Editor's note: I promoted this to the front page for being a good look at something that's sort of always been associated with the Leafs; selling out no matter what. - Chemmy
Pehaps becuase dismal games like this haven't been all that unusual at the ACC this season, the big screens above centre ice flashed something that long-time observers of the club didn't recall having seen in previous seasons. It was a promotional ad touting the benefits of renewing Leafs season tickets, the key incentive of speedy re-upping being an invitation to a 'meet and greet' with Brian Burke, the general manager. The face time with Burke, apparently, was the latest in the line of sweeteners meant to entice a faithful that, once upon a time, didn't need enticement.
I know I’m risking banning for linking to an article from the Star, but I found it very interesting that they were making a pitch last night for season’s ticket holders to renew their tickets. That is unprecedented in recent Leaf history.
The argument that the Leafs can put a crappy on-ice product and still not worry about filling seats is bullshit – the kind of unfounded or outdated criticism that the media and Leaf detractors like to throw around to belittle the team (or more accurately their fans) whenever they can. It may have held weight in the Ballard days of the 70's and 80's, but it hasn’t been true for some time.
The Leafs have arguably had the best record of any Canadian team since 92/93 when the Sens joined the league (most regular season wins and most playoff games played and won – a separate post on this will follow at some point). Even the first 2 years after the lockout they were still in a battle for the playoffs right until the last day of the season, giving meaning to those late-season games. In 15 years, there have really only been 2 or 3 seasons where the Leafs didn’t have a team that was at least challenging for the playoffs. But this is 2 years straight now where there’s not much incentive to go to March and April games. Season ticket holders not using their seats is a prelude to season ticket holders not renewing them. I know a couple of people that have had Gold season’s tickets for years, and with the economy and the on-ice product being what it is, they have both been questioning the value of spending $16,000 a year on them. One more year like this could put them over the edge.
I’ve said it a few times now, but I think Brian Burke is going to be very active in this offseason. He may have ‘complete autonomy’ in hockey decisions, but he’s not stupid. He knows that it’s in his and his employer’s best interests to make this team as competitive as possible and as quickly as possible. The trick, which he seems to be aware of, will be to do it while at the same time laying a foundation for long-term success - something pre-lockout Leafs GMs didn’t have to worry about, and one that JFJ failed at miserably. Good luck Brian.