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The Evil Empire

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Toronto signs Tavares and becomes what it’s always been meant to be.

NHL: NHL Draft Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

You might not have heard, but the Leafs have signed the biggest free agent to change teams since at least Scott Niedermayer. So here we are. We’re the real villains now, kids. No more messing around.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of checking any New York Islanders websites, well, have a look. They are not taking it well! They consider Tavares somewhere between Judas Iscariot and the scorpion from Aesop’s Fables. They want Toronto to fail catastrophically, and go to some fantasy cap hell where we have to trade William Nylander because they want us to suffer, damn it.

This may seem to be par for the course. At least six or seven fanbases hate us with the fire of a thousand suns at any given time, and we’re a bit inured to people wishing failure upon us because we’re Leaf fans. It’s no use to point out that the Isles had Tavares for nine years at a huge discount and did precisely dick all with his services, or that it’s bizarre to expect him to display two decades’ worth of loyalty to an employer that the NHL’s draft system handed him over to when he was a teenager. Or to point out that it’s entirely natural for a player born and raised in Toronto, who lives in Toronto, to want to play in Toronto. No, he’s a snake! A monster. A TRAITOR.

The change, though, isn’t other fanbases hating us; hell, the Isles haven’t especially loved us since Darcy Tucker took out Mike Peca’s knee sixteen years ago. No, it’s that instead of being hated as rich, brain dead failures, the Leafs are rich, dangerous competition. Right up until Sunday afternoon, other fans were mocking those Toronto suckers for thinking the Leafs could ever attract a marquee free agent. For, you see, Toronto is a city of delusional punchlines to 1967 jokes who exist only to get dunked on for not winning.

Guess what?

The Leafs, for the first time in years, are a real prospect, a real free agency threat. They’re a team a superstar will turn down more money to join, and a team that has an honest-to-God contender’s shot at the Cup next season. They have the best forward core in the NHL, and despite what dumber analysts will tell you, there’s no reason they’ll have to give it up in the next few seasons. At last, the wealthiest, biggest franchise in the NHL is ready to act more like the New York Yankees and less like the Washington Generals.

If you’ve been watching the Leafs through recent decades, you’ve had the displeasure of watching Toronto be managed into the ground by GMs overpaying second-rate talents. Now we’re a place the NHL’s elite are signing up to join. It feels good, doesn’t it?

Don’t worry about us being hated. Everyone hates us anyway. But now we’re going to give them good reason. We’re the Evil Empire. Let’s roll.