It was one of the wildest final weekends in NHL history. The Toronto Maple Leafs delivered a knockout blow to the Montreal Canadiens in one of the most electric matches in recent memory, only to have the New York Islanders break our hearts and take the final playoff spot in a shootout against the New Jersey Devils the following day.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin tonight, but for the second consecutive year, the Leafs won’t be there, having missed out by just 1 point in the standings. The organization took out a full-page ad on the back page of the sports section in yesterday’s Toronto Sun. Here’s how it read:
Thank you for your unwavering support during the 2006-07 season.
We are disappointed that we didn’t achieve our primary goal of advancing to the playoffs and competing for the Stanley Cup. It has been an exciting season, with several teams in an unprecedented battle for the few final playoff spots. You were with us every step of the way.
Leafs fans are the greatest fans in hockey. We share your disappointment. However, we accomplished much along the way that puts us in a great position moving forward to pick up those few points in the standings needed to reach that next level.
This season provided exciting win streaks that resulted from outstanding team play in the face of injury and adversity; the further development of our young players; memorable tributes to Leafs legends Borje Salming, Red Kelly, and Hap Day; and the reunion of the 1967 Stanley Cup Champions.
Preparations for next season are already underway. We know we will be better next year as so many of our younger players will have gained from the experience. Every member of our staff will work diligently in the weeks and months ahead to continue to move the team forward toward the ultimate goal of bringing the Cup back to Toronto.
Now, if you made it through that without laughing, you’re probably Leaf General Manager John Ferguson Jr. “We do not take the support of our fans for granted,” said Ferguson at yesterday’s press conference. This from an organization that was ranked dead last in affordability in a recent ESPN fan satisfaction poll of all 122 North American sports franchises in the four major team sports.
Certainly no one would doubt the ability of the Maple Leafs to make money. But winning is something that for one reason or another seems to elude whomever seems to be running this team from year to year. With respect to Ferguson, it’s not due to casual indifference; it’s more along the lines of incompetence. For all his decent moves (hiring coach Paul Maurice, developing young players), Ferguson might not be able to escape the triple nooses of Bryan McCabe and Pavel Kubina for $10.75 million and the error-prone Andrew Raycroft in goal.
By contrast, the playoff-bound Toronto Raptors hired a rookie GM (Rob Babcock) that didn’t pan out, replaced him with the veteran Bryan Colangelo, and in an incredible turnaround, find themselves as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference only one year after his hiring (If only Mr. Colangelo knew a thing or two about hockey). So now the Leafs must make a decision—do they stick with a proven loser and hope he or the team can find their way next season, or do they find someone else to take the reins? Arguments can be had for both, but after 40 years in the desert, perhaps patience is no longer a virtue.