By Nick Taylor-Vaisey - Tuesday, May 14, 2013 - 0 Comments
Last night was, only a few weeks ago, the stuff of pure fiction. The Toronto Maple Leafs held a 4-1 lead with 15 minutes left in the seventh and deciding game of a playoff series against a team full of guys who know how to win the Stanley Cup. And they were on the road, against all odds, somehow winning.
To that point, Maple Leafs fans were incapable of feeling disappointed. Their team had returned to the playoffs for the first time since [insert nostalgic reference], a gift all its own. They’d fallen behind three games to one, and every game after that was, again, a gift. Forcing a seventh game was unconscionable, but they accomplished that. Even if they lost that final game, everyone would have to at least take the Leafs seriously again, right? And then, in that game, they held a 4-1 lead.
The Leafs had somehow shown, if only for a matter of minutes, that they could not only test the Bruins, but maybe even beat them. Their fans, even if they wouldn’t admit it, got their hopes up. They tasted it. And what followed was the only sequence of events that could ruin all of that: an epic collapse, and a 5-4 overtime loss. Suddenly, and starkly, it didn’t matter that the Leafs were never supposed to get as far as they did. All those gifts, those new leases on life, evaporated. There remained only loss.
All of it was pure fiction, only months ago. Now it’s just a hangover and, as usual, all about next year.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Monday, May 13, 2013 at 11:43 PM - 0 Comments
Jonathon Gatehouse on the fun and futility of Toronto’s playoff run
If will be of little comfort to disconsolate fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but in the wake of a heartbreaking Game 7 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins, the old saw is as true as ever: Close only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades.
Yes, the Buds, making their first playoff appearance in nine long years were tantalizingly, agonizingly, impossibly near—battling back from a 3-1 series deficit and standing on the cusp of victory having built a 4-1 lead halfway through the third period, only to see it slip away. First the Bruins’ Nathan Horton scored with a little over 10 minutes left to make it 4-2. Then Milan Lucic made it 4-3 with just 1:18 remaining. Then Patrice Bergeron tied the game with only 51 seconds on the clock.
And finally, iresistibly, inevitably, in overtime, after Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul had twice been denied on the doorstep, first by Tuukka Rask’s arm and then a few seconds later, his mask, the payoff came at the other end of the ice. A scrambley goalmouth sequence where Toronto failed to clear the loose puck and it again ended up on the stick of Bergeron and in the back of net. And just like that, the season was over.
But while the manner in which the defeat came about stings, it won’t be what is remembered. In the NHL playoffs, your team wins, or it loses. And even moral victories quickly fade.
(Pop quiz: How many games went to OT in the Leafs 2002 Conference Final against Carolina?
Answer: It doesn’t matter, they lost.)
What is clear is that after waiting 46 years and counting for a Stanley Cup, and finishing out of the playoffs every single season between the NHL’s last two lockouts, Toronto has once again discovered that even futility can be fun. These past two weeks when the Maple Leafs finally gave their fans a reason to care about spring hockey, the city came alive. Blue and White sweaters were pulled out of the deepest recesses of closets, dusty flags reattached to car windows, and face-painted crowds gathered in bars and downtown streets to cheer and—for a little while at least—hope.
Up against the Bruins, Cup winners just two years ago and a team that has all but owned Toronto in regular season play over the past decade (28-17-7), it was never going to be easy. But a stirring 4-2 victory in Game 2 (on the heels of the 4-1 drubbing Boston handed them in the series opener) fanned the embers of playoff passion back to life.
In the hours before Game 3, Toronto’s first home playoff tilt in 3,289 days, the city took on a holiday feel with thousands of fans flooding the area around the Air Canada Centre. (Police eventually had to close off access to a packed plaza where the TV broadcast was being shown live on giant screens.) And inside the building the atmosphere was, for once, no less electric. The rinkside platinum seats—$796.75 each, including tax and surcharge—were actually filled before the puck dropped. The pumped up crowd made noise without the score board’s urgings, booed villains like Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, and Mayor Rob Ford, and even looked the part, abandoning suits and ties in favour of Leafs jerseys and freebie team scarves. And late in the second period when 22-year-old defenceman Jake Gardiner, playing in just his second career post-season game, scored to half a two-goal deficit, the roof almost lifted off.
By Nick Taylor-Vaisey - Tuesday, May 7, 2013 at 7:23 PM - 0 Comments
When playoff hockey returned to Toronto, the rust showed, here and there, somewhere between the fans and the game.
The fans were ready. What used to be normal, and was for nine years starkly absent, all of a sudden returned. That feeling of palpable excitement, formerly a spring rite of passage in a city that loves its hockey team, consumed the outdoor plaza at Maple Leaf Square before the game. Even the traditionally staid crowd inside the arena found its cheering legs, now and again. The fans weren’t the problem. They never forgot what a playoff goal looks like, how it sounds, and all the revelry that briefly follows.
The team was, more or less, ready. A few nights ago, they’d shown that they belong—or can belong—on the same ice as a Boston Bruins squad that’s chock full of Stanley Cup champions. Last night, with the first round series of the 2013 NHL playoffs knotted at a game apiece, they never managed enough momentum to discourage the powerful Bruins. They were rarely awful, and mostly just mediocre. Phil Kessel, the man everyone will watch for however long this series lasts, had sad moments—he coughed up the puck in his own zone and watched as winger Daniel Paille deposited it in the net—and happier moments, including a goal to call his own less than a minute into the third period. But, all told, despite demonstrating a rare ability to outshoot their opponents, the blue and white fell 5-2.
None of that, however, accounted for that lingering rusty feeling in the building.
Do you remember Jeff Douglas? Joe, of “I am Canadian” fame? He who was a small celebrity in Canada when, by coincidence, the Leafs used to make the playoffs on a regular basis? The Leafs brought him back last night, in between plays, to proclaim his love for the home team. “I wear blue and white, not black and yellow,” he proclaimed. “I cheer for Sundin, not Alfredsson.” There was only one problem with the scene: Joe wasn’t wearing blue and white. He was wearing the same black and red—in a checkered pattern—that Daniel Alfredsson’s Senators don on a nightly basis. Oops.
During an earlier stoppage, Leafs announcer Andy Frost alluded to one man in the crowd who was celebrating his 105th playoff series as a Leaf fan. The camera panned to a private box where an 88-year-old Johnny Bower, a legend if ever one graced the arena’s halls, stood and blew kisses to the crowd. In so doing, Bower continued that fine modern tradition in Toronto: celebrate a glorious, fading past while you still can. Johnny Bower, Joe Carter, you fill in the blanks. It’s something to cheer in between whistles.
With fewer than 10 minutes left in the game, that other great tradition took hold of the ACC’s speakers: The Hockey Song. The Leafs had narrowed the score to 4-2, and were pushing in fits and starts to further close the gap, and Stompin’ Tom’s classic tune whipped the crowd into a frenzy. Only the song was cut off by the resumption of play—by a few seconds, but nevertheless.
Before last night, I’d never really listened to Carry On My Wayward Son, the hockey-rink staple that Kansas pumped out in 1976. But when it took over the arena at some point in the third period, the second verse—meant to energize the crowd, remember—struck me.
Masquerading as a man with a reason
My charade is the event of the season
And if I claim to be a wise man, well
It surely means that I don’t know
A cynic would say those four lines define what it means to be a fan of the Maple Leafs or Blue Jays or Raptors, or—credit where it’s due—any team that doesn’t play lacrosse (the Rock) or football (the Argonauts), since those teams occasionally win when it counts.
Leafs fans harbour a perennial obsession with their team unlike any other in Toronto’s sports universe. When the Jays are in last place, the Rogers Centre’s sea of empty blue seats serves as punishment. When the Raptors are determined to lose, their fan base remains intact—but who talks about them, anyway? Everyone’s stopped noticing Toronto FC altogether. Few non-diehards ever noticed the Argonauts, even if they were Canadian football’s best team last year.
Somehow, Leaf Nation forges ahead. Forget the Cup drought, they say. Forget the playoff drought. Our guys are back, aren’t they? It’s all worth it, even in an ultimately losing cause, if the Senators or Bruins or Canadiens suffer just a little bit. Does it even matter that most of the team’s fans weren’t born when the Stanley Cup paraded around town? Does winning matter anymore? Leaf fans are masquerading as people with a reason. Period.
Before the puck dropped at the ACC, the CN Tower lit up in blue. As fans filed out of the arena, the tower’s lights had gone purple. The game was over. The page already turned.
Now, the city does it all over again on Wednesday, when the series moves to its fourth game. And, once again, the fans hope everything clicks: their peers yelling, their players excelling, the Johnny Bower and Joe Canadian moments finely tuned. If that doesn’t work, there’s always Game 5.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Friday, May 3, 2013 at 3:00 PM - 0 Comments
The new Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment CEO in conversation with Jonathon Gatehouse
Tim Leiweke has always been known for his sales flair and relentless optimism, qualities that served him well over the last decade as he transformed AEG, the L.A.-based arena, sports and concert conglomerate into a major player in the global entertainment biz. But as the new president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE)—owners of the Leafs, Raptors, TFC and Toronto Marlies—he’ll have his work cut out for him as fans and his bosses (including Rogers, the owner of this magazine) look for someone to finally show them the winning way.
Q: Running MLSE is a big-deal job in Canada, but it doesn’t have anywhere near the scope of your last gig at AEG. Why did you want this position?
A: Well, neither did AEG when we started it, and so I never look at things that are fully baked and get excited about being a part of that. You always want to be a part of something that has great potential. And I am absolutely certain that there’s growth with the Maple Leafs, and it’s called the Stanley Cup. I think all would agree that there are better days ahead for the Raptors and that we have our work cut out, and I like that challenge. I think that TFC is a work in progress and, again, the best days are ahead of it. I happen to believe that there are a lot of opportunities there to grow that brand and to grow the company and, in particular, for the three teams to have much more success.
By Charlie Gillis - Monday, April 29, 2013 at 5:20 PM - 0 Comments
Brian Burke is thought to have struck a blow for accountability on the web with his defamation suit against 18 internet commenters, who last January spread rumours suggesting the erstwhile Toronto Maple Leafs general manager had an affair with sports TV anchor Hazel Mae.
“This will be a very public reminder to people that you can get sued for what you publish on the Internet,” libel lawyer Rider Gilliland told the Toronto Star in a typical response.
But is nabbing pseudonymous trolls the slam-dunk some analysts suggest?
Not by a long shot, says Michelle Awad, a Nova Scotia lawyer who fought a similar case, and has argued issues of Internet anonymity before the Supreme Court of Canada. While it’s true that case law empowers plaintiffs to unmask commenter who post libelous material, she says, the practical hurdles are considerable.
For starters, many web messages originate from IP addresses that host multiple users, such as cafés with unsecured wireless. “Once you have your court order,” Awad explains, “you go to the Internet service provider and ask for the customer information that goes with a particular IP address. But if it’s wireless Internet in a hotel lobby, you’re not going to get very far.”
Information held by the website where the comments are posted can be no more helpful, she adds. “Sometimes they log and say ‘I’m the Easter Bunny at Gmail.’ The site’s automatic registration system doesn’t recognize that’s probably not real.” At that point, says Awad, the plaintiff might take his court order to the webmail host—Google, say, or Yahoo—and seek user information from them. But there again, people can set up pseudonymous accounts from IP addresses that host many users.
So from a legal point of view, the web remains an untamed and unfriendly environment.
The better question arising from Burke’s suit: why does it name commenters but not websites or media companies? Sites, after all, are typically easy to trace to a specific IP address, and the offending statements in this case landed on some well-read ones. Moreover, those linked to major media agencies have deeper pockets, which means a successful plaintiff has the prospect of winning significant financial damages. The messages that so angered Burke appeared on, among other sites, Hockeyinsideout.com, a Montreal Canadiens-themed site run by the Gazette newspaper and owned by the Postmedia newspaper chain; and a popular blog called Canuckscorner.com.
At least one clue lies in a statement Burke’s lawyer, Peter Gall, issued Friday saying his client will seek damages from “everyone who has failed to take down these lies” when Burke first asked them to. According to Awad, the case law on a website operator’s responsibility is far from settled, but the courts look more kindly on sites that take responsibility for what they publish—who make a reasonable effort given the reach of their websites and their resources. Editors with Hockeyinsideout, for example, closely monitor comments, encouraging readers to alert them to potentially defamatory material and taking it down when they decide it crosses the line (a message from a commenter identified as ‘Ncognito’, who is named in Burke’s suit, is no longer on the site).
But others seem keen to play with fire. As the Star noted Saturday, one of the defendants named in the suit, THEzbrad, is linked to a blog where the comments appeared, and where an anonymously posted message this weekend dismissed the suit as “ridiculous.” “Burke obviously did not appreciate these few comments,” the post added, “but the fact that he is going to attempt to sue online commentators is pretty hilarious.”
That’s admirably nonchalant. But here’s some free advice to THEzbrad: take some time out from laughing and get yourself a lawyer.
By Charlie Gillis - Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 5:17 PM - 0 Comments
GM’s off-ice bluster and bombast never translated into success for the Leafs
It’s been a carnival ride, this Brian Burke era: noisy, colourful, stomach-churning and ultimately unequal to the hype.
When he blew into town on a gale of rhetoric four years ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs GM promised to restore the lost grandeur of the NHL’s richest franchise. The team would be fast, he said; it would be “truculent.” The Stanley Cup awaited, and the media, more so perhaps than the fans, were pumped.
Instead, the Leafs limped through three losing seasons, missed the playoffs for their seventh straight year and became one of the league’s least intimidating clubs. Today, as NHL governors gathered to vote on a new collective bargaining agreement with the players, the new owners of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment announced they were cutting the cord, replacing Burke with his more buttoned-down assistant, Dave Nonis.
So ends the tenure of one of the most entertaining figures in NHL management–a white-headed throwback to hockey’s bygone era who seemed built to endure one of the game’s great crucibles.
Tom Anselmi, the president of MLSE, was reluctant today to get into the reasons for Burke’s firing–beyond the self-evident ones. “You’ve got new owners who just bought into a company,” he said in reference to the Bell and Rogers partnership that completed its purchase of the team last summer. “They were evaluating people and the hockey club and that evaluation included how the team was doing, how it finished up last season.”
But there were suggestions today that Rogers and Bell executives were unimpressed by Burke’s bluster. And one cannot discount the effect of sorrow. In February 2010, Burke’s son Brendan was killed in a car accident; the GM was candid about how deeply he was affected by the loss (Anselmi, for the record, said the dismissal “had nothing to do with Brian’s personal life”).
Still, Burke’s record of misjudgment in Toronto is surprising, considering his deep roots in the game and his previous success as an executive with the Vancouver Canucks, the Anaheim Ducks and league offices.
To help explain why, in Anselmi’s words, the relationship between Burke and his corporate masters “wasn’t going to work,” we compiled a brief list of his blunders and misdemeanours during his time with the Leafs. None alone is enough to get a GM fired. But each is cringeworthy, and together they have delivered the Leafs to their current state.
The Phil Kessel deal: The speedy winger Burke acquired from Boston in Sept. 2009 is a bona fide scoring star, but Kessel is anything but truculent, and the price was too high. With the picks they got in return, Boston drafted forward Tyler Seguin, a more complete player than Kessel, and Dougie Hamilton, one of the best junior-aged defencemen in the game.
Mike Komisarek: Burke signed the hulking defenceman to a whopping five-year, $22.5-million contract just as his game went into decline. Injuries followed, and this summer Komisarek will be a prime candidate for a so-called “amnesty buyout,” where teams are permitted to pay out a player in order to gain room under the league’s salary cap.
Free-agent lethargy: Not once but twice during his term with the Leafs Burke was away from the office on July 1, the day teams compete for the season’s crop of unrestricted free agents. Hard to know whether his presence would have helped the Leafs land a star like, say, Brad Richards. And in both cases, Burke was supporting worthy causes. Still, to Leaf fans, the optics weren’t great.
Goaltending woes: J.S. Giguere couldn’t rediscover his old magic. Jonas “the Monster” Gustavsson was monstrously bad. James Reimer suffered head injuries. In four years, Burke never quite found the right man to play the game’s most important position.
Roberto Luongo: Burke saw the enigmatic star from St. Leonard, Que. as a potential solution to the Leafs’ goalie grief, but the time to get him was last summer. Luongo is in the third year of a 12-year contract, which was designed to get around the league’s old salary cap system. Now under complex provisions of the new CBA, the Leafs would take a serious cap hit if they traded for Luongo and he failed to play out the entire contract. He’ll be 43 when it expires.
Ron Wilson: Loyalty’s a virtue, but Burke left his former college roommate in place long after it became clear Wilson wouldn’t succeed. So long, in fact, that the fans were chanting “Fire Wilson!” as the Leafs floundered last season—a humiliation Burke then used as cover to let the coach go, saying keeping him in place would “cruel and unusual punishment.”
The credit side of Burke’s ledger is not empty, of course. Kessel may yet have his day, and James Van Riemsdyk, a rangy, talented winger acquired from Philadelphia, seems good return for Luke Schenn, the player Burke dealt to get him. Nazim Kadri, one of the Leafs’ top prospects, is excelling this season in the American Hockey League.
Burke was also a fine ambassador for the team in the city, donating time and money generously and standing tall for the causes in which he believes.
But good will doesn’t show in the NHL standings, and Anselmi has acknowledged that this move was months in the planning, that a change in leadership and direction was in order. If that’s true, it seems odd they’d opt for Nonis, who has a history with the current GM in Vancouver and Toronto, and who had a hand in running the team during its last four dismal seasons.
But Nonis is different. More withheld. More corporate. And not named Brian Burke. Until the Leafs go on their first losing streak, those are all things that will work in his favour.
By Nick Taylor-Vaisey - Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 2:25 PM - 0 Comments
By Emma Teitel - Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 1:38 PM - 0 Comments
“We naturally started decoding the rules of the game.”
That’s what Lena Sutherland and Jules Mancuso–co-hosts of the highly polarizing, “female friendly”, hockey broadcast While the Men Watch–revealed on daytime television last year, long before their CBC endorsed broadcast went on the air.
If you tuned into that broadcast Saturday night, and again on Tuesday, like I did, you’d know that they’ve succeeded with flying colours. Not only have Sutherland and Mancuso decoded the rules of the game: they’ve mastered them. They just don’t want you to know about it.
How do I know about it?
Because every so often during the broadcast, Sutherland and Mancuso would accidentally slip out of character, ditch their–OMG-hockey-is-so-boring-but-Lundqvist-isn’t-banter, to reveal, if only for a moment, just how naïve and ignorant about hockey they aren’t. In other words, comments like this–“If you can’t score on a power play something’s not jiving”—and this–”Gagne is coming in after being out since September”–were cut short and heavily overshadowed by obviously feigned questions about the rules of the game: i.e. making an observation about a team’s power play performance and then asking, naively, for someone to explain what exactly a power play is.
During Tuesday night’s broadcast, their eyes were fixed not on the camera, but on the game, as they tried their best to discuss whose celebrity wife was in the stands, or how much they used to “crush” on Wayne Gretzky.
And that’s what makes While the Men Watch so offensive to women. It’s not—as half the female Twitterverse would have you believe—the propagation of a myth that Canadian women don’t like or know about hockey—but the reality that women who do know and like hockey have based their broadcast on the premise that they don’t. This is clearly the subterfuge they figure they need to foster in order to appeal to all those hockey-disaffected women out in the Great White Beyond. That, and a tone of discourse that’s shallow and dumb—when obviously the best way to appeal to women and everyone else is to be shallow and clever.
The interesting thing? While the Men Watch may have emerged out of Sutherland and Mancuso’s “frustration with their sports-addicted husbands” but listen in, and it’s obvious that in the process the show has turned them into sports-addicts themselves. If only they’d stop pretending otherwise.
Which wouldn’t necessarily mean they’d have to ditch their gossip-rag analysis of hockey. Sports culture could use a little bit more gossip. But why steep the idea in ignorance? Why can’t you be a woman who is superficial and informed; knowledgeable about hockey and interested in dissecting the players’ looks or the coaches’ fashion faux pas.
I remember watching Leafs games at my aunt’s house when I was a kid (when the Leafs actually made the playoffs) and watching my aunt—who was just as glued to the game as her husband and all the other men in the room—repeatedly and mercilessly rag on Pat Quinn for his schlubby wardrobe and incessant gum chewing (which she found especially repulsive.) She didn’t have to feign ignorance about the game itself in order to have fun or be funny.
It’s too bad Mancuso and Sutherland think they do. Because though they haven’t (as their detractors like to claim) set the clock back on women’s rights 50 years, they’ve done something equally insidious.
They’ve proven that dumbing yourself down is a great way for a girl to get ahead.
By Nancy Macdonald - Thursday, April 12, 2012 at 12:53 PM - 0 Comments
EXCLUSIVE POLL: Who’s dirty? Who’s admired? Who’s loved? And who likes Don Cherry?
The Canucks as Canada’s most hated team? Think again. A new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll conducted in partnership with Maclean’s has found that Toronto—not Vancouver—is the country’s most hated hockey team. It turns out Vancouver, which has worn the “hated” label since last spring’s failed Stanley Cup run, is actually one of the country’s most popular teams. Montreal, meanwhile, is the country’s favourite club.
But while Canada may respect the Canucks, it doesn’t mean they’re going to cheer for them this playoff season.
In the wide-ranging hockey poll, Canadians were asked to name their most loved—and hated—Canadian NHL franchise, to name teams they find arrogant, dirty or disrespected, and to say what they actually think of Don Cherry.
The Leafs, it turns out, are a polarizing club—both loved and hated by a large segment of the population.
When Canadians are asked to name their favourite Canadian NHL club, 17 per cent chose the Leafs. When the question was reversed, and Canadians were asked to name their most hated national franchise, a slightly larger proportion, 19 per cent, chose the Leafs.
Like the Leafs, the Habs—the country’s other Original Six franchise—are also well loved. They’re the country’s most loved club, the choice of 19 per cent of Canadians. And they are also country’s next most despised team, among 15 per cent of Canadians.
Vancouver was the favourite club of 11 per cent of Canadians, while fourth place was a tie. Both Alberta franchises, the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames are favoured by five per cent of Canadians.
That picture changes, however, when you ask only hockey fans.
Among fans of the game, almost a quarter of the country, 24 per cent, name the Leafs their favourite team, followed by the Habs, with 21 per cent of the votes, and the Canucks, at 18 per cent. The Oilers, rounding out the list, come in with 13 per cent of votes.
At this stage, 35 per cent of Canadians tell Angus Reid they’ll root for Vancouver, and one in five Canadians, 20 per cent, are supporting the Ottawa Senators.
Nearly half the country, 45 per cent, however, would prefer to see an American team take home the Cup over the Canucks, with Boston (11 per cent), Pittsburgh (8 per cent) and Detroit (8 per cent), the most popular choices.
CITIES AND HOCKEY
Canadians not only dislike the Leafs, they hold negative views of the team. They see them as weak (48 per cent), in decline (43 per cent), arrogant (39 per cent), boring (38 per cent) and overrated (38 per cent).
In a funny finding, Canadians view Toronto much the same way as their hockey team. Both the Leafs and Torontonians are seen as arrogant, dirty, disrespected and overrated.
But Canadians don’t just see Toronto and the Leafs as one and the same. The Alberta capital and the Oilers are both seen as down to earth, while the Jets and Winnipeggers are both seen as undervalued. Vancouver and the Canucks are both seen as strong, exciting and clean. Both Montrealers and the beloved Habs are seen as dirty and in decline.
But Canadians also hold positive views of the Habs, with 49 per cent agreeing it is a classic club, and 36 per cent calling it admired.
Canadians also see the Canucks in a positive light. They see them as strong (47 per cent), exciting (36 per cent), clean (26 per cent).
No surprise, the game’s most divisive figure is a polarizing fellow. Just 40 per cent of Canadians say they have a favourable opinion of Don Cherry. Among hockey fans, however, that number jumps to 59 per cent. But what you feel about Grapes seems to depend on where you live: Albertans love him most (53 per cent), while only one in five Quebecers (19 per cent) have a favourable opinion of him.
But that’s just Cherry. Canadians have nothing but love for the game’s stars. A huge proportion of Canadians think favourably of Wayne Gretzky (87 per cent), Sidney Crosby (80 per cent) and Mario Lemieux (78 per cent).
At least they apologized: Toronto Maple Leafs take out a full page ad saying sorry for missing the playoffs again
By Gustavo Vieira - Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 12:10 PM - 0 Comments
The team that has become the laughing stock of the National Hockey League has…
The team that has become the laughing stock of the National Hockey League has one word for its fans: “sorry.” After missing yet another shot at the playoffs, the seventh in a row and the current longest drought in the NHL, the Toronto Maple Leafs published an open letter to fans, posted on its website and printed in Toronto’s newspapers, humbly apologizing for its poor performance on the ice. Signing the letter on behalf of players, coaches and managers, was Laurence Tanenbaum, chairman of the board of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Toronto NHL franchise. Although, control of the team is in the process of being partially sold to Rogers Communications Inc., owner of Maclean’s.
The Leafs had spent most of the season in a position to make the playoffs, but won just seven of their last 29 games (losing 15 out of 17 games since February), finishing in a bitter 13th place in the Eastern Conference. Firing coach Ron Wilson from his job and replacing him with Randy Carlyle last month didn’t help matters.
By Dave Bidini - Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 7:18 PM - 0 Comments
The morning sucks. Especially with a family; especially with kids.
Before my daughter was…
The morning sucks. Especially with a family; especially with kids.
Before my daughter was born, I remember watching SportsDesk (now SportsCentre) on TSN at 2 a.m. and wondering whether this would be the last time I would ever willfully be awake to watch the late broadcast. It was. As my kids have grown, I’ve managed a few instances of evening consciousness, and being a musician, I’ve sometimes wandered in just as the highlights have started. Still, there’s always a price to pay on the back end.
This winter’s post-Christmas holidays started with the dreadful bleeping of the bedside alarm, and tired legs hitting the cold floor. It got even worse once I started thinking about the next six months: six months of early mornings, stupid breakfasts, school lunches, and napsacks packed with books and pencils and flutes and volleyball runners. In the kitchen, The Fan’s Brady and Lange were on the radio. They tried their best, but they could not. Continue…
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Friday, December 9, 2011 at 1:36 PM - 0 Comments
Rivals Bell and Rogers brought together by instinct for self-preservation
Content has long been King. But in the wake of the joint Rogers Communications/BCE takeover of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, it has been upgraded to Emperor, if not Supreme Galactic Ruler. How else does one explain two of Canada’s fiercest business rivals coming together to pay an astounding $1.32 billion for the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan’s 79.53 per cent share of the company that owns the NHL’s Maple Leafs, NBA’s Raptors, major league soccer’s Toronto FC, the minor league Toronto Marlies hockey club, and the Air Canada Centre?
It is a premium price, for what the rival communications giants and broadcasters—Rogers owns Sportsnet, and Bell TSN—believe is a premium TV product. And the driving force for the surprise deal was clearly self-preservation.
When the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan let it be known that they were willing to sell their 80 per cent stake in MLSE last spring, (purchased 17 years ago for $180 million) it was obvious that it would take very deep pockets indeed to seal the bargain. Both Rogers and Bell kicked the tires, fearing the other was motivated to buy. Regional TV rights for the Toronto Maple Leafs—a team that attracts viewers and advertisers like no other in Canada—currently split between the two sports networks were to come up for renegotiation in 2015. The national broadcast rights, shared between TSN and CBC, are up for grabs in 2014. In Canada, any sports channel without NHL hockey—and more specifically the Leafs—wouldn’t last for long. And in wedding themselves in MLSE ownership, BCE and Rogers have gained perpetual access to the most sought-after content in the land. Continue…
By Dave Bidini - Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at 4:01 PM - 1 Comment
Perhaps Ron Wilson can borrow the Swiss particle accelerator to create a squad of über-Leafs
Never mind the wins and losses—well, at least for a moment—and consider the most significant news to come out of bluebloodland last week: the deal between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Zurich Lions of the Swiss League. In the 1970s, Peter Ustinov said Toronto was like “New York run by the Swiss,” and while things are a lot more lively these days, much of the city still operates like the reliable and steady gearworks of a Geneva pocket watch. Partnerships with teams in Lisbon, Barcelona, Assiago, and Paris would have been more alluring, but these are still your father’s Leafs. Few are allowed either in or out of the room with the velvet rope.
I’ve been wondering what might have precipitated this engagement and why this was celebrated as a significant event in Leaf media land. Was it to distract fans from that which has been rumoured over the past few weeks: James Reimer’s brain injury. Another thought: I think if we started calling concussions “brain injuries,” it might get people wising-up to the seriousness of this business. It’s easier to conjure notions of dementia and madness out of brain injuries. Calling them concussions is like calling them pulled hamstrings or separated shoulders. “Brain injury” is a more frightening term. And if the bluebloods aren’t already frightened by Reimer’s, they should be. Continue…
By Dave Bidini - Wednesday, November 9, 2011 at 7:07 PM - 3 Comments
The editor is laughing. He is laughing and holding his Habs belly. He is…
The editor is laughing. He is laughing and holding his Habs belly. He is laughing and slapping his Habs knee and pointing at the screen with his Habs finger because he knew this would happen. He bet some friends that it would. He is filling his Habs wallet with his winnings. He is getting a beer. This is too funny. Way too funny.
The editor is laughing and I am writing, and that the Habs have struggled to find themselves over the last few days is beside the point. By contrast, the Leafs have completely lost themselves, and even though the writer knew that he would eventually be forced to write this column, he thought that maybe his instincts would betray him; maybe luck would sway and a new day would find him and the team and the land. Continue…
By Dave Bidini - Tuesday, October 25, 2011 at 1:12 PM - 23 Comments
Someone once said that great clubs need great enemies, but why it can’t be Dallas or Florida or Buffalo
F—in’ Habs. There, I said it. It’s not like I don’t say it at least 30 times a day. The paperboy misses the porch: F—in’ Habs! The Windows and Doors people wake me up from my afternoon nap with one of their incessant calls: F—in’ Habs! I burn the noodles: F—in’ Habs! An earthquake levels Bali: F—in’ Habs! Everything that goes wrong in the world, I blame on the Montreal Canadiens. It’s convenient and it fits. I believe we would all be much happier and the world would work better and there would be no more stress or pain or misfortune if only the Habs would throw their skates into the river already. But this isn’t going to happen. I am realist and, yes, I am learning to cope.
Someone once said that great clubs need great enemies, but why it can’t be Dallas or Florida or Buffalo, I don’t know. Instead, it has to be the most arrogant and self-satisfied of all teams grinding against that which I love. It has to be the (F—in’) Habs. Argghhhh. Once more, only longer: Arghhhhhhhhh! Continue…
By Dave Bidini - Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 4:47 PM - 1 Comment
30-year-olds with long NHL careers are one thing, but Dave Bidini has a soft spot from the acne’d prospect
Okay: I like porn. But not just any porn: Prospect Porn. I can’t get enough of it. I spend way too much time tapping on a screen in the dark—actually it’s more mouse-thumbing then tapping; screen over screen over screen—staring at young men from distant places; gifted young men; lithe, goofy-looking with sculpted arms and stats to drool over. Thirty year olds with long careers are one thing, but give me the hairless fulsome buck who has emerged as if from a fine mist. Give me his promise. Untested, pure. Maybe a little overbitten and acne’d. A prospect.
To this end, the Leafs have done nothing to satisfy my urges, which is why I’ve had to look elsewhere: Colorado, Long Island, and Edmonton. For this reason, I couldn’t wait ‘til (last) Tuesday, which promised a visit by the Avalanche, the league’s youngest and Prospect Porniest team. Not only that, but the Leafs—young, too, I suppose, only not so Prospecty—were hop-skipping along on a three-game unbeaten streak, so my interests were two-fold. I poofed the throw pillows on the couch and prepared popcorn and beer. I sent the kids to bed. Actually, I did not. My kids are baseball brats and they don’t love hockey. Between the two of them, they’ve lived through exactly one Leaf post-season. In 2009, I prepared a chocolate milk chart in honour of the year: two Leaf wins in a row got them gumdrops, three wins got them Twizzlers and four wins got them— yup—chocolate milk. “You’re teaching them about disappointment, aren’t you?” asked my wife, approvingly. But I wasn’t. This is the sad and torturous environment in which they’ve been raised. Continue…
By Dave Bidini - Friday, October 14, 2011 at 11:33 AM - 13 Comments
Dave Bidini vows to embrace the sadness that comes with cheering for the Leafs
The morning after the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Philadelphia Flyers to win the 2010 Stanley Cup—their first in 49 years—I shuffled downstairs in my pyjamas. It was a warm morning, early June, and the NHL hockey season was over. I pressed my fists to my eyes, yawned, and yelled upstairs for the children to get out of bed. Actually, that’s a lie. My wife, Janet, did the yelling while I stood there in the living room looking under pillows for the remote. Finding it, I kachunked the tv and a station bzzzed on. These words were written across the screen:
LEAFS BIGGEST LOSERS IN HOCKEY Continue…
By Charlie Gillis - Friday, September 9, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 17 Comments
The night before he was found dead of a suspected suicide, the former NHL enforcer was out on the town and in good spirits
In broadcasting, as in hockey, reliability ranks high on the list of professional virtues. Dead air or squandered studio time are radio sins on par with an empty dressing-room stall before practice. The responsible party can expect retribution and, if he keeps it up, a ticket to the bush leagues.
Some athletes-cum-commentators take a while to grasp that, so the text Wade Belak sent Jeremy Bennefield last Tuesday night came as reassurance to the Nashville radio producer, who had been tasked with grooming the former NHL tough guy to host a weekly show on an all-sports FM station. “I’ll be there on Friday night,” wrote Belak, who was in Toronto at the time. “Staying until Sunday. Any way we can tape a show in that time slot?” The time signature on the message read 11:29 p.m. ET. Bennefield didn’t pick it up until 9:15 a.m. the following day, and he made sure to fire off a quick reply: “Yes, we’ll make it work.”
Three hours later, Belak was found hanging in his hotel room in downtown Toronto, the victim of an apparent suicide (though authorities have not confirmed the cause of death). And Bennefield has been pondering that text exchange ever since.“Somebody actually asked me whether I thought this was a reach-out,” he says from Nashville. “You know: whether Wade was seeking some sort of reassurance that he had something to live for.” But that doesn’t square with the man he had seen at a taping just days earlier, ribbing staff at 102.5 The Game, cracking jokes at his own expense. While recording the inaugural episode of his weekly show and podcast “The Game Changer,” the 35-year-old had enthused about setting down roots in Nashville, where he’d just wound down his playing career. “Based on my conversations with him, based on the texts that I got hours before the fact,” he says, “my impression is this wasn’t a guy looking for a way out.”
By Julia Belluz - Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 4:40 PM - 5 Comments
He wasn’t sick a day in his life, and friends called him unstoppable. Even at 101 he was dancing the jitterbug.
Gilindo Marcocchio was born on Dec. 10, 1909, in the small Italian town of Castions di Zoppola, near what was then the Austro-Hungarian border. His father, Antonio, was a cook for a wealthy family who offered to adopt Gilindo. But his parents refused to give him up. By the time Gilindo was 12, though, he was orphaned: his mother Maria died of the flu, and Antonio of a heart attack. After that, Gilindo’s three brothers left Italy in search of work in Canada and Mexico, and the young boy was left to be raised by two sisters, in a modest house they shared with chickens and pigs.
During the First World War, Gilindo had to flee his town and move inland, away from the border area, which was under siege. Just after he crossed a bridge near his home one day, it was bombed by the Germans. Gilindo watched in horror as horses and carriages were tossed into the air, and people he knew perished instantly.
By 16, having survived the devastation that characterized wartime Italy, he joined his brother Isadoro in Windsor. Since Gilindo never attended school, and didn’t know how to read or write at the time, he learned a trade: bricklaying. After five years, when jobs dried up with the Depression, he headed east. In Toronto, during the 1930s, Gilindo worked as a tradesman, and soon became known as Lindy. He helped build Maple Leaf Gardens, and in 1931, attended the first-ever hockey game played there (the Leafs lost to Chicago, 2-1).
By macleans.ca - Friday, November 12, 2010 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Emma Watson’s really big moment, the Dog Whisperer’s disappointing day, Pamela Anderson’s good deed’s too dirty
Cesar Millan, TV’s “Dog Whisperer,” was a hit with the crowd at sold-out Scotiabank Place in Ottawa last week, even though Ontario law deprived him of a key cast mate—Junior, the two-year-old American pit bull that recently took over from the dearly departed Daddy as Millan’s “right-hand man.” Millan, halfway through a tour of Canada, demonstrated training techniques on local dogs and expounded on his philosophy of calm assertiveness, but took time to criticize Ontario’s 2005 ban on pit bulls. “In the ’70s, the breed that people were afraid of was the Doberman,” he told the audience. “In the 2000s, it’s the pit bull. It’s not the breed, it’s the human behind the dog.”
Absolute powers of persuasion
Chinese authorities may not have much success persuading European governments to boycott the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony honouring jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo, but they’re having better luck at home. Author Yu Jie, a friend of Liu’s, said he and his wife have been stopped from leaving their Beijing home by security officers, for fear they plan to go to Oslo. Meanwhile, Guo Xianliang, an engineer from Yunnan province, disappeared while on a business trip in Guangzhou. He’d been detained for distributing flyers about Liu, according to fellow activist Ye Du. Police have also reportedly detained a young woman, Mou Yanxi, who tweeted her support for Liu. “If such behaviour goes on,” her friend Zhang Shijie tweeted last week, “it will eventually happen to all of us.”
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 7:45 PM - 19 Comments
A mere 58 minutes. That’s it. That’s all.
We were promised an hour, perhaps as much as an hour and a half. And yet here was Michaëlle Jean, solemnly invoking “Divine Providence” at precisely 3:47pm this afternoon, just about 58 minutes after she welcomed “honourable senators, members of the House of Commons, ladies and gentlemen.”
Some 6,000 words passed in between, each delivered in that breathy, deliberate way of the Governor General’s. But this was not quite the excruciating test of endurance for speaker and listener alike, not nearly the epic we were told to expect. Once more we are faced with a government full of ambition and promise, unable to ultimately deliver. Once again we see the danger of unrestrained hope. Continue…
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 at 12:23 PM - 52 Comments
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Canada, the ‘covenant’ with fans, Gretzky and on trying to do the right things
In 16 years as NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman has shaped pro hockey in numerous ways—U.S. expansion, two lockouts, rule changes, the salary cap, the participation of NHL players in the Olympics. The past year, however, counts among the most troubled of his tenure. The league’s tug-of-war with billionaire Jim Balsillie for control of the Phoenix Coyotes put Bettman at odds with many fans, highlighting the combative side of the commissioner’s personality. Earlier this week, he discussed the fallout of Phoenix, fan antipathy toward him, and other hockey-related matters with the Maclean’s editorial board.
Q: It’s been a tumultuous couple of years for you, at least publicly. Do you still enjoy your job?
A: I love the job. I’m passionate about the game, and the people around the game, the way we as a sport connect with our fans. Every job has challenges, things that make the job interesting. I’m not exactly sure, by the way, that I buy into your characterization of tumultuous. That seems to be a little dramatic, perhaps media-centric, as opposed to the reality. But every business has day-to-day challenges, and that’s part of what gets those of us who work going every day.
Q: We want to give you a chance to respond to the broad perception here in Canada that you feel the future of the game lies in the United States—and that the real reason the NHL was in court this summer was to keep Canada from getting more teams.
A: I’ve got to ask you a question about your question. Where does that perception come from? What is it based on? Give me any factual basis and I’ll answer the question. Continue…
By Rachel Mendleson - Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 11:20 AM - 2 Comments
An irregular heartbeat is more common than we might expect
Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson is not a likely candidate for heart trouble. For months, the 24-year-old Swede, whose six-foot-three, 192-lb. frame and quick reflexes have earned him the moniker “the Monster,” geared up for his NHL debut with a rigorous schedule of weightlifting and long shifts on the stationary bike. But after a fitness test on Sept. 12, Gustavsson’s heart would not stop racing. He was taken to hospital, underwent minor surgery to correct the problem, and was back at practice within a week.
But despite his quick recovery, many remain puzzled: how could this happen to someone so young, under close medical scrutiny? While the organization remains tight-lipped, according to experts, many of the conditions that cause the heart to race often go undetected, and are far more common than one might expect. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 4:36 PM - 86 Comments
If I ever get round to writing a book about this time in Ottawa, I may very well argue that this, in content, setting and context, is the quintessential speech of Stephen Harper’s premiership. Continue…
By Michael Travers - Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 11:06 AM - 11 Comments
How this generation of Leafs fans forgot a legend
I was on Bay Street in Toronto to watch the line of convertibles carry my Maple Leaf heroes as they drove to meet the mayor at City Hall following their Stanley Cup victories in 1962, ’63, ’64 and ’67. There used to be a black and white photo of the 1962 parade hanging on the wall on the second floor of Maple Leaf Gardens. I was the kid hanging from the lamppost in the bottom right hand corner of the picture. Just my being there, as a fan during the Leafs’ glory years, probably qualifies me as a member of Leaf Nation.
Last week in Port Colborne, the 12th captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ted “Teeder” Kennedy, was laid to rest in his 84th year following a lengthy illness. The downtown church was crowded with friends and relatives. His wife of 61 years was there. His son delivered a wonderful, funny tribute. It was more like a conversation with friends than a speech. Those in attendance did not include Richard Peddie, Larry Tannenbaum, Tom Anselmi, or Brian Burke. There were no Leafs suits and no Leafs Alumni Association executives or members at the church’s funeral liturgy. Continue…