Most Leaf fans, and probably many hockey and sports fans, have heard about the recent book release of “Leaf AbomiNation” written by Dave Feschuk and Michael Grange. Let me start off by saying that I have not read the book, and I probably won’t read the book, but if you want a good book review go and read one here by mf37. My beef with the book is its insistence that the Leafs have sucked for a long time and two significant reasons for that suckage (if I may use that non-word) are the fans undying loyalty to the club and the ownerships (specifically the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan) undying love of profits and not wins on the ice.
One of the authors’ central arguments about the Leafs is that fans have supported crap for far too long and that support is partially responsible for perpetuating a four-decade string of mediocrity.
This kind of thinking isn’t restricted to just Feschuk and Grange, this kind of senseless thinking permeates through much of the Toronto hockey media and thus to some extent into the fan base but the reality is it is baseless thinking. Let me first address the point that ownership, specifically the Teachers Pension Plan, is only interested in a profit. Although the Teachers Pension Plan is the majority owner, they are not the controlling owner (Larry Tannenbaum is) and they only have 3 of the 7 members of the board of directors. In short they don’t have any control over day to day operations of the franchise and they don’t even have majority control over the long term direction of the franchise. Most importantly though, I haven’t yet seen one study anywhere that suggests that not winning is more profitable than winning. Logic seems to tell me that if the Leafs were as successful as the Detroit Red Wings the Leafs would be even more profitable and my, albeit limited, business sense suggest to me that generating playoff revenue should generate more profits. So that whole argument is 100% pure hogwash.
As for the Leafs fans being at least partially responsible for the Leafs poor play, that is pure hogwash as well. If you want a list of teams that generally lead the league in being bad, just look at the bottom of the team attendance list. Atlanta, Florida, NY Islanders, Phoenix, etc. all have generally been bad and all have a small fan base and low attendance. Are the authors actually suggesting that if Leaf fans abandoned the team that they would break that trend and actually get better as the fan base disappears? That makes no sense.
But maybe the biggest beef with the whole notion of the book is that the Leafs have been bad over the long haul in the first place. It seems like as deep as the authors and many in the Leafs media base all their opinions of the Leafs on the fact that they haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967 and somehow interpret that as they have been a horrible team ever since that last cup win. That is simply not true. In fact, they have experience relatively good success the past decade and a half. Over the past 16 seasons they are 8th in wins, ninth in points, sixth in goals scored per game (how many times have we heard the Leafs can’t score goals??), and seventh in playoff rounds won. That’s not too shabby of a record and better than any other Canadian team. Yeah, they have struggled post lockout (significantly due to bad goaltending), but generally they have been pretty successful since the early 1990’s and have generally played pretty entertaining hockey (if you equate goals to entertaining as most in the media do) as well. Maybe we need a book on how success has grown the fan base of the Leafs post the Ballard era and not the fan base leading to failure.
I am not trying to say that the Leafs don’t deserve some criticism. Every franchise makes mistakes and deserves criticism and the Leafs are no exception and of course they have been unsuccessful in reaching the ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup. There is a certain amount of fair criticism to be made and maybe if the authors of this book, and the Toronto hockey media in general, opened their eyes to reality and took an even slightly more complex view of the Leafs than their “They haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967 so they have sucked for decades” view (which is factually false) then maybe we could actually see an insightful book on why the Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup and why other teams have, from a hockey, not a business point of view.