As you know, the Toronto Maple Leafs have signed John Tavares and have the strongest group of young forwards they’ve had in a very long time. If you put aside age, it’s probably safe to say it’s been 25 years or so since the last time the Leafs had this much talent in their Top 6. In terms of youth and talent, it might have been before I was born. (It could also have been the late ’80s, before they traded it.)
And I’m happy, sure. But the elation I would have had when I was a full blown Leafs fan is not there because I stopped truly caring awhile ago. And if I can pinpoint a day when I stopped truly caring about the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was 5 years ago today.
Less than two years ago, around Auston Matthews’ debut in the NHL, I wondered allowed if I still cared. In the interim I have discovered that I don’t really care to the extent that I used to. I watched the playoffs of course, but I was paying more attention to the Raptors, even though I was pretty sure they couldn’t beat LeBron. (I really didn’t think they would get swept.) And I’ve found myself sometimes choosing regular season NBA games of teams I don’t care about over watching the entirety of a Toronto Maple Leafs game featuring a good Leafs team. So I’ll jump back and forth between some random NBA game and the Leafs. I never would have done that 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago. What happened?
What happened was Brian Burke and Dave Nonis. If you read this site back then, you know I posted constantly about how Burke was destroying the Maple Leafs. But I still cared. I cared enough to blog incessantly about them. But then Burke got fired and Nonis – who has never had a GM job he didn’t get from replacing Burke – continued to make Burkean mistakes, at seemingly new levels of incompetence.
And then, on July 5, 2013, Nonis signed David Clarkson, an objectively mediocre player – a middle six forward, rather than a top 6 forward – to a massive contract. It was clearly a terrible deal to everyone but Nonis and the people around him. It made no sense on any level. It was so bad one could have easily come up with a conspiracy theory that the Leafs were deliberately trying to be bad. (To what end? I don’t know. But the point is the deal was so awful to everyone who wasn’t Nonis that it was hard to understand why anyone would want to do it.)
I continued to follow the Leafs after the signing. I kept blogging about Nonis’ decisions through the coming seasons, but something had changed. I had lost my faith in the team after being good again. And that happened some time before Auston Matthews was drafted. And it seems that I cannot regain my faith, no matter how many good things happen to the Leafs. And I find this sad, because I should be super excited, given that this team is, at least in terms of forwards, potentially the best Leafs team in a very, very long time.