Toronto Maple Leafs: When You’re Negative, You’re Always Right

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 2: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks on in a break against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period at the Scotiabank Arena on February 2, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 2: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks on in a break against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period at the Scotiabank Arena on February 2, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The fan base of the Toronto Maple Leafs can be forgiven for being pessimistic.

After all, Losers Even After Fifty Years isn’t an acronym that just any team can earn.  The Toronto Maple Leafs have put their fans through decades of poor decisions, bad trades and terrible draft picks.

So you can’t blame their fans for being skeptical.

The Toronto Maple Leafs – even though they played almost an entire season without at least one of Andersen, Matthews, Nylander or Gardiner in the lineup – are sixth overall in the league.  This is the first year since their rebuild that they have been expected to be a team that competes for a championship. But if you listen to Leafs radio or interact with Leafs fans on a regular basis, you wouldn’t know it.

Personally, I don’t mind a little negativity, but I think there is a certain kind of negativity that is out there right now – the kind that is negative for the sake of it,  and that’s what I want to discuss today.

If You’re Negative, You Can’t Be Wrong

While most fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs are, at best, cautiously optimistic, there seems to be one segment of the fanbase that is over-the-top in their unrelenting negativity.

The Leafs have one of the best young players of the last decade in Auston Matthews, a home-grown, potential Norris winning defenseman, and a goalie who one of the most respected hockey-stats experts thinks should win the Vezina.

After years of garbage, win or not, that is good enough for me.  That doesn’t mean it should be good enough for you, but I do think it’s good enough that it should stem the constant whining about the team.

Now maybe I have a case of confirmation bias and I notice the whining because I’m looking or it, so maybe it’s possible that Leafs Nation, as a whole, is very negative for no good reason.

Now I definitely understand that not every person can fit into an easily definable group, and I definitely think that some level of criticism is important/needed/valid.  That said, please allow me to indulge in a generalization of the aggressively negative Leafs fan, circa 2019.

These fans believe that Kyle Dubas is the worst thing to ever happen to this city.  They hate him and they think that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. (Now, it’s not impossible that some criticism is warranted. I am talking about the fans who see Dubas as a stats-nerd loser who will never do anything but destroy this team).

These fans are really focused on things that can’t be measured. They think the Leafs have “no heart,” or “leadership.”  They believe that measuring a hockey player’s performance through statistics is a radical idea reserved only for total losers.

They think the team should have traded for the past-his-prime Wayne Simmonds (one goal in 14 games since trade deadline) and/or Adam McQuaid.

They do don’t think the Leafs have enough ‘grit,’ and that they are extremely concerned that they don’t  ‘play the right way.’

They will tell you that William Nylander is garbage, and so is Jake Gardiner. They seem to want a team made up of one Mitch Marner and 12 Matt Martins.

Do not even mention Garrett Sparks to these guys if you have anywhere to be in the next three hours. (“Sparks, by the way,” he pointed out for comic effect, “is the back-up goalie on the sixth ranked team in the NHL and only plays on days when his team has already played the night before.”)

Everyone Is Entitled to an Opinion, but…

Everyone gets to have an opinion, and that’s the fun of hockey. I do not want to give you the impression that I think that my opinion is better than yours or that you can’t think differently than I do.  I am sure my opinions are terrible.

But this isn’t about one opinion that is different than mine. This is about the richest team in hockey being completely stacked with talent, and having a general manager on the cutting edge of a whole new way of doing things, and a managerial team that seems (for the first time ever) to “get it,” and the team being generally successful, fun to watch, ahead of the timeline, and just generally $$$$$ awesome, and people just non-stop complaining about them because it’s not exactly what they want, or how they want it, or it’s not perfect, or whatever.

It seems that there is this militaristic segment of the Toronto Maple Leafs fan base that despises management’s attempt to build build a skill team that exploits certain facets of hockey dogma.  They are a disproportionately loud minority, similar in tone and style to people engaging in far-right political discourse.

Does this stem from a fear of the game having passed them by?  There definitely seems to be a large anti-stat element to this movement.  The worst part is that they seem to be actively cheering for their team to fail in order to say that they were right all along.

And I can pretty much guarantee you, no matter what happens, barring a Leafs Stanley Cup, they will claim to have been right.  This despite the miles of evidence that says an statistical approach to measuring the effectiveness of athletes is the correct one.  Not just in hockey either, but in all sports.

Leafs v Boston

If the Leafs lose to Boston, the Anti-Dubas / Anti-Stats segment of the Leafs fan base will become extremely loud in their disenchantment with the state of the franchise.   They will become intolerable with their I-told-you-so’s as they extort the virtues of old-time hockey and talk about how Kyle Dubas is ruining everything.

But here is the thing:  The NHL playoff format makes it so that two of the best teams in the entire league play each other in the first round.  The culture of the NHL is such that no amount of nuanced analysis can overcome the fact that losing in the first round is seen as a massive failure.

But if one of the best five teams in the league is 100% certain to lose in the first round, then it is insane to judge the team that loses under these circumstances a “failure.”

Whichever team between the Leafs and Boston ends up with home-ice advantage will have a slightly higher probability of winning.  But otherwise, the series is a coin-flip that could go either way.

A team with a lot of grit and Curtis MacElhinney on it could still lose under these circumstances.

I don’t think the success of what is easily in the top five of Leafs regular seasons in the past 20 years should hinge on a coin flip.

Far better to judge and trust the process, than to lose your mind over a result that might as well be random.  (Now if the Leafs lose four straight, feel free to ignore this paragraph. But if they lose in five, six or seven well-fought games, the point stands).

Even if the Leafs do win, their next opponent, barring one of the biggest upsets in NHL history, will be Tampa.  This means that the Leafs (and Bruins) have BY FAR the hardest path to the Stanley Cup of any other team in the NHL.

More from Editor In Leaf

If the Leafs lose in either round, you can bet the loudest voices you here will be about how Kyle Dubas is a terrible manager and how the Leafs definitely need more Haaaarrt and Grit and Ontario born players a couple of enforcers and how Mark Hunter should have been hired and on and on.

The odds of winning it all are so remote, that if you are unrelentingly negative, you will always find a way to show that you were right all along.

Trust the Process!

But win or lose, the Toronto Maple Leafs are on the right track.  They  are the best 5v5 team in the NHL, most of their best players, are yet to even enter their prime, and this is the first year of high expectations in their rebuild.

Tampa and Boston are almost a decade into building with their current cores. Tampa missed the playoffs two years ago, and they’re even better now than they were they went to the third round in 2015.

If the Leafs lose, even in the first round, it won’t be because Dubas is on the wrong track.  Objectively speaking, the Leafs roster is criminally good for a salary cap league.  And they’re all young, and locked up, and probably good for another eight to ten cracks at the Cup after this year.

So when or if they lose in the first round, and you hear people ripping Dubas for getting rid of Matt Martin or signing superstar William Nylander to a sweetheart team-friendly deal, just remember that they are wrong, regardless of the results, or how loud they yell.

And remember especially to beware of anyone claiming they knew it or were right all along.

The NHL is trending towards becoming a more skilled, less violent league, and the Leafs seem to be ahead of the curve here. (I don’t think enough attention gets paid to the fact that they are the least penalized team in the NHL. )

Kyle Dubas signed John Tavares, traded for Jake Muzzin, signed two of his three franchise players,  and locked up like a third of his roster for next year at or near the league minimum.

Just for the record, how many other GMs in the NHL since the day Dubas was hired have acquired a #1 centre and a top-pairing defenseman?  (The answer, you should not be surprised to learn, is zero).

Next. Leafs Top 10 Prospects. dark

No matter how loud anyone yells, it doesn’t make them right.  But when you’re unrelenting negative, you’ll always have something to show that kind of, sort of, makes it seem like you are.

And that is the worst thing.  Everything that happens to a negative person just renforces the idea that their negativity is warranted.  But it’s not.  The Leafs -for once – actually have a good team.  I think it wouldn’t hurt some people to try and enjoy it a little bit.  Perhaps try being open to some new ideas?  Your favorite team tried it, and they apparently like it.

If the Leafs lose in round one, it might seem like people were right to say the Leafs aren’t tough enough, or Dubas isn’t good enough.  They will still, however, be objectively wrong.