Toronto has becoming an increasingly toxic environment when it comes to sports and sports fandom. When it comes to the Leafs however, it rises to a new level. Fans become delusional on either side of the fence. "Colton Orr is useful!" or "Trade Kessel!" have become the newest reactions from leaf fans early on this season. This is not anything new however. Join me for a look at how Toronto has turned some regular Leaf fans into lunatics, and some advanced stat advocates into complete snobs.
Toronto has always been a city that has an unprecedented amount of hope in its sports teams. Whether its Jays fans trying to convince themselves that RA Dickey is the next Roy Halladay, or Leaf fans thinking Reimer and Scrivens can lead the team into the playoffs. Sports fandom in Toronto is comical at its best, and extremely absurd at its worst. There are various reasons for this. Not making the playoffs in seven years is one. An atrocious management of the Leafs is another. I think the fact that the game of hockey is evolving into something different than the pre 2005 era is a big factor. Fan favourites like Tie Domi and his new counterpart Colton Orr, are useless in today's game. The advanced stats movement has been gaining steam for a few years now. Defensive metrics and possession numbers are now the current tools used in player evaluations. This doesn't sit well with the "traditional" Leaf fan. Talk anything other than goals, assists and plus-minus and they turn into raging blowhards.
Advanced stats received mainstream attention after the release of Moneyball. The book told the story of how Billy Beane, GM of the Oakland Athletics managed to compete with a severely limited budget. His main advantage was the use of advanced statistics and metrics, now known as Sabermetrics. It was only a matter time before hockey adopted a similar form of stat tracking. This is where the divide began with Leaf fans. While some embraced the change to a more mathematical system of evaluating players, others have resisted against it. When the times change, people need to adapt, or else they risk being left behind. It's sad to see the sheer number of Leaf fans that refuse to move on from days past. Once you have two camps of fans, the fighting will inevitably begin. To make matters even worse, the team is terrible. If the Leafs had some measure of success in recent years, I'm sure the fan infighting would be tame. Even on here, you have some of that friction. While most of the regulars on PPP aren't difficult or nasty at all, some "stats nerds" are. When newer users post arguments, which tend to go against the advanced metrics crowd, some feel the need to completely humiliate them. Debates turn into pissing matches with some on the advanced stats side adopting a "holier than thou" attitude while the more "traditional" fan adopts the "name calling" strategy. It's bad all around. It seems like the Toronto Maple Leafs bring out the absolute worst in everyone. There's that toxicity I mentioned.
As the game evolves, the Maple Leafs seem to fall further and further behind. Lacking any sort of direction, we have seemed to fall back on increasingly irrelevant "Tough Guy" method. If we can't outscore them, or prevent them from scoring on us, we can punch their faces in! Brilliant plan! This all may sound funny to you now, but the amount of fans who think this actually works is staggering. When things get bad, people tend to look for anything, or anyone to save them. Leaf fans who have no desire to do some in-depth reading tend to turn to media personalities for guidance. This is where Don Cherry and Damien Cox have their biggest influence. Flocks of directionless people tune in to hear someone with an answer. Cherry can yell and scream that Toronto isn't tough enough, and they need to ice a team of just Canadians, and people buy it. Now you have a little podcast called Leaf Matters, which consists of a rather intelligent Leaf fan, and a complete loon. "Some nights I'd rather ice a team of 18 Mike Browns" proclaims one of the hosts. This is the kind of attitude that never seems to die, even when it becomes increasingly outdated. If the Toronto Maple Leafs will not change with the times, why would the average Leaf fan? As I said above, if the Leafs were a successful team, these attitudes would probably become less apparent, and more people would buy into the new ideals.
Hockey went away for a few months during the lockout. I was optimistic that this little break would cause fans to take a good look at themselves. We have gotten to the point where hockey has become too personal. Instead of looking for other avenues of entertainment, a good number of hockey fans just let their resentments and opinions stew. Now that hockey is back, so is the Toronto toxicity. "Traditional" Leaf fans, please let go. I know you prefer old hockey. Hell, I do too. The product even in 2004 is better than it is now. But it's not coming back. The sport has changed and evolved. Recent discoveries on head injuries and concussions have made head-hits and fights less appealing. That's life. Move on, and adapt to the changing times. Also, to some (not all) of the Leaf fans who read up and use advanced stats on a daily basis, chill out, you're not smarter than everyone. While advanced metrics are a great tool, it does not tell the whole story. Stats and numbers are considered facts, and rightly so. However, as William Faulkner said, "The facts and the truth really don't have much to do with each other". You can claim that "traditional" hockey fans are closed minded all you want, but you can be guilty of the same thing as well.
So yes, the team is awful. We all know this. Do not let it be an excuse to turn into children whining about each other. 80 percent of the time, PPP is a great place for an intelligent, rational debate. The odd time you can get an absolute gong-show, which turns some people away. However, the vast majority of time, it's pretty great. Just don't let the toxicity of Leaf fandom get in the way of civil discourse.
Addendum: Life Without Mats
I wanted to add this short piece at the end, which has a little to do with Leaf fans' attitudes. A while back, loads of Leaf fans wanted Sundin off the team. Whether it was because he didn't hit enough, or people thought we could get a huge return for him. Either way, he wasn't really welcome here anymore. Leaf fans got what they wanted. In 2008, he left. Fans had hopes that the Maple Leafs would find a younger, suitable replacement for him. Well, it's been four years, and we still don't have one. That attitude annoyed me to no end. Placing your hopes and faith with the most inept management group was a huge mistake. When you have elite talent on your team, enjoy it while you can. Especially since the Leafs management is a complete embarrassment. It's been four years, and we don't have a #1 Centre. Nobody on the team, aside from maybe Kessel, comes even close to matching what Sundin did. But hey, you "old-school" fans got exactly what you asked for. This team where it is now, is what life without Mats is like. In the years since, we went from a mediocre team to a downright awful team. Wanting our #1 guy gone without anyone on the team, or in the system, to replace him was a pretty smart move guys. You asked for it, and now you have it.