Now that the labour dispute is over, die-hard fans might be a little less receptive to the team (and the league as a whole).
For Leafs fans, the NHL lockout was the latest in a series of indignities going back a generation. For some, the labour stoppage represented a breaking point, and while they may not be turning their backs on the Leafs completely, their passion for the team—and the sport as a whole—has cooled considerably.
According to Julian Sanchez, editor of popular Leafs blog Pension Plan Puppets, his readers and contributors are showing their discontent with both the team and the league in a number of ways.
“It’s funny because it covers the spectrum of protests. Some will just watch on TV when they probably would have gone to a handful of games,” he says. “Others won’t purchase any merchandise when they would have normally picked up something Leafs related.”
He adds that Leafs fans are “like smokers that can’t quit.” Most fans, he thinks, will continue to follow the team in spite of themselves. But many of them won’t pay attention to the rest of the league.
“They are still Leafs fans, but the unnecessary lockout, the owners’ dissembling about the reasons, and the script that the lockout seemed to follow just served to make them less [enthusiastic about] the NHL as a whole,” he says. “So they’ll watch Leafs games…but they won’t be as invested in the rest of the league.”
That’s a sentiment echoed by fellow blogger Michael Forbes, who runs the Bitter Leaf Fan Page blog.
“I’m pretty well done with NHL hockey,” he says. “It used to be that on Thursday night I’d be happy to watch the doubleheader and watch Detroit play Nashville. Coming out of the lockout, that’s just not going to happen.”
He adds that he’s surprised how well he’s gotten along without the NHL. Other sports have more than filled the void.
“I was always a soccer fan, but I got really into watching the Premier League during the lockout,” says Forbes. “And what’s interesting is, my kids will watch it. My kids won’t watch a hockey game, but we get up on Saturday morning and watch the game and talk about it.”
Mississauga high school teacher and lifelong Leafs fan Ryan Maitland says that, while he’ll cheer for the team, they won’t be getting any of his money this season. Maitland figures he usually spends roughly $400 a year going to an average of three games a season.
“Despite being tempted by my brother-in-law’s 12-game ticket pack, I am not going to see a game this year,” he says. “I had some idea of getting a new jersey this year, but I’m going to wait for the foreseeable future on that one, too.”
He adds that his boycott is a result of his frustration with the NHL owners, not the players.
“[The owners] had to spend half the season coming up with the new agreement,” he says. “I mean, I see why the players had to hold out—every offer from the owners got progressively better. But seriously, that was a stupid bargaining process. You could tell in September that it was going to happen, with the ridiculous first offer presented by the NHL.”
All that said, however, Maitland admits that his disgust with the owners is at least partially mixed up with a broader frustration with the Leafs’ performance, and that his will might weaken if the Leafs were to exceed expectations this year.
“Let’s just say my resolve would be tested if the Leafs suddenly burst out of the gates, destined to be playoff bound,” he said. “It would definitely make my choice more difficult.”