The Toronto Maple Leafs are bizarrely underrated.
After firing their coach last year, the Toronto Maple Leafs finished in eighth place for the rest of the season. Their roster features one of the best players in the world, as well as three other franchise-level forwards, three top pairing defenders, a ton of depth and an all-star goalie. And yet, if you listened to any of the noise surrounding the team, you’d think they were complete garbage on a path to no where.
The degree to which the Leafs are underrated blows my mind because I know for a fact how good they are and can be. At the same time, as a person gifted with the best taste in human history, I am constantly aware of how many good things go unnoticed at the expense of the Adam Sandlers and Nicklebacks and reality TV shows of this world.
At least the Leafs will objectively prove the doubters wrong when they win the Stanley Cup eventually – too bad you can’t say the same for Wilco.
But how did it come to this? How did the most promising team in the NHL get so underrated? I’ll tell you.
Toronto Maple Leafs Are Underrated
First of all, despite all common sense, sports narratives are always 100% of the moment. Unless your team is actively rebuilding, “potential” is a dirty word, and only results matter.
Now, any first-year university course will drill the fact that you can’t make plans based off of limited results into your head, ad nauseum, but in the real world, people don’t care. This is a hard lesson that I have learned over the last decade of puking my every thought out into the public sphere.
In science, you must have a repeatable experiment so that it can be run multiple times in order to make sure that the results of the first run were not anomalous. Sports doesn’t give you that luxury.
In sports, it doesn’t matter if, say, your team loses a 5 game series after a six month layoff to a team that posts the third highest 5v5 save percentage in NHL history. If that happens, your team is going nowhere and totally sucks. Excuses are, apparently, for babies.
It doesn’t matter if your team’s best defenseman lies on the ice for a half hour and misses the rest of the series while his assailant returns unpunished the next game to score a hattrick. And it sure doesn’t matter if you lose back-to-back game-sevens to the franchise you are modeling yourself after and hoping to become, just because one of your best players was suspended.
Deserver to win? Play in a way in which you’d almost always win, but happen to lose? Doesn’t matter, you’re a loser.
That’s sports, baby. Welcome to the world where the James Patterson sells a million books for every one that Don DeLillo sells, and where Bored to Death is cancelled but you can’t flip the channel without seeing a rerun of the Big Bang Theory.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the NHL’s youngest teams, they finished 8th overall under their new coach despite terrible goaltending. They were competing for a President’s Trophy in games where Michael Hutchinson didn’t start.
And speaking of Michael Hutchence, the guy was a musical genius, but somehow ACDC is the Australian band of most people’s choice.
The Leafs have one of the two or three best bluelines in the NHL now, because few, if any, teams can match Rielly, Brodie and Muzzin. No one can match the Leafs down the middle with Matthews and Tavares.
But to read what the internet has to say about them, you’d think they were a garbage team going nowhere. I know why, too.
The Leafs Biggest Critic
The fact that everyone puts way too much stock in recent results is definitely a factor, but the real reason that the Leafs are the Nancy Sinatra of the NHL is that their biggest critic is also the most prominent and influential hockey broadcaster in the game.
Oh, and he’s the Leafs ex-GM.
Brian Burke was fired a short time before the Leafs brought in Shanahan, but Burke’s vision was still in play when Shanahan was hired because Dave Nonis, Burke Stooge Extraordinaire, was still in charge.
And the Leafs promptly ditched Burkes vision for Kyle Dubas’, prompting Burke to spend nearly every waking hour (or so it seems) trashing the Leafs on TV. It’s not like they took a dolphin, gave it his number and taught it to kick a field goal (laces out!) but Burke took it personally none the less.
This has an effect, and that effect is that the league’s best up-and-coming team isn’t given even a tenth of the credit they deserve.
Sure, its partly the fact that the Leafs trying to do something new in an industry that abhors change the way an indie movie critic abhors narrative cohesion, (and for proof, look no further than the straight-up Leafs-trolling (and hilariously ironic) awarding of Lou Lamoriello the GM of the Year award) but that isn’t the only factor. The biggest factor is Burke.
When the team’s biggest critic is their ex-GM you’ve got to take what he says with a grain of salt. The Toronto Maple Leafs (ironically) are in better shape now than they were at anytime under Burke’s flawed and outdated vision.
I guess if I had to say so, I’d say Burke is a Def Leppard album being released in 2020, while the actual current Toronto Maple Leafs are like a just-discovered lost B-side from the Smith’s prime.
To sum up: the Leafs are in the best position they’ve ever been in since the NHL expanded, and I think its about time we embraced this team for what they are: that rare thing that is so good that we can all enjoy it, even those of us who don’t worship John Prine and Peter Gabriel.