It didn't take long for the Leafs to go from first in the NHL to dropping out of playoff contention… but it doesn't really matter just yet.
It may matter a whole lot in April, but for the moment, I suspect they're still getting their stride and the team has shown a lot of promise.
They've got a snowball's chance in hell of winning the cup this year, but they definitely look better than last year's team so hopefully the steady improvement will continue, scoring slump be damned.
What I really want to address today though are Brian Burke's comments about people booing Dion Phaneuf, and Toronto Star reader's responses to them.
I've linked the article below in the related link.
Here's relevant the quote:
“You’re talking about a real small number of people and frankly I think it’s a disgrace,” said Burke. “Ten games in and I don’t think I’ve ever had a player booed. I think it’s really unfair to Dion because of the things he’s brought. The mistakes he’s made generally happen when we’re behind and he’s trying to make something happen.
“He’s given us solid defensive zone coverage, he’s almost single-handedly changed the culture of our team.”
Burke added fans who paid their money to see the team can say what they like, as long as it’s not hateful, homophobic, or racist.
I think that's a fair comment to make, but find it interesting that the responses posted on thestar.com by readers seem to be implying that the people are completely justified in their booing and that he should just shut up and manage.
I'm actually very surprised by this. I mean, I guess the people commenting probably aren't fans either, but they sure are vocal about their anti-fandom!
Here's my thoughts on this:
I think MLSE has brought this on themselves, but not for the reasons people seem to be spouting out, such as the dismal record of the team. I think they've brought this on themselves by filling the arena not with fans, but with a bunch of corporate fatcats. Actual fans can't get, or can't afford tickets to the games, so a huge number of the people in the seats could care less about the team, or even worse, find pleasure in mocking them. They haven't spent money to be there. They wouldn't spend money to be there. They get to be there because some company owns a bunch of seats so they're at the game for free because it's better than sitting at home on a Saturday night.
They probably think the people that actually paid to be there are just suckers.
Of course, the companies that bought those seats are paying a fortune for them, doing their part to fill the MLSE coffers, so they're allowed to do whatever they want. If you tell them not to boo, they're only going to do it louder.
So what's the solution?
For years, MLSE has made huge amounts of money by fielding a barely adequate team and then throwing just enough money at them near trade deadlines to make it look as though they were making an effort to win. I'm pretty sure that's why they haven't had a Cup since original expansion. But that changed a couple years ago, when they gave Brian Burke the reins and told him he could do whatever he wants.
It was probably a byproduct of the salary cap, since the team no longer needs to worry about limiting spending so they can keep their money, but it was a big step in the right direction. Win or lose, at least I now believe they're doing everything they can do with the team itself to make it competitive.
Perhaps what's next though is to change the culture at the arena. If things continue as they are now, even while Burke can do whatever he wants, there will be players who just don't want to come to Toronto because it's not a great place to play.
Sure, we're the greatest hockey city in the world, but as mentioned above, the fans that make it such a great and lucrative hockey market aren't the people filling the stands.
I can't help but wonder just how much money MLSE makes from their box office, and whether shuffling things up there would really hurt them in their pocketbooks. They should do away with most of season tickets and let people who want to buy tickets actually buy tickets for some reasonable amount of money. Keep the corporate boxes I suppose, as those are going to be around no matter what, but get rid of the rest. Let the fans back into the arena, and get rid of the flack.
If the players are appreciated rather than mocked, it can only make better things happen.