You have no idea what's in store for you, rookie.
Relief Line is your not-so-serious glance at the city we love.
Dear Future of the Franchise,
I want to start by saying congratulations. Being drafted first overall in the NHL is a great accomplishment and you should be very proud. No one can ever take that away from you. I also want to say that I am very sorry. I am so goddamn sorry. The next three to seven years of your life are going to be a special kind of hell. I want to hug you and tell you it’s going to be all right, but it won’t be.
Welcome to Toronto. Welcome to the Maple Leafs.
Oh you sweet, floppy-haired youngster. I weep for you. You can’t possibly know what is in store: the unrealistic expectations that will be put upon your shoulders; the slow turning of the media and the fan base when you fail to live up to said expectations; the terrible puns on the cover of the Toronto Sun that will mock your inevitable collapse. It cannot be avoided. It’s your fate. This is beyond you. It’s beyond all of us.
I know you don’t understand it right now, so I will try to help you.
It’s hard to explain, but the Leafs aren’t just bad. The Leafs are perpetually and eternally disappointing. It’s no longer just a streak of bad luck. Maybe it seemed like that once, but now it’s become a kind of a universal constant—like the speed of light. Ultimately it’s beyond our comprehension. Some of us accept this reality and some of us don’t, but we all live with it. I personally have reached a zen-like acceptance of it.
The sun rises. The birds sing. The Leafs suck.
I only mention this to give you some context. What’s really important for you is that you will be blamed for it all. It’s seems ridiculous, but we rage against our unpleasant reality by finding scapegoats. Torontonians are like a crude, stone-age tribe. We do not seek to truly understand the capricious, cruel world that never lets us win. We only offer up another sacrifice in hopes that it might change things.
Surely, I am exaggerating, right? No. I am dead serious. I know Toronto. I know how we treat our players. I know about Aki Berg and Nik Antropov and Jonas Hoglund. Yes, they were bad, but I also know what we do with good players, like Phil Kessel—a man who just led the Stanley Cup champions in playoff scoring. We turn on them. Phil is not even the worst example. My God, we literally booed a hall-of-fame player out of town.
Wait, have you never heard of Larry Murphy? Oh please, you poor, innocent child, don’t ever Google Larry Murphy. Whatever happens, just promise me that.
Let me put it in a way that will help you understand: if Sidney Crosby had been drafted by the Leafs he would now be playing as a third-line centre in the Swiss League, under an assumed name, with his therapist on speed-dial. Because it doesn’t matter how good you are: Toronto will consume you.
“But what about Wendel Clark?” you are no doubt saying with all the misplaced confidence of an 18-year-old hockey bro. Ah yes, Wendel Clark. He was drafted first overall in 1985 and is still beloved by all of Toronto to this day. He never even won a Cup with us.
Well, you will not be Wendel Clark. Wendel Clark seemed to emerge from centre ice at Maple Leaf Gardens a fully-formed legend with a handlebar moustache and granite fists. He was a man who could absorb the haymakers of Bob Probert and score a hat trick in the same night. We miss him every day. You will never be him. Never. In fact, how dare you think you could replace him in our hearts! You’re a monster for even trying! You’re worse than Harold Ballard and Hitler put together!
See what I just did there? That’s the kind of the nonsensical bullshit you are going to have to deal with day in and day out. The endless analysis. The endless hyperbole. It will come from all sides: journalists, fans, self-appointed experts calling in to the Bob McCown show, all ranting about how you are not gritty enough or don’t have enough heart. But it won’t matter how hard you try. We will still turn on you.
The only useful advice anyone can have is this: run away. Run through the forest and the meadows and keep running. Keep running until you’ve hit a breezy, balmy beach, until you’ve reached the welcoming bosom of some third-rate, Sunbelt team—the Lightning or the Sparkles or whatever the hell they call their teams down there. Run to them. They will give you a good home. You won’t be a famous or loved but you can have a life, a future, a respectable 55-point season that won’t be considered the greatest disaster since the Hindenburg.
Do you hear me? Go now. Go and never come back to this place again. That is unless you win the Cup with some other team. At which point you can bring it back and parade it down Yonge Street. Show it off to all of us. Rub it in our smug faces. Then we can raise a fist at our GM and angrily yell, “How could you ever let him go!?” Then the circle will be complete.