A letter to Leafs fans, from a Leafs fan.
I grew up a Leafs fan, I’ve loved them since I was a little kid. When I was 11, I was a Sick Kids patient living in the Ronald McDonald House undergoing treatments for a rare tumour called an Optic Nerve Glioma. I had treatments Monday to Friday, and played house league hockey Saturday and Sunday.
It was the lowest level hockey I had ever played, but it was one of the best hockey seasons of my life. Why? Because living at the RMH had its benefits, Leafs alumni would stop by on occasion and drop off tickets, as the only hockey fan living there at the time, they always ended up with me.
That’s how I ended up sitting in the ACC with my dad, jumping and screaming and knocking a Wendel Sundae flying when Mats Sundin scored his 500th goal. That memory is etched into my brain, which is saying a lot, after 5 concussions my memory isn’t what it used to be.
Then came the bad years, years of teams not good enough to make it, but buying up rentals and shipping off draft picks year after year without ever bothering to re-tool, rebuild or anything of the like. Missing the playoffs again and again, cursing Wade Dubielewicz for his heroics costing us the playoffs in 2007. I watched us trade Rask for Raycroft, the Kessel deal that cost us Seguin, Phaneuf being named Captain and a parade of has beens and nearly theres in the crease.
Sure, the Buds were dragged kicking and screaming to the playoffs by James Reimer, but even he couldn’t carry us past the first round into the promised land.
When Shanny and Babs told us there would be pain, my first thought was, “if there’s pain coming what have we been dealing with the past 15 years?” Year one, yeah that sucked, but we knew it was for a purpose, we won the lottery, we got Auston Matthews! Suddenly we had 3 rookies lighting up the league, Marner, Matthews, and Nylander flanked by the grit and determination of the lunch pail guys like Hyman and Brown. We made the playoffs and took Washington to 6 games in a series we weren’t supposed to play more than 4 in. Pain? What pain?
Last year we had our hearts broken again by Boston, but, as heartbroken as we were, we knew, we knew that our best years were ahead of us, we were young, fast and talented, we were on the cusp of doing something big.
A next generation team needs next generation staff, we said goodbye to Lou, a battle hardened vet with decades of experience, and said hello to, wait, who is this kid? This child is supposed to run our team? Oh no he’s gonna ruin every- oh, he signed Tavares? John freaking Tavares! And for seven years to boot! I love this kid! Sure, let him run the team he’s doing great!
Now we were ready, we had our 1C, we had our future franchise C, we had 2 dynamic young wingers growing into stars, this team is the one. You know, once Willy signs, he’s gonna sign right? Right? Kyle?
I apologize for rambling, but it’s important to remember where this team has come from. As I’m writing this, Leafs Twitter is imploding over the Auston Matthews extension. Some of us think he’s been over paid, some think the term is too short, and the rest don’t care, we have Auston Matthews!
The arguing over contracts really started when JT signed, suddenly we weren’t fans any more, we were asset appraisers, instead of just cheering for our team, we were too busy critiquing them based on their AAV, when what we should be doing is enjoying this. We have a great young team. And we have most of the key players locked in.
The stress is understandable, we’ve been deprived of a true contender for a long, long time, and none of us have been here before. Older fans remember the good Leafs teams, but we didn’t have a salary cap then, younger guys like me have faint memories of guys like Sundin, Roberts, and Cujo, but we’ve never had a true contender to cheer for. Now we have this incredible core needing to be paid, we have internet trolls (looking at you Isles fans) telling us it’s all going to be taken away from us. We’re so close we can taste the beer flowing from Lord Stanley’s Mug. But on the other side is the cliff that leads back to mediocrity. We’ve been down low for so long we’ve become afraid of heights, so we lash out, anything to avoid falling.
I’ve played hockey my whole life, been a Leafs fan my whole life, but I won’t call myself an expert, just another one of you, yearning for a taste of glory. I don’t know what to tell you, or what the right moves are. I do know what I’m going to do though. I’m going to cheer for my team, I’m going to cheer for every player on that roster regardless of their contract, because every drop of sweat is spent in the effort to try to bring that elusive silver mug home for us. If a player slumps, I’ll cheer like hell for them to break it, when someone (Marner) makes a magical play, I won’t worry about his contract, I’ll cheer like hell and wake my wife up. If the Leafs make it to that final game of the final series, I’ll stand among my fellow fans at Maple Leafs Square, and if they do the thing, I’ll jump and scream and lose my mind like I did all those years ago watching Mats.
Hopefully you’ll be there cheering beside me, and if you are, I guarantee you won’t be worrying about AAVs, Corsi, or agents.
See you there.