The best part about the Leafs being on the West Coast is that I can post the game day thread a bit later in the day. In a different vein, mostly because the stats are depressing, I'll be answering five questions from my SB Nation colleague Diecast Dude who runs the great Sharks blog Fear The Fin. His answers to my questions can be found here. Commenting details are the same if you're still around.
1. Most all Sharks fans are very surprised at how much Toskala has struggled in Toronto, since when he was here he was easily the equal of if not better than Nabokov. Is it him, the players in front of him, or both that's the problem?
Toskala's early struggles were mostly a function of getting used to a new group of defencemen and working out their tendencies. In the 12 games before his groin injury Toskala had a sub-2.00 goals against and .915+ save percentage which is what Leaf fans had expected after the trade. It's disappointing that he picked up the injury just as he was rounding into form. Some of the juggling of goalies that Maurice did early on probably didn't help him settle in either.
2. Out here, there are three kinds of sports fans: the tiny minority who would crawl from here to Tierra Del Fuego to see a pick-up game played by penguins (the real ones, not those in Pittsburgh), the other half of those who fill the Tank because it's a night out and the current in thing to do, and the vast majority who when you say icing immediately ask what flavor and what kind of cake. The concept of there being a television channel devoted solely to a team is unfathomable. That all said, aside from "how did they snooker Joe Thornton away from Boston," what's the general impression of Maple Leaf fans about California fans in general and Sharks fans in particular?
Especially because of the new schedule the West Coast teams have mostly become an afterthought for East Coast teams which is a shame considering the recent history that the Leafs have with the Western Conference. In terms of the fans, you can sum up Leaf fans attitudes to the West Coast teams as a group in that there is never talk about contracting those teams.
They have achieved, in my opinion, the 'hockey market' tag now to the extent that the conversation about problems selling the game does not go after what you would imagine is the easiest target: California. Certainly it helps that the Sharks, aside from their first expansion years, have managed to ice a strong team which helps keep those casual fans interested in the team.
3. A semi-related question: driving home after home games, the wife and I always listen to the post-game wrapup on the Sharks flagship radio station, during which they give the out-of-town scores. Every time the Maple Leafs play and lose, the lead announcer Dan Rusanowsky makes a comment about how the Toronto papers will no doubt react tomorrow. Jamie Baker, who's the color announcer, replies with frustration evident in his voice about the team's problems. Bear in mind how out here a traditional NHL rivalry is the Sharks and the Ducks! That said, at least among the Sharks announcers on both television and radio there is spoken agreement how it's detrimental to the NHL when one or more of the Original Six is struggling. Why is a team that has everything in terms of resources going for it having such a miserable year?
If Rusanowsky says that the papers will be predicting Armageddon after a loss he will always be right. At least this year they have good reason to be Chicken Littles - the sky is actually falling. As to why, it's a organization-wide problem that starts with the board of directors refusing to acknowledge that they know nothing about hockey, it goes to a GM that doesn't value the draft or invest in the scouting infrastructure, and a history of the team being able to spend its way out of trouble - an option that no longer exists.
4. Every time a Canadian team comes to San Jose the Tank is rockin'. It's a different vibe than when Detroit is in town, where you know three-quarters of the people in Red Wings gear are strictly front-runners. These fans are fans who live and breathe the game plus their team regardless of how it's doing. Tonight will be the same, only more so. The last time the Leafs were in town three or four years ago was insane. What's it like on those rare occasions when the Sharks come to town? Just another team, or is there a difference?
The truth is that while most teams have at least some presence at games in Toronto it's really only the other Canadian teams that create a buzz. You'll notice opposition fans but they don't really hit that buzz-creating critical mass.
The only American teams that bring a bit of it are the Red Wings and Penguins. That's mostly a function of distance from other clubs, the insane prices of the tickets, and the scarcity.
5. Any truth to the rumor that Toronto management is contemplating planting palm trees in front of Air Canada Centre to try and convince the team they're from California so they'll play better, Los Angeles notwithstanding?
Haha, if palm trees would work then I'd be all for it. They probably won't but you know what might? Doug Wilson. Feel free to send him to Toronto!