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The Toronto Maple Leafs – a Study in Profitable Stagnation

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By William Thomas

The Toronto Maple Leafs, the most unsuccessful and lucrative franchise in the history of sports, is searching for a slogan.

As one of the founding members of the National Hockey League, the Leafs are unique in that they’re not very good at playing hockey, but they make millions of dollars trying. They haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967 and they haven’t even made the playoffs in a league where it’s difficult not to, in nine years. Many fans believe they should change the name to the Toronto Possum, a breed that quite often plays dead and gets killed on the road.

Amazingly, tickets to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs are the highest in the league and they’re usually sold out for the entire season. Incompetent yet inconceivably lucrative, the Leafs are listed on the Forbes’ list NHL Most Valuable Teams at Number One with a current value of $1.15 Billion. By comparison, the Philadelphia Flyers who won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975 and only missed going to the playoffs twice in the last nine years, are worth $500 million, less than half the value of the Leafs.  The Leafs are so bad many believe they located the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto just so their fans could get to see the Stanley Cup once in awhile.

Witnessing the mad rush of fans clamoring to purchase expensive seats to watch perennial losers underachieve brings two things to mind. First, Leaf Nation, the rabid army of Toronto fans who bleed blue and die a little with each defeat are – as the title of a book I wrote – Not Real bright And Damn Proud Of It! Second, it’s not a very long drive from Leaf Nation to Ford Nation, the rabid army of Toronto voters who idolize brothers Rob and Doug.

There exists a real closeness between Leaf players and their fans, an attachment that comes every spring when they get to watch the playoffs together.

In fairness, the team teases Leaf Nation unmercifully, like a guy offering complimentary Tequila shooters at an AA meeting.  They almost always start out like gangbusters sending out the signal loud and clear that this is the year!  However, as the bad joke goes – What do the Leafs and the Titanic have in common?  They both look good until they hit the ice. – it’s always the same sad story.  It’s never dull because the Leafs somehow manage the kind of last minute death spiral that has first responders ignoring search and rescue and going straight to recovery.  Last season’s two wins and twelve losses crash was so sudden and volatile, some experts suspected a bomb on board.

However, this season is going to be different according to Leaf management who have been making that same claim for the last 47 years, the agonizing duration of their Stanley Cup drought.  So they staged a team bonding experience in Collingwood, Ontario where Leaf players spent quality time together in survival exercises and paintball wars. From that experience and from the words of the players themselves, Leaf management are hoping an inspirational slogan would emerge that, when repeated enough times, would forge some winning ways.

Years ago, the highly successful Montreal Canadiens lifted the words from John McCrae’s classic poem “In Flanders Field” to inspire their players.  “To you from failing hands we throw the torch, be yours to hold it high.”

Never mind that any current Leaf player would likely drop the torch and burn the rink to the ground – they are still in search of a moving motto.  Here’s what Leaf players and management have come up with so far from that buddy-buddy basic training retreat in Collingwood:

“Entitled To Nothing, Grateful For Everything.”  This banner currently hangs over the entrance to the Leaf dressing room.  It’s humbling, ingratiating but hardly inspirational.  Sounds like a “Will work for food” sign.

Another motto they came up with is “Sacrifice For Each Other, Succeed Together.”  This is good advice but really when you look at their record they could have gone with “Unfortunately, I’ve Got Your Back.”

“Unite A City.”  Really?  So Doug and Rob can severely divide it?!?

Honestly, I don’t know of an inspirational maxim that could help this team become successful.  Maybe “Misery Loves Company.”  At least it’s inclusive.

Or, “Once We Were Warriors But Now … Not So Much.”

Or, “Hey!  We Do An Awful Lot Of Good In This Community.”

Or, “ You Can’t Win “Em All.  There’s Always Next Year.  And Okay, Our Problem Might Be The Puck!”

What Leaf ownership should do to take the pressure off the players is let Comedy Central televise the games for a few years until they get their act together.  Hey, it’s all about entertainment anyway.

For comments, ideas and copies of The True Story of  Wainfleet, go to www.williamthomas.ca

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