Say what you will about the Toronto Maple Leafs, but they’re not boring. Incompetent, sure, but definitely not boring—not even during their recent, well-publicized losing streak. The Leafs are a middling 3–4–3 in their last ten games, yet they’re oddly compelling to watch: they’re tied for third in league scoring (this, despite the inability of some of its key players to put the puck in the net) and they’re by far and away the league’s worst defensive unit (they’ve allowed eight more goals than the next-worst team, the Carolina Hurricanes). This, naturally, results in an awful lot of high-scoring games; they ain’t often pretty, but that doesn’t mean they’re not entertaining.
All of which pales in comparison to the off-ice drama, of course. The current sideshow at the Air Canada Centre fondly recalls the chaos of the Ballard, years while at the same time breaking new ground in dysfunctional sports management. We don’t subscribe to theories that Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, the parent company which owns both the Leafs and the Toronto Raptors, is deliberately sabotaging its hockey operation in the name of the bottom line. It’s become clear, however, that they’re utterly clueless when it comes to managing its most lucrative asset. Last week, for instance, reports surfaced which suggested that John Ferguson Jr, the Leafs’ beleaguered General Manager, had tried firing head coach Paul Maurice. Ferguson denied the accusations—but then Richard Peddie, President and CEO of MLSE, threw his protegé under the bus when he declared that hiring a rookie general manager was “a mistake.” His subsequent retraction was priceless: apparently, it wasn’t Ferguson specifically who was the wrong man for the job. Peddie simply decided he disagreed with hiring a rookie GM in principle…which is odd because a, Peddie was the man who hired Ferguson in the first place, and b, Ferguson was a rookie when he was hired in 2003, and therefore his hiring was, by Peddie’s definition, a mistake. As is often the case where the Leafs are concerned, you couldn’t make this stuff up.
We’re assuming someone at MLSE knows what they’re doing. After all, they had the foresight to bring in Bryan Colangelo to run the basketball operation; the Raptors’ subsequent transformation from moribund franchise into division champions was stunning, and made Leaf fans wonder why someone couldn’t perform black magic on their team. All this posturing is at least as entertaining as what’s happening on the ice, if not moreso; we’d be amiss if we couldn’t derive at least sort sort of ironic enjoyment from it. While it sorts itself out (Ferguson’s dismissal looks inevitable, but it’s looked that way for years now), we’re hoping the team sorts itself out as well. Because as entertaining as the Leafs have been so far this year, we’d be perfectly happy if they were a little less entertaining and a little bit more successful.
Photo by Michelle en ciel.