Tuesday, March 27, 2012
We gather here today to say goodbye to the 2011-12 Toronto Maple Leafs, a team that started with so much promise, but one which ends like all the others.
On Feb. 6 the Leafs were two points out of fourth overall in the East. Over a month later they are three points from drafting fourth overall. A remarkable turnaround, one only possible in Toronto.
Before the late season crumble, the Leafs had a 90 per cent chance at making the playoffs, according to sportsclubstats.com. It was almost a given that the Leafs would make the playoffs. Now, the only given is another year to sift through the wreckage and wonder where it all went wrong.
For the eighth straight year the doors to the ACC will be closed well before May, inside the empty seats representative of the empty hearts that have been drained over years of almost insufferable play. As other cities host games of importance, games that are becoming a distant memory in Toronto, the ACC will only fill for Bryan Adams. The aging rocker will generate more life in the building than any incarnation of the Maple Leafs have in years.
The carnage did not spare anyone. Gone is Ron Wilson, thrown to the wolves in an attempt to placate the mounting frustration. A scapegoat for a season from Hell. A scapegoat which couldn't even manage to slow fan dissent, let alone attacking skaters through the neutral zone. Wilson's final failing, which is ultimately his vindication, is allowing the protest to quickly spread upwards. The chants of "fire Wilson" now turn into a cry for Burke, a man who was once revered for replacing John Ferguson, Jr. That reverence is long gone.
Not even in the darkest days of JFJ did a season end so pitifully. It was a season so bad that Mike Komisarek tried to take the easy way out, fighting Milan Lucic in hopes of a swift death. But in his search for peace, Komisarek found a fate worse than death—slogging through a string of increasingly meaningless games on a team that hasn't shown life in months.
The season leaves the goaltenders broken, the defence besieged, and Phil Kessel dreaming of a playmaking centre that will never appear.
One positive is that this did not happen overnight. There was no final day shootout to deny the playoffs; no overtime goal to shock the crowd in disbelief. The end was not sudden; it was slow and it was inevitable.
As the death spiral methodically continued, eventually reaching its logical conclusion against the Hurricanes, the fans were allowed time to come to terms with the facts. There would be no playoffs, no reason for excitement. The reality did not immediately sink in, but loss after loss ensured it eventually would. That reality let the fans feel numb. Feeling nothing was the only way to get through the season.
But in death comes life. As the Maple Leafs quickly spiral deeper and deeper into the depths of the NHL standings, a potential lottery pick becomes increasingly real with each passing day.
A first-round pick, in Toronto, is a strange concept. A lottery pick announced by a Leafs executive even more bizarre. It is the type of strange concept that might inspire hope in the hearts and minds of a listless fan base that has suffered so much, for so little. The type of hope that makes it possible to carry on.
But it is a hope against all hope.
Unfortunately, it is the type of hope Leafs Nation know will be crushed on draft day when Gary Bettman steps to the podium and says, "there is a trade to announce".
But June is many months away. That hope may be crushed sooner. Five games remain and despite the apparent rock bottom where Toronto fans find themselves wallowing, it can still get worse. This team knows no bottom. Five games, five wins, and a flushed lottery pick would be a perfect end to a season such as this.
We are here to acknowledge the passing of the 2011-12 Toronto Maple Leafs, but we will not mourn. No tears will be shed on this day. If we feel anything at all it is pity—pity for those who will feel anything for this team in the coming days. Pity for those that carry on.
In the end, death brings peace to the 2011-12 Maple Leafs, but it is we survivors who must bravely soldier on. And solider on we will. We are Leafs fans. We shall endure. It doesn't make any sense, but it's the Churchillian thing to do.