The Blue Jays were fabulous. We told our children to cherish the back-to-back titles in 1992 and 1993* because it might never happen again. They scoffed. The folly of youth. Now they are young adults wondering if they’ll ever see a hockey parade up Bay St. -- Royson James, the Toronto Star
* Editor's Note: Hilariously, this originally read "1991 and 1992" which is all you need to know about James' sports knowledge (ie nil).
Obviously, I should never take any time away for any reason.
When I left, the Leafs were comfortably settled into the second-longest active Cup drought - protected, as always, by the ever-vigilant Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks had heroically given Leafs fans an out for almost 15 years, since New York and Detroit ended their own droughts and left just us and the Hawks as the last of the Original Six still standing.
Now, naked and alone, it's us.
Well, not so much alone exactly, though apparently it's considered poor form to mention it.
It's a shame we aren't permitted to look at this more closely because some interesting things appear when we do. For example, Chicago becomes just the eighth member of the 12-team NHL of 1967-68 to win a Cup. Put another way, two weeks ago, five of the twelve teams that made up the NHL 43 seasons ago hadn't won a championship in the intervening years. Almost half the league.
(Note: one of those teams, of course, was the Oakland Seals - eventually the Cleveland Barons and then the dormant half of the Minnesota North Stars before being resurrected in spirit as the San Jose Sharks - who haven't won either. Whether one chooses to include them or not, we'll reference this henceforth as the Oakland Exception.)
Fast forward to the next expansion in 1970, and we wind up with six of fourteen that haven't won. It would have been an even half but for Chicago. Alas. (Oakland Exception again in play.)
The NHL I came to know and love had 21 teams in it, a structure it took in 1979-80. Of those 21 teams, nine are still waiting on either their first or their next sip of champagne. (No OE this time.) That means we're looking at nine active teams in droughts of 30 years or better. The league has added nine more teams since then, and of them, only Anaheim and Tampa have won anything. It's kind of depressing, really.
Truth is, though, this is true of all sports. Every other major professional sport has a large number of droughts like these. The more teams there are in the league, the longer and more numerous the droughts become. This isn't rocket science.
All of this brings me to the quote from the Royson James piece above. James excoriates the Leafs for their lack of success and suggests a number of measures that won't help in the slightest. I won't get too deep into the article, since our own mf37 already tore it apart with great aplomb.
The Jays comment is interesting, though. In itself, it's kind of strange, as it doesn't fit with the rest of the article. Nothing leads into it, nothing flows from it. It's almost a throwaway comment in a throwaway article - except for the fact that it's an acknowledgement of something James can't quite bring himself to realize, otherwise he'd need to throw the entire piece in the dumpster.
Look at it again:
The Blue Jays were fabulous. We told our children to cherish the back-to-back titles in 1992 and 1993 because it might never happen again. They scoffed. The folly of youth. Now they are young adults wondering if they’ll ever see a hockey parade up Bay St.
We told our children to cherish the back-to-back titles in 1992 and 1993 because it might never happen again.
Once more, with feeling:
Because it might never happen again.
Reading this, one would almost think that championships were rather rare and hard to come by - the sort of thing that can't happen just because one thinks they should, the sort of thing that mayors can't dictate despite the vast powers they apparently possess. There's a tacit recognition in there that this is how sports works - that you cherish the special moments when they come because there's a very good chance they won't come again. He understands this in baseball. Why the rules are supposed to be different in hockey is beyond me. This isn't a national embarrassment. It's reality.
Let's take a peek at how reality has treated everyone else and see whether there's really anything odd about what's happening in Toronto::
Anaheim - 1 for 16. Drought: 3.
Missed the playoffs this year, the ninth time in 16 seasons they have done so. Won 1 Stanley Cup four seasons ago, one of two post-1991 expansion teams to do so.
Atlanta - 0 for 10. Drought: 10.
Have made the playoffs once in their history. Were swept.
Boston - 5 for 85. Drought: 37.
Made the second round and became the third NHL team in history to blow a 3-0 series lead. Last made the third round in 1992, the Final in 1990. Five Cups in 85 seasons, but none in the last 37.
Buffalo - 0 for 39. Drought: 39.
First-round exit. Three playoff appearances in the last eight seasons. Finals appearances in 1999 and 1975. No championships in 39 years as a team.
Calgary - 1 for 37. Drought: 20.
Missed the playoffs. Have won three playoff series since 1989, all in 2004. One championship (1989) in 37 seasons of play.
Carolina - 1 for 30. Drought: 4.
Missed the playoffs (12th time since 1992). Won Championship in 2006 but only have one playoff appearance since, making the third round in 2009.
Chicago - 4 for 83. Drought: 0.
Won Stanley Cup, their first in 49 years. Missed playoffs nine of the preceding 11 seasons.
Colorado - 2 for 30. Drought: 9.
First-round exit. Won last Stanley Cup 9 years ago, one of two since the move from Quebec. Haven't been past the second round since 2002.
Columbus - 0 for 9. Drought: 9.
Missed the playoffs. Have made them once in nine seasons (2009). Were swept.
Dallas - 1 for 42. Drought: 10.
Missed the playoffs (second consecutive year). Have won four playoff rounds since SC Final appearance in 2000.
Detroit - 11 for 83. Drought: 2.
Second-round exit. The best team of our era, Detroit has won 4 Cups in the past 13 seasons. Prior to 1996, their last win was in 1955, a 41-year drought that included 19 playoff misses.
Edmonton - 5 for 30. Drought: 19.
Finished last overall (thankfully). Missed playoffs four straight seasons and six of the past eight. Other than surprise Final run in 2006, have won two playoff series since 1992.
Florida - 0 for 16. Drought: 16.
Missed playoffs for the ninth straight season. Have made only three playoff appearances in 16 years and haven't won a round since their SC Final appearance in 1996.
Los Angeles - 0 for 42. Drought: 42.
First-round exit. First playoff appearance since 2002. Have won one playoff round since SC Final appearance in 1993.
Minnesota - 0 for 9. Drought: 9.
Missed the playoffs (second straight season). Have made the playoffs three times in their history, winning two rounds in 2003.
Montreal - 23 for 92*. Drought: 16.
Made the third round this season, the first time since their Cup win in 1993 that they have gotten out of the second round. Once ungodly good, Montreal won 15 Cups in 24 seasons between 1956 and 1979. Eliminate those, and Montreal is still third overall with 9 wins (one pre-NHL). Reality has hit hard here, too. The Habs have just six series wins in the past 16 seasons. (*Note: Montreal played 8 seasons in the NHA, winning a championship in 1916. The counts listed here are NHL only.)
Nashville - 0 for 11. Drought: 11.
Made the playoffs for the fifth time ever and the fifth time in the past six seasons. Have never won a round. Have won a combined eight games in those five appearances.
New Jersey - 3 for 35. Drought: 6.
First-round exit. Probably the second-best team of our era, New Jersey won three Cups between 1995 and 2003. Haven't missed the playoffs since 1996, but have only won two series in the past six seasons.
NY Islanders - 4 for 37. Drought: 26.
Missed the playoffs (third straight season and fourth in the last five). Dominant team of the early 1980s with four Cups between 1980-83, New York has not won a playoff series since 1993 and had only won four series since 1984.
NY Rangers - 4 for 83. Drought: 15.
Missed the playoffs. Since Cup win in 1994 (first since 1940), New York has won six playoff series and missed the playoffs eight times.
Ottawa - 0 for 17. Drought: 17.
First-round exit. SC Final appearance in 2007 marked second time in team history they made it past the second round (2003). Rather successful at making playoffs with just one miss in past 13 seasons. The original Senators were one of the dominant teams in the early part of the last century.
Philadelphia - 2 for 42. Drought: 34.
Stanley Cup Finalist. Philadelphia has made the playoffs 14 of the past 15 seasons, but has not won a Cup since 1975.
Phoenix - 0 for 30. Drought: 30.
First-round exit. Phoenix has missed the playoffs in 7 of past 9 seasons and has not won a playoff series since 1987. Their only other series win was in 1985. The Jets were the best of the WHA teams but were gutted upon their admission to the NHL.
Pittsburgh - 3 for 42. Drought: 1.
Second-round exit. Pittsburgh is back from the dead after a 15-year drought from 1993-2008, bankruptcy and the threat of relocation.
San Jose - 0 for 18. Drought: 18.
Third-round exit. Oakland reborn, the Sharks have never won anything either. Have made the playoffs in 13 of 18 seasons, advancing past the second round twice (2004, 2010).
St. Louis - 0 for 42. Drought: 42.
Missed the playoffs (fourth time in five seasons). Last made it out of the second round in 2001. When the NHL guaranteed that an expansion team would make the SC Final, the Blues were that team every single time. Have won two rounds in a single season once since 1970 (2001).
Tampa Bay - 1 for 17. Drought: 5.
Missed the playoffs (third straight season). Tampa is the other post-1991 expansion team to win a Cup (2004). Other than that, Tampa has missed the playoffs in 12 of 17 seasons and has only won one other playoff series (2003).
Toronto - 13 for 92. Drought: 42.
Missed the playoffs (fifth straight season). Toronto has not been to a Final since 1967. Made the third round four times between 1993 and 2002. Last won a playoff series in 2004. 11 series wins since 1992.
Vancouver - 0 for 39. Drought: 39.
Second-round exit. Vancouver hasn't been out of the second round since 1994 (SC Final) and has only won five playoff series in the past 15 seasons and 13 in their entire history.
Washington - 0 for 35. Drought: 35.
First-round exit. Since their SC Final appearance in 1998, the Capitals have won just one playoff series (2009). Have been out of the second round twice in their history (1990, 1998) and have won 11 playoff series in their history.
Once again, droughts are the norm, not the exception. The only reason Toronto's is longer is that they are an older team. What is happening here is no different that what is happening in most every other hockey city. It has just been happening longer.
If it helps, the Jays were indeed something special. It was fun. I loved it. However, they are now 2 for 33, with a 16-year drought (15, I guess, because of 1994) and no playoff appearances since 1993.
The Leafs will win again eventually. It might be five years, it might be 50. When it happens, as James says, "cherish [it] because it might never happen again."
That's sports, folks.
As an aside, there was a comment made on CBC comparing Towes and Kane to Hull and Mikita, mainly in terms of their age. In 1961, Mikita was 20 and Hull 22. With Ken Wharram, Pierre Pilote, Moose Vasko and Glenn Hall still all in their 20s and kids like Dennis Hull, Phil Esposito and Pat Stapleton set to arrive in the next hanful of years, the Hawks should have been set.
In 1963-64, five of the six first-team all-stars came from Chicago. Only Tim Horton broke in to represent the rest of the league. They went out in the first round. Toronto won the Cup that season. With all that talent, it took 49 years to get another one.
There are no certainties in sport.