If I say Dave Nonis, what comes to mind?
I'm sure it's a lot of things. Signings and trades, the coach he wouldn't fire. David Clarkson. But what comes to my mind is the three-sided contest between the Leafs, the fans and the media when Nonis was GM.
PPP had an unassailable identity then, and it was built around the idea that the media were supporting the team and Nonis unquestioningly, when it was obvious he was a fool. This didn't just verge on a conspiracy theory, it was one, and it required a lot of creativity, one might even call it narrativization, to prop up the idea. It gave the fans who were devoted to the Leafs and yet hated them someone to vent at.
The media is not one thing, just as fans aren't. PPP was a different place to a lot of other Leafs fans sites at that time as it still is. The media – then almost entirely newspaper beat reporters, talk radio performers and television panel or play-by-play performers – rarely criticized the teams they covered. And they didn't talk about Corsi and they did present and frame the narrative of the game (that's what play-by-play is) in emotional terms, relying on ideas about the proper way to be a man and inferring how much someone cares by how they act on the bench.
But the newspaper beat reporters could have taken a different tack. They could have gone in for analysis that wasn't fairy stories about hot dogs. They could have questioned some contracts. But that was a different time, the newspapers were dying, no one working at them understood the internet or social media – or crucially, the salary cap – and it may well be that it was too much to ask for a revolution in the way the team was covered coming out of the lockout. Everything was supposed to be sunny again. The NHL was pulling some strings.
That was then.
And now it's a different world. Some of those television performers do longform analysis on podcasts. Radio is almost dead, the two newspapers left in Toronto still churn out "three quotes and some prose" gamers that say nothing. Social media is a churning sea of negativity and outrage, where the anti-fan rules. If you want to be countercultural, you just have to like the Leafs or hockey in general. Up until last summer, you just had to like Kyle Dubas most of the time.
Last summer a lot of things changed, or the changes that had been gradually boiling us frogs watching the NHL became apparent. There was open snickering that Brad Treliving got his "white whale" when he signed Ryan Reaves to that absurd contract. A podcast by the most inside of insiders Darren Dreger (along with his own man Ray Ferraro) openly discussed fan anger at the signing of John Klingberg. What sticks in my memory about that day was that they were themselves surprised at the scale of the negative reaction of fans. That said to me the normal people who had never seen a heat map thought it was dumb.
And last night, Craig Simpson said: You just can't make a play like that. Like this, he meant:
A few games back, the Leafs were in another one-goal game late – isn't it always thus? And it was too late, likely. But you've watched a lot of hockey, so have I, and what do we expect to see when it's too late, likely? We expect to see players trying like it's not too late. Never give up! And Klingberg did his lazy-looking lope skate back to get the puck with the goalie pulled and sauntered back to the offensive zone with it, and it was too late for sure then.
It was nitpicking, I said to myself, to complain about that. It was optics over reality, and I hate that sort of thinking. I hate that word. I was inferring lazy and uncaring from a few strides on the ice. Maybe I wasn't wrong, though.
It's not 2013 anymore. The knives will come out for the entire cast of the Maple Leafs. For the coach who excuses himself for not trusting Max Lajoie, but acts like he thinks John Klingberg is an NHLer. For playing Ryan Reaves because he hangs around the net, and one of these days Noah Gregor will bounce one in off his ass. For spending an entire training camp with Tyler Bertuzzi and not knowing now what the hell to do with him.
Last year the Leafs had a very bad start. On Nov. 2, at game 11, their Cumulative Expected Goals Differential was a sad-looking 1.5.
The knives will come out for Treliving for signing his white whale, for putting his own emotional view of hockey ahead of the team, for thinking identity is actually what you strive for not ability. For extending this coach because the illusion of stability was what mattered to him.
This year the Leafs have had a very bad start. Their Cumulative Expected Goals Differential is -3.6.
The knives will come out for Brendan Shanahan for having an emotional meltdown and breaking up with Kyle Dubas and then hiring a guy whose most famous moment as a GM came when his good players walked away and he sought stability by overpaying the older, worse replacements. Now they're trying to leave that team too!
The day Mike Babcock was fired, the Cumulative Expected Goals was -1.96.
Bloody Sunday, when Nonis and all who surrounded him were fired, was the dawn of the new age. The first time since 1967 the Leafs were trying to be a good team in a serious way. It was possibly the biggest revolution to ever come to an NHL franchise. But every revolutionary movement eventually becomes the moribund, reactionary mess it overthrew. And when Shanahan hired Treliving, wasn't he just getting another Nonis?
But we'll forget about it once the Leafs start winning. Tuck away your concerns that when these one-year deals are up, Treliving will be free to make really, really stupid ones instead. That he'll keep questing for stability, for identity, for his kind of guy. Never mind, though. Winning fixes everything.