When the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club & Sadness Factory plays another team, sometimes there will be a goal that is subject to the plague of video review. Video review, if you are new to the league, is a process by which a goal is looked at from nine angles, none of which are clear, and is either overturned because a player was offside three games earlier or sustained because the goalie interference rule is just a copy of that Salvador Dali painting with the melting clocks. And if said call happens to go in favour of the Leafs, some fan of the team injured by this decision will inevitably remark bitterly: “We’re never going to get a fair call out of Toronto. They have the league offices there.”
It is no use to point out that the Leafs were the only team to lose every single coach’s challenge last year, or that currently the Leafs are 28th in the NHL in power play opportunities despite being one of the league’s fastest teams. It does not do any good to observe that in the last three seasons only one player has been suspended one game for an offence against a Leaf player while the Leafs have taken four suspensions for doing things to other people. It doesn’t even help to suggest that if the league were shaving the dice in favour of Toronto that maybe the Leafs wouldn’t have spent the last fifty years suffering every imaginable misfortune except relocation, and even then at least relocation would have saved us from the fucking Bruins. The league offices are in Toronto, you see.
Now, there actually is a bias in the media in favour of the Leafs, which is that a lot of people are (foolishly, if you ask me) fans of this woebegone franchise and so they get talked about more than teams that do not have as many fans. I don’t know why it’s a huge shock that private media companies like Sportsnet (which shares ownership with the Leafs, for Christ’s sake) or TSN would report more on things that more people would like to hear about, but apparently it is, to judge by the angry “too many Leaf stories!” comments that one balding guy with Oakley shades puts in under every article. I also don’t know that it’s all that enviable to be talked about more when you realize the substance of this unending Leaf content mill is
- Is it time to trade Nylander?
- Is it time get an awful third-pair defenceman your uncle likes by trading Nylander?
- Is Auston Matthews’ mustache a mistake that’s hurting the team?*
- You know who the Leafs should trade? Nylander
*The answer is actually yes to this one.
But that aside, the league has shown a distinct unwillingness to benefit its largest franchise. Hell, even things like the salary cap, revenue sharing and so on clearly benefit other teams to the detriment of Toronto.
So I would like to say: it’s time for the league to start tipping the scales a little.
Let’s be honest, everyone will be mad at the Leafs anyway. Nobody likes rich kids and those fans, ugh, amirite? So let’s lean in a bit. Start tilting the calls here and there. Give the Leafs an extra powerplay once in a while. Actually give a suspension when Kyle Okposo tries to shatter Travis Dermott’s spinal column with a hit from behind. Call goalie interference anytime an opposing player breathes on Frederik Andersen (you don’t have to do this for Michael Hutchinson, we recognize there are limits and it’s not like that’s gonna save him.) You’ll help an enormous market get some key playoff games—but there’s an important benefit for the rest of the league.
Now that every movie in existence is a superhero movie, it’s worth noting what differentiates the good ones from the bad ones, besides the fact that all the ones with Superman in them suck. You know what made Black Panther cool? It had a really good villain. You know why Tom Hiddleston is in eighteen Marvel movies despite dying at the end of like nine of them? Because he’s a really good villain. It’s no fun if the heroes just triumph over some nameless goon.
Beating the Toronto Maple Leafs hasn’t even been that hard lately. Boston makes a big show of it and then inevitably crucifies them in Game 7. The rest of the time the Leafs tend to miss the playoffs. If the Big Bad Franchise is just a stooge tripping over his skate laces, where’s the fun in that? The story is David and Goliath, not David and Mr. Bean.
So the league should give the Leafs a leg up. Make them a real villain, with all sorts of unfair advantages. It would give fans a better reason to hate them than the fact they’re from a big city and boo, big cities bad. When a team upsets the Leafs despite having played three-quarters of a series short handed, isn’t that a way better achievement than winning just because the Leafs are playing Cody fucking Ceci twenty minutes a night? Of course, this process might also end in Toronto winning a few Cups here and there, which frankly I think is fine too. They don’t engrave asterisks on the trophy.
The alternative, of course, would be to note that NHL officiating isn’t intentionally biased any one way but that it favours even-out makeup calls regardless of what happens on the ice; that the league’s Department of Player Safety is run by a former brawler who literally has a clothing brand with “violent” in the name; that the NHL has added more and more review without making anyone happier about the actual goal calls; that dangerous hits are thrown constantly and that the league responds unevenly because it won’t accept that major changes to the game would be what was required to actually get rid of them.
And honestly dealing with all that stuff sounds super hard. So if we’re going to have a messy, trainwreck system, I vote we at least skew it in a fun way.
Start some pro-Leafs bias.