On the Leafs, lockouts, blowouts and checking-out

The Leafs biggest weakness wasn't on the ice - it was the pen in Randy Carlyle's right hand. - Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

Boy, wouldn't It be nice if being a fan was just a little bit easier?

It shouldn’t be this hard to be a fan.

I didn’t watch much of the Leafs playoffs this year. Of the seven games I watched four, maybe five. About the same amount I watched of the tremendous LA – St. Louis series.

I missed some of the games due to other commitments: getting kids to and from Girl Guides, choir lessons and Hapkido classes. I also had hockey games of my own to play. Some games I skipped by choice.

As much as I wanted to embrace this year’s Leafs, as much I was thrilled by the play of Phil Kessel, James Reimer, Jake Gardiner and James van Riemsdyk, part of me checked-out and I’m not sure if or when I’ll return.

The biggest culprit is the lockout.

The loss of half a season of hockey was nothing more than a craven cash-grab. A work stoppage that could have, and should have addressed certain deficiencies in the game and, more importantly, tried to fix the broken revenue model. Instead, it was nothing more than the filthy stinking rich taking a bigger slice of the pie from the disgustingly wealthy.

For this, we lost half a season of hockey. I resent that and I resent that hockey fans are expected to come blindly rushing back. Like a million George Smileys, cuckolds too thrilled by Lady Ann's return to stop and think about what's gone on.

The second culprit is the culture of hockey.

Hockey Night in Canada has become almost un-watchable. Actually, un-listenable is the better word. The technical aspects of their coverage remain best in class while the talking heads are remedial at best. It takes something away from the match when I have to watch on mute rather than suffer the toxicity of Glenn Healy’s snark, the vapidity of Craig Simpson and the simpering affectations of Jim Hughson (who managed to blow the call on Bergeron’s series winning goal). The sound of a period ending has become the cue to change the channel or leave the room.

Pity poor Elliotte Friedman – the man who should be hosting the panel, picking the guests and leading the next wave of intelligent hockey coverage. Instead, he’s surrounded by PJ Stock, a semi-cogent former jock who appears to be suffering from aphasia, and Kevin Weekes a hockey parody/ better dressed version of Tex Boil ("That’s right Edna Ron"). This is the best our billion-dollar broadcaster can offer.

The third and final culprit is the so-called brain trust of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The guys in charge who decided to play face-puncher hockey and got lucky when they out-ran the percentages in a lock-out shortened season. The men who wanted Kiprusoff. The group who thought it was a good idea to play two goons in the opening game of the playoffs. The deep thinkers who played AHL defencemen while Jake Gardiner sat in the press box.

It was only when injuries forced their hand that the Leafs finally iced all of their best players. The Leafs playoff MVP might be Mark Kostka’s finger. Think of that. If Kostka hadn’t broken that finger, Jake Gardiner would still be in the pressbox and the Leafs likely wouldn’t have lasted five games against the Bruins.

When it comes right down to it, the worst mistake of this Leafs season didn’t involve blown coverage, a badly timed pinch or an allegedly weak glove hand. The worst mistake of the Leafs season involved nothing more than Randy Carlyle, a disposable pen and the nightly line-up card.

Had Carlyle and Co. iced the line-up that skated in games five through seven for the majority of the season, this Leafs team likely threatens to win the North East, gets a better draw in the post-season and doesn’t play the Bruins on the road. That’s the fulcrum of the Leafs season right there. Instead of going with talent, the Leafs went with face punchers. The bad roster decisions and player utilization that started in January cast the team’s fate in May.

Somehow I suspect this angle of roster management will not be discussed in the papers. Nor will it be the hot topic on the sports panels populated by b-list and c-list talent – executives who were not good enough to stay in the game and journeymen players who appear to have suffered repetitive head injuries. It will go without comment among the chattering classes who supposedly matter. Another reason I have begun to tune out...

It shouldn’t be this big of a challenge to embrace your team and go all-in, but the culture of professional hockey is driving me away. It’s keeping me from watching NHL games, it's driving me away from my TV and radio, and it’s why I won’t watch hockey the rest of these playoffs.

It shouldn’t be this hard to be a fan but this spring, more than any other, it certainly is.

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