The 2014-15 Toronto Maple Leafs are a mess.
Bickering co-owners in the boardroom, a President of hockey operations with no experience running a hockey team, a GM on a leash so short he could wear it as a bracelet, a lame duck coach and a questionable scouting staff. A team that appears to be playing with a fear of error that may lead to permanent banishment should someone turn the puck over, thus players are handling it like a grenade.
Jim Devellano, senior vice-president of the Detroit Red Wings has been with the club for 33-years; during that time the team has had 1-Owner, 2-GM’s (Jim succeeded by Ken Holland, 31-years experience with the Red Wings), 5-Coaches and 4-Stanley Cups. The Leafs during the same period have had 5-Owners, 7-GM’s, 15 Coaches and missed the playoffs 17 times, including this year, yet I still love the team. Why?
With the help of JP Bickell, Conn Smythe purchased the Toronto Maple Leafs from majority owner of the St. Pats, Charlie Querrie, on February 14, 1927 for $160,000. Smythe convinced Querrie to take a “home-town” discount rather than move the team to Philadelphia for $200,000; three-days later on February 17, 1927, the newly named Maple Leafs defeated the New York Americans 4-1 for the first victory in franchise history.
The visionary genius of Smythe would accelerate over the next few years leading up to the building of Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931. Smythe was not afraid to take chances after taking control of the Leafs, making calculated and very swift moves. Missing the playoffs the first few years, Conn then sold a group of his veterans to Detroit for $75,000 and used the funds to acquire players such as Andy Blair, Lorne Chabot, and Harold Cotton, adding them to ex-St. Pats, Ace Bailey and Hap Day. He also built up a farm system using his own money. The farm-system supplied the Leafs with a stable of talent, while continuing to add players such as Charlie Conacher, Joe Primeau, “Busher” Jackson and Red Horner. A powerhouse was in the making and with the popularity of the team expanding with every victory, the regularly sold-out 8,000 seat Arena Gardens became too small. This is the same team a few years before that played in front of crowds sometimes less than a thousand fans.
After purchasing the land from the Eaton family for $350,000, construction on Maple Leaf Gardens began June 1st, 1931 and was completed in record time, opening November 12th the same year. Smythe aggressively pursued ways to improve the team constantly. The most famous trade in Leaf history (sorry Gilmour and Mahovlich fans) was the purchase of King Clancy from the Ottawa Senators in 1930 for $35,000. The money was an outrageous sum for a hockey player not withstanding the fact the world was a little over a year removed from the stock market crash and the start of the Great Depression. The most incredible part of the story was the board of directors would only approve $25,000 for Clancy; Smythe had a horse in his stable by the name of Rare Jewel, going on a hunch from the trainer he bet on the 100-1 shot, it won, paying $214.40 for a $2 win ticket netting Smythe $14,000. He used $10,000 to complete the trade for Clancy and curiosity to see a player worth $35,000, put people in the seats, making it a very profitable investment. The Leafs would win the Stanley Cup that first year at the Gardens and compete in the finals 7-times throughout the 30’s winning just the one time in 1932; however the foundation had been set for years to come.
The Leafs, I’ve said many times are an iconic franchise and the history needs to be told to legions of modern fans who only see the product that’s sadly exhibited today. Our proud history and tradition stands second to no franchise in sports but are we doing enough? The legends monuments outside the ACC is a great start and long overdue. Without sounding self-serving the Leafs need the history documented and displayed at a permanent site. They are the only major sports franchise in North America that doesn’t have a museum and that is just plain wrong.
I know your thinking, what the heck does this have to do with the current state of the franchise? It won’t solve the problem or make the decisions any more intelligent or even bring any luck. What it will do is ease some of the pain of losing by remembering what this team once was and what it will become again. One of the sadder commentaries I saw this week picked Toronto as a least favoured place to play. Young fans and players growing up today must be made aware of the pride to carry-on the tradition of wearing the Maple Leaf.
Brand awareness is the catchy phrase of today and the Maple Leafs definitely need an overhaul. It starts at the grass-roots level; the more knowledge and understanding people have about the history of the club will go a long way to instilling the pride of winning again. Just like losing is contagious, so is winning and believe me when I tell you, the more not only the fans, but the organization embrace the winning past, it will remove a lot of negativity and the positive reaction will not only be felt walking into the ACC but show up on the ice as well.
Hey I’m reaching but nothing else seems to be working so why not and failing this, lose the last 20 games and get Connor McDavid.