But I went one step further in my thinking on all this: it strikes me that (and maybe this is a function of years of pent-up frustration—or maybe some fans are just chronically unhappy and simply always looking for scapegoats…) fans have, despite the team’s relative success, found plenty of things to complain about yet again this season. I include myself in that category of grumpy Leaf observers who on occasion find things to moan about—as much as I usually try to keep things fairly upbeat and positive a lot of the time here at VLM. (To be clear, one of the reasons I try to do that here, while interspersing my own concerns about the direction the team has seemed headed at times, is that I don’t believe the Leafs are good enough to worry about just yet. By that I mean, it’s not like that 1999-2004 period, for example, when they were good enough that I honestly believed they were fighting for a shot at a Cup every year, not just clawing to maybe make the playoffs. With a team like this, the bar is so low, just making the playoffs seems like a major achievement…so I don’t fret over every little mistake beccause, well, we’re not exactly in the semi-finals yet, eh?)
Who are these Leafs that Leaf fans can't agree on? Tell me if you agree with this list:
Clarke MacArthur—some fans like him a lot; others are much less enthralled. When he scores in bunches (as he usually does) people seem to like him a lot. When he is invisible as he often is, he is rarely discussed except as someone that fans wouldn’t mind seeing somewhere else.
Carl Gunnarsson—some see him as a steady, reliable defenseman who doesn’t make many mistakes and also makes the other defensemen on his pairing better. Others see him as not a great skater, not at all physical and an anchor around his blueline partner.
Dion Phaneuf—these days, everybody loves Don. We’re winning games, he’s putting up points and all is swell. But if we lost a few games, we would hear (including from me) about how teammates don’t follow his leadership and how he would be better suited to being a non number-one “D” man role—despite being paid like a superstar.
Mike Kostka—I’ve liked Kostka’s effort and play most of this season, especially given my low expectations. But just typing his name, I know a lot of people don’t want him in the lineup.
Colton Orr/Frazer MacLaren—No one would say these guys can’t fight, but they seem to divide the fan base as a “duo” because many Leafers don’t want them on the game sheet at the same time. And too many nights, they each average about three minutes of ice time a game.
Nikolai Kulemin—Another classic example of fans seeing two very different pictures. Many fans love his game, think he’s great defensively and that he should not be criticized for his lack of offensive production (and that his earlier 30 goal season was an aberration). Others, like me, see him as not nearly physical enough for a hulking, checking winger.
Mikhail Grabovski—see Kulemin, above. Adored by most Leaf supporters through his years in Toronto (especially after his concussed goal, after the Chara glass smash in Beantown and subsequent game winner two seasons ago). Many hate Carlyle for putting poor Grabbo in what they see as the “wrong” role for the offensive-minded Belarussian. His detractors point (I think fairly) to a huge contract and minimal offensive production while being a minus player. Other second-line centers with similar responsibilities have offense in their game, too.
Tyler Bozak—maybe the poster boy for this Leaf fan syndrome: when he scores, people say “look at the skill- and he wins face-offs and kills penalties, too…”. When he is less visible, we wonder what life would be like with a true number-one center in Toronto. Is he simply miscast (has been for years) as a number-one center, when that really falls on management? Regardless, he divides the fan base like few others. Just wait 'till he asks for 5 million this summer….
I recognize that it’s probably this way in every NHL market. Some fans like certain players, others don’t see the player’s value at all and would trade them in a heartbeat. But in Toronto, the debate always feels so dramatic...
Oh, as a cousin of this phenomenon, there are, yes, always 'whipping boys' in Toronto. Our history over the past couple of decades makes that pretty clear (Larry Murphy, Raycroft, Toskala, Gustavsson, Schenn to name just a few…) This season it has been Kostka and Holzer and, of course, coach Randy Carlyle.
I’ve seen more than one person write that Carlyle is a terrible coach, “stupid”, and should be fired. I’m not sure if this is driven by the “advanced stats” crowd or by a love affair with likeable Marlies coach Dallas Eakins. Regardless, Carlyle clearly polarizes Leaf world, and heck, he’s only been here for a calendar year—not even close to a full 82-game schedule. Doesn't take long, eh?
I guess these kinds of things are, as I often say here, part of the fun of being a Maple Leaf fan. We don’t agree on much—except that we pull for the Leafs.
Except sometimes, we’re all pulling in a slightly different direction. Come to think of it, maybe we’re the problem…