Leafs aren’t even good at being bad

First published in the Lethbridge College Endeavour, Nov. 19, 2008

Congratulations to the Toronto Maple Leafs for finally realizing their strategy for winning a Stanley Cup was anything but textbook.

For 41 years the Leafs (or Leaves as I prefer to call them) unsuccessfully attempted to be good enough. They have, however, succeeded in throwing away their future time-and-time again through crippling transactions that have led to continuous embarrassments in the world’s biggest hockey spotlight.

If they weren’t trading away future 40-goal guys like Brad Boyes for overrated senior citizens like Owen Nolan, they were coaxing a retired player-turned-Washington-Capitals-scout and convincing him to put skates on for the first time in two years.

As it turns out, signing players who are hundreds of games passed their prime doesn’t actually lead to long playoff runs.

Well it may have taken four decades, but the organization finally claims to realize its own incompetence and has apparently changed their misguided ways. The fact it’s coming three-and-a-half decades after the rest of the world figured it out is really neither here nor there.

Spending millions on lifetime underachievers is no longer in their plans. Interim GM Cliff Fletcher even publicly stated last spring that he would shed most of their main players and rebuild from the bottom up.

Anyone who follows behind-the-scenes hockey knows that ‘rebuilding from the bottom up’ can be loosely translated as ‘attempting to be as awful as possible in order to score a spot in the draft lottery’. There’s really no shame in it either; with 30 teams to get through, it can be all too easy to fall into mediocrity, and landing a top-five draft pick can boost a team right out of that rut.

Fletcher lived up to his word too. Mats Sundin, gone. Darcy “bank it off me and in on the power play” Tucker, see ya’ later.

Brian “is it OK to be awful defensively and still call myself a defenceman” McCabe, don’t let the door hit you in the Calvin Kleins on the way out.

Frustrated Leaves fans everywhere were finally going to see their club make some progress towards a future, and they loved it. You know your fans are ridiculously loyal when you can literally tell them you are going to try to be bad and they applaud you for it.

With Ontario-born phenom John Tavares waiting to go No. 1 in next year’s draft , it seemed like the perfect plan. Unfortunately, plans can only remain perfect if they are effective, and this one simply is not.

The Leaves sit ninth in the conference a quarter of the way through, are playing .500 hockey and have shown a consistent solid effort throughout. Some players have been downright excellent and have helped create a buzz in Leafs Nation.

A corps of young talent, coupled with an established coach in Ron Wilson and a fantastic goaltender have made this team very exciting to watch and, quite frankly, way too good. All of a sudden, instead of patiently awaiting last place, the fans and media are discussing the club’s potential for right now.

Really? Potential? Are they serious?

Potentially, they’ll be 41 more laughable years without a championship if they keep this up.

The team is ninth in a conference where eight teams make the playoff s. That’s like being the next in line as soon as a concert sells out. What’s the point in showing up?

If they don’t finish 13th or worse, then the plan was a waste of time. Period.

They have serious work to do to get there though, because someone forgot to tell the players to tank the entire season and they keep trying to win.

As noble as it is to watch, if they don’t follow through with failing miserably this season, then they are risking piling on another handful of decades onto their Cup drought.

Actually, come to think of it, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every solitary second of my life occurring without having to watch Leaves fans celebrate.

So on second thought, never mind, don’t change a thing.


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