pharaoh or something. You could be forgiven for wondering if an annual loss streak that goes on for so long can ever end.

It’s possible.

The Washington Capitals tended to stumble in the second round and not in the first, but they still spent twelve years with Alex Ovechkin, the greatest goalscorer of all time, not interested in other perspectives, thanks for crossing their big hurdle came. Then they won a cup. At least that should give some hope to teams built around snipers born on September 17th.

There are other examples. The St. Louis Blues, which fell prey to goalkeeping failure for most of my adult life before Jordan Binnington showed up? Cup in 2019. Go beyond hockey to baseball, where the legendary curses used to live: the Chicago Cubs (!) finally won after 108 tormented years in 2016. The Boston Red Sox broke through an 86-year drought in 2004 and advanced to the true fate of all Boston sports teams, and that is a lot of undeserved success.

Nothing is forever. Even the Leafs aren’t bad. Now, of course, we may have been in the midst of a cup drought that will last 300 years, but we… power not be.

3. They’re still pretty good.

That’s partly why they’re so frustrating. But the Leafs have the best defense in the top four they’ve had since the 2005 lockout. There were teams there that I was pretty sure the Leafs were playing a balloon animal at 1D. We have a tandem of goalkeepers who were both good last year; in the late years we had tandems I wouldn’t have trusted to save a Word document. Above all…

We’ve got some really good strikers, and yes, let’s go straight to him. Mitch Marner is a really good player. I know your soul screams his eight-figure salary, I know he made a Casper the Friendly Ghost impression in the playoffs at the end, and he’s a really good player. I know many of us wanted to trade him for another star and some of us wanted to trade him for peanuts and yet the last line about his evaluation has to be: he’s a really good player.

If the worst mistake in Kyle Dubas’ tenure is paying too much money to the best playmaker the team has had in years, then for all our grief, we’re in a world of luxurious troubles. There will be times this season when Mitch Marner makes a pass that could make ten other men on the planet, and there will be times when Auston Matthews fires off a snapshot that perhaps no one else on Earth can match. That’s not a win in the playoffs. It’s still something most teams never get.

4. …and we’ve seen worse.

Frustrating as they are, and my God they are so damn frustrating that sometimes I want to move this team to the goddamn moon, this Leafs team is a lot more fun than recent models from the same brand.

Remember when our 1D was Dion Phaneuf? Remember when we played Dave Steckel as our frontline center because he won face-offs? Remember when Randy Carlyle failed to operate a toaster? Remember that time when some random fan threw waffles on the ice cream and we thought, yeah, that makes sense, they deserve to throw breakfast food at them? Remember when we had a controversy similar to the Watergate scandal because the team didn’t greet fans after a game? Remember when Joffrey Lupul played well and then got injured and then played well and then got injured and then he was fine, do you get the point? Don’t remember the Leafs ironically trade in to draft future Nottingham Panthers depth forward Tyler Biggs in the first round? To remember [Editors note: 5000 additional words have been deleted from this paragraph.]

I’ve never been one for all the daily affirmations stuff, but if I did, I’d wake up every morning, look in the mirror, and say at least I’m not looking at Keith Aulie anymore.

5. Were still here.

The Leafs have given us a gift in a perverse way. For off-ice failures, we still have to admit that no one is behind our little brother in Ontario like the soap opera Melnyk and the Ottawa Senators put on, but for on-ice disasters, the Leafs can rightfully claim to be the all-time champions. . Toronto has lost in ways other teams couldn’t imagine. Have you lost to an underdog? We lost to our own Zamboni driver. Did you ruin a lead? We’ve blown up every kind of lead. Look at our works, mighty ones.

And the fans, mostly, have hung out. Not because we expect this team to win Cups; even the most optimistic fan would need ecstasy on an IV to maintain that confidence full time. Because it’s a fun way to pass the time, a pretense to spend three hours at the bar, a collectively shared grievance. It’s been all those things, rain or shine, and it will be all those things in the future. At this point, we know it’s going to be okay, even if it’s never anything else. Mitch Marner could, and in my heart I suspect he will, get behind his own goalkeeper to lose the next Game 7. Well, swear and shake our heads and get ready for the inevitable swap, and get back in tune.

Because otherwise winter in this country is really fucking boring.

Sources

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