The thought of the Maple Leafs doesn’t only make sick right now, it offends me. Whether it’s a corporate apology for the woes of the feckless hockey players they own (our “captain” issued no apology, banal and tacky or otherwise), or the sports media who still carry on pretending that speculation about a wasted team matters, all of it is a reminder of cynical mass exploitation and mass delusion. And yet here I am writing about them. Why? My dead team requires a eulogy.
Every article I’ve read has failed to truly diagnosis this team’s cause of death. While on the surface the Leafs selected different months of the year to implode, the catastrophe of the post-Sundin playoff drought can be attributed solely to a lack of leadership that makes them incapable of transcending a wretched cycle. To understand this cycle let’s look to Greek tragedy.
I see our “leader”, that pylonic skater with the biggest ass in the NHL, as a symbol of what the Greeks called miasma. Miasma originated after Tantalus killed his son and boiled him in a stew to serve to the gods at banquet. Though the Greeks held slaves, they regarded infanticide, cannibalism and human sacrifice with commendably low esteem, and so Tantalus started a chain of events characterized by a subversion of human decency on this scale. Miasma isn’t simply what’s illegal or immoral, it’s what’s good and righteous inverted and upside down, but it’s come to mean more generally a poisonous atmosphere thought to rise from swamps and putrid matter that cause disease. The Leafs don’t have a leader to get past their miasma.
The Leafs captain Phaneuf can’t skate backwards, he can’t skate forwards, his shots miss the net, he intimidates nobody, opposing players laugh at him and it’s safe to say the Leafs don’t rally around him. For all this, he was made an all-star, receives 6.5 million dollars per annum and was selected to represent Canada at the IIHF World Hockey Championship this summer. To be sure, he isn’t only overvalued by the Leafs, as unfortunately the fetid swamp airs have polluted Team Canada’s judgement, but Phaneuf is surely a symbol of disorder, of the inverse of what’s right. He embodies miasma.
Variations of Tantalus’ unspeakable atrocities continued in the Greek cycle: Atreus served and watched as his unwitting brother Thyestes ate his own children in a meal; Atreus’ son Agammenon sacrificed his daughter to the gods; Clytemnestra killed her husband Agamemnon (who, after all, killed his/her daughter) after returning victorious from the Trojan war. Similarly, back in Toronto, year after year the Leafs keep missing the playoffs. Athens’ cycle ended in when Athena, goddess of wisdom and war, stopped Orestes before he could avenge his father by killing his mother. When will the Leafs receive such divine intervention? Athena is nowhere to be seen, and Phaneuf is no goddess of wisdom (or war). “Mumble mumble…losing is bad…we prefer winning… mumble mumble.”
Like everyone on Earth under 90-years-old, Sundin didn’t bring Toronto a cup, but we were perennially in playoffs. Leafs fans weren’t ashamed by default. There were better teams in the league, but we weren’t hopelessly stuck in a wretched swamp.
Yet when Sundin parted from the organization, a disturbing percentage of fans booed and jeered him for refusing to relinquish his contractual rights; they expected Sundin, holder of every important leaf record, to only concern himself with the inheritance the Leafs would gain by his death to the team. He was to captain a team best by departing it. (Interestingly, this year media berated Rick Nash for voicing a willingness to waive his no-trade clause in order to help with the team’s rebuild. Sundin was booed for not doing this.) Astronomically unappreciative of the organization’s brightest spot in forty years, it was fitting that this year’s epic slide, our miasmic dip, can be traced back to the Saturday night 5-0 loss to the Habs on the very night Sundin’s number was raised to the rafters.
While the cycle as a whole is disgusting, it’s not easy to condemn any one party. As a result, nothing will change.
It’s impossible to blame the media for their ridiculous and obsessive coverage of this feckless team when the topic alone guarantees a mass audience. It’s easy to see how an old and once prestigious team in a big metropolitan city has an impossibly large, impossibly loyal fan base. It’s easy to see how a spiritless corporation (who chose for a motto “spirit is everything”) cynically exploits this base over and over. Finally, it’s easy to see (not to excuse, but to see) how celebrity twenty-something-year-old millionaires crumble under all this ridiculous, but relentless, scrutiny and pressure. No other NHL player is burdened to the same degree as Leaf players in this final regard.
This also explains why rookies don’t develop here, and why talented players under-perform. Without Athena’s divine hand or a capable captain with the psychological fortitude to handle all this (Lupul!?), this team is in a hostile landscape and they will never emerge from this cycle.
The reasonable response to this team is to finally and actually stop going to games. A close second is forming a picket line around the ACC and screaming at fans who breach its entrance before games. Don’t buy eleven dollar beers or California rolls. Don’t buy their first, second, or third jersey on sale for only $174.99. Even if they revert for a game to their 1934 sweater with an extra blue stripe, don’t buy it.
These small actions if repeated enough times will certainly do nothing to improve the team. The Leaf machine is too big, and it’s immune to shame. There is no hope for this team. The boycott will preserve your own sanity, give you opportunity to jump to another team’s bandwagon (not ottawa…never ottawa), or give you the time to read Greek tragedy.