Leafs Nation, can we chill?

An open letter to the fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto is a passionate sports city, this is irrefutable. From the Raptors to the Blue Jays, TFC to the Argonauts, the fans show up in droves to support their teams and support their city; and for the one that gets a little bit more love than the others, the Toronto Maple Leafs, oh yeah, you can certainly feel that passion.

I grew up in a small town in Newfoundland and lived on the island my whole life, but even from here, I can feel that passion and I know it quite well. At one time it was the team slogan “The Passion That Unites Us All” and I really believe in that; that passionate love I have for this team has given me a connection to so many other fans. Thanks to this team, I’ve formed close friendships both in person and online. I wouldn’t be here today without the Leafs, without that driving belief that one of these days, we will see the boys in blue and white lift the Stanley Cup. I may not be there in person, but I am with you Toronto. Together we bleed blue and white, together we feel that passion that unites us. We are Leafs Nation…. And sometimes we take things a little too far. 

Overreacting is not a trait exclusive to Toronto sports fans, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just like every fanbase Toronto has a few bad eggs that give the whole bunch a bad reputation, I’m sure there are fans of every team who overreact to everything revolving around the team, but it seems to be amplified in Leafs fans. Maybe its a side-effect of the long drought, years of bad management, or the fact that both major sports media corporations in Canada are based in Toronto, so the team is covered a little more comprehensively than they would be otherwise, but Leafs fans seem conditioned to always look for the bad news, or can’t enjoy the good things because we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m guilty of this myself. Among my group of friends that I regularly watch games with, I’m definitely the one who sometimes takes things too far. I have been that way for a long time, and I’m not proud of it. Recently, I decided to make an effort to look on the positive side of things, however small and insignificant it may be compared to the looming darkness, and I’ve felt better in my everyday life because of it. I’m sure many of you can think of at least one time when you’ve done the same, so can we all admit that we’re a little bit crazy and that that’s ok? Right? 

Earlier this week, the rumours started that Mitch Marner was going to explore the possibility of an offer sheet. That’s his lone right as an RFA and he is allowed to look into it as an option, but from the reactions that I’ve seen on social media, you’d think that Mitch personally stepped up to a podium outside the Scotiabank Arena and declared to the world that he was leaving the team. I’ve seen everything from “if Marner wants one cent over 9 million trade him immediately and go after Panarin on July 1st” to “well, better trade Matthews now so they can afford to pay Mitch.” 

Not to say these people don’t have a right to say these things, or a right to hold negative opinions, but it seems to me that they’re wrapped up in the doom and gloom of the Toronto sports media machine that occasionally stirs the pot in this manner because the powers that be know that bad news generates more clicks or views. So, let’s all take a deep breath and look at things rationally. Mitch Marner will be a Leaf for a long time. That’s not just me saying that, that is a direct quote from Marner’s agent Darren Ferris, back in February. We have nothing to worry about, a deal will be struck, just believe me on this. Look at the big picture: Mitch Marner is a Toronto boy, born and bred, he’s been a Leafs fan since he was just a little tyke, right now he’s living his childhood dream, why would he ever want to give that up? Not to mention his many sponsorship deals and my personal belief that among fans he’s the most beloved member of the current team, and may rank among the most beloved Leafs of all time when it’s all said and done. As for the money, it’ll work out. Kyle Dubas is not an idiot, he’ll reach a solution that gives the team some cap flexibility and still pay Marner what he’s worth, I believe in the plan. 

This is not an isolated incident. This past year alone, the Twitter contingent of Leafs Nation has seemingly been in a state of perpetual meltdown. Some were season-long slow burns, others were momentary outrage that fizzled out quickly, but all of them were just more examples of how we, as Leafs fans, tend towards negative thinking. Auston Matthews “only” being locked up for 5 years. The looming threat of a Kapanen or Johnsson (or both) offer sheet. Mike Babcock and his deployment choices. Why was Sparks kept over McElhinney? What are we going to do with Patrick Marleau and the cap crunch? Reactions to the Hyman/Dermott/Tavares injuries making it seem like the sky is falling despite none of these injuries being long-term. William Nylander in general. The list goes on and on. How about we try to look on the bright side? 

Even though a lot of this may read like I’m simply stating the obvious, but sometimes the obvious things need to be said because those are the solutions that fly the farthest away from a nervous mind. In addressing the more minor concerns first, instead of saying Auston Matthews is “only” signed for five years, and the moment that contract ends he’ll walk away as a free agent. Sure, that’s a situation that could happen, but what’s the use of worrying about that right now? Believe that in five years time, the team will be just as good, if not better, and he’ll want to re-sign. 

The injuries to Hyman, Dermott, and Tavares suck, yes, but nothing to be concerned about in the long run. Tavares is not expected to miss any time, while Dermott and Hyman may miss a month, yes, but it’s an opportunity for a new face to jump in and make an impact in the same way that Trevor Moore and Andreas Johnsson have in the past couple of seasons. 

Offer sheets are a myth. There, I said it. How much do you hear about offer sheets for players on other teams? With such a talented crop of players like Brayden Point, Mikko Rantanen, and Patrik Laine that are just as ‘vulnerable targets’ as Marner, Kapanen, and Johnsson, why is it that we only hear these names when the conversation turns to offer sheets? Even if an offer sheet is submitted, the player still has to accept it. And if they do, that’s fine, the Leafs still receive compensation and cap room, which they can then use to offer sheet someone themselves. It’s a two-way street and that’s why no teams choose to do it. 

Garret Sparks had a poor showing this season. I was among those that supported the choice to keep him rather than expose him to waivers, but I remember feeling apprehensive at the time, especially when the depth options of McElhinney and Pickard were claimed, but even then, I told myself, we have to give the kid a chance, he’s a good goalie, he may turn out to be a great goalie. Obviously my feelings on him are different now, but I still acknowledge that the odds were simply more in his favour to succeed and that was deemed more important to the Leafs management group, rather than take a chance on an aging, but clearly still reliable backup and risk losing a young player with potential for nothing (more on that in a bit). There is a chance Sparks will be better next season, but if not, I’m sure there’s a contingency plan to be found in free agency, and Sparks’ new contract can be completely buried in the minors and won’t impact the cap negatively if this comes to pass. 

The concerns about Babcock are legitimate, yes, and I’ll admit to feeling that way as well. In the immediate aftermath of the Leafs being eliminated by Boston (again) I put the blame firmly on Mike for not utilizing his stars and called for him to be fired. And that’s not entirely fair. He didn’t deploy his best players, yes, but they also didn’t perform entirely to their potential. Both things can be true. We just have to have faith that what Kyle Dubas said at the end of the season about working with the coaching staff to collectively be better is true and that things will change. And if not, I hear that Sheldon Keefe is a pretty good coach. 

The rumours and news of the past couple of days regarding a potential Patrick Marleau trade and Nikita Zaitsev requesting to be moved sort of negated the things I was going to say about the cap crunch, so I’ll just state that the situation may soon resolve itself, so no need to be concerned. 

There’s one last thing I want to write about, and this might just be the biggest one of all. It’s certainly the one that’s hung around the longest, and it’s not an easy situation to talk about, so I’ll just dive in. William Nylander. Just the fact that his name is written here probably set some people’s blood to a boil. I get that he held out, I get that he didn’t produce this past season, but in my humble opinion, the whole situation around his very existence being insulting to some fans is entirely overblown. Among the loudest complaints I hear are that he’s greedy, he’s overpaid, he’s a bum and needs to be traded, he kicks puppies…. That last one is entirely fabricated, but I’m sure someone would say it with how vitriolic this subsection of fans has been.

This past season, you just have to write it off as an unfortunate loss. History has shown that he is a much better player than that, and as for the claims that he is overpaid, that’s the going rate for a 60-70 point player in today’s NHL. I predict that just like his closest comparable, David Pastrnak, his contract will be seen as a steal by the end of this coming season. He looked great at Worlds, which bodes well for him having an excellent, full season. Besides, do we really want to give up on a guy with this kind of potential just based on one bad year, we really don’t want a repeat of the Tuukka Rask trade, do we? If he’s really as bad as these people say, then his trade value just isn’t there, so what are they expecting? Let go of what happened, it’s in the past now, it has no effect on what’s to come. 

I know that the simple fact of writing this isn’t going to change anything, I don’t think this generally negative attitude around Leafs Nation will change until they win something, and even then we might discover new things to fuel our complaints. I’m just saying, training camp is a long way off, let alone Game 1 of the regular season. It’s gonna be a long summer, anything can happen, instead of worrying about things that haven’t happened let’s try and enjoy the things that do, trust me when I say, you’ll be happier. Leafs Nation has a lot to be happy about these days compared to just a few years ago, and I’ll take the minor problems we have now over the big problems we had then. John Tavares is a Leaf, Auston Matthews is a Leaf, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly, and Frederik Andersen are Leafs. And I can’t wait to see them suit up in the blue and white again for another fantastic season. We can and we will win with this core. Take a breath everyone, it’s all gonna be okay. 

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