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A hockey conundrum: can Leaf fans now become playoff Hab fans? Everyone’s different on that issue…

One of the enjoyable aspects of hosting this VLM site over the past few years is that I’ve gotten to know a number of thoughtful Leaf followers quite well. We all tend to see the Leaf picture a little differently but one thing that does indeed unite us is a longstanding rooting interest in the blue and white.  Though the team has not had championship success in close to fifty years, the Leafs still have a very strong following throughout much of the world, even where hockey is not generally a popular sport.

That said, one of the more intense discussions one can have when you’re a Leaf fan is this:  how do you feel about the Montreal Canadiens? For some, Montreal is just another team. Others uniformly hate the Habs. Some respect them as a traditional Leaf rival and an organization with a great hockey tradition.

In my own case, I’ve long acknowledged a passionate dislike for the blue, blanc et rouge when I was younger.  My excuse is I was born into a Hab family, and rebelled at the idea at a very early age.  I was the family turncoat, stubbornly adopting the Maple Leafs as “my” team”.  I subsequently carried my intense dislike for Montreal and its players for years.  While I can now look back on those great late ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s Montreal players like Doug Harvey, Jean Beliveau, Jacques Laperriere, J.C. Tremblay, Guy Lafleur, Guy Lapointe, Serge Savard and Larry Robinson with respect and admiration, that wasn’t my emotion back then.  My anti-Montreal sentiment only really subsided when the Habs became just another NHL team, which they kind of evolved into throughout the ‘80s—though they did win the Cup in ’86 and came awfully close in 1989.

They did win it again in 1993 (the year the Leafs should have been playing them in the finals) but have not been back to the finals since.

Now, Leaf fans find themselves in an (for some, at least) uncomfortable situation.  Whatever their feelings for the Canadiens, Montreal is the only Canadian team left in the Stanley Cup playoffs.  Some Maple Leaf fans like to cheer for a Canadian team if the Leafs don’t make the playoffs, or are eliminated early on. 

And that’s the question I have for you today:  as a Leaf follower (or maybe if you’re the fan of another Canadian team), do you just naturally migrate to rooting for the Habs, because you kind of like them, too and/or because they are carrying the Canadian flag in the NHL playoffs?

Or are you a Leaf supporter who would never, ever become even a temporary Montreal supporter?

From my perspective, as I said earlier, I no longer have much of a feeling about the Canadiens one way or the other.  I won’t be troubled if they were to somehow advance and win a championship, though I don’t anticipate that happening.  (There are other teams besides Montreal at this point in my hockey rooting life that I would prefer not win; not many that I would like to see win!)

As for the pro “Canadian” team argument, that has never moved me much.  I’ve never been a fan who starts pulling for another Canadian-based team once the Leafs were out of the playoffs, though I totally understand why many people do. Generally speaking over the years, once the Leafs were done, while I would follow the various series I was mostly cheering against certain teams. But I didn’t especially care. Right now, I don’t have much of a rooting interest, though the first round of the playoffs is always tremendous hockey.

The question is:  are you now cheering for the Habs as they get ready to face the Bruins? Or is that a divide you simply cannot cross?


  1. Can't say that I hate the Habs and I have a lot of friends that are Hab fans who always like to kid me about how much better the Habs are than the Leafs. It is all in fun but the sooner the Habs are out the better it is for me and I can resume with the Leafs being a young team with better prospects, high end talent and actually being in a better long term position stuff (which I incidentally actually believe is true). So I don't hate them and just wish the Leafs could have done what they did and I guess I respect the organization - and have often been amazed - even going back to the 60s when they always got the job done. The fact is the Habs would have won 5 Cups in a row if the Leafs old veterans had not upset them in 67. So I have a lot of respect for what they have accomplished over the years and that is a lot of years where the Leafs were a total joke.

    That being said I have never cheered for them and I never will and I never relax during the playoffs until the Habs are eliminated. The one thing that really keeps the playoffs interesting for me is watching the Habs play and hoping they lose. I am not much of a Bruin fan either but I was really hoping they would take out the Wings quickly because I did not want to see a tired Bruins team taking on a rested Hab team. I still remember 86 and 93 where everything fell in place for the Habs and I would hate to see it happen again.

    1. Hi Alton- my guess is even Montreal fans may acknowledge they had a a pretty good playoff schedule through those championship years in '86 and '93. And I absolutely agree- the Habs came awfully close to winning five in a row in the '60s! They were that good.

  2. For it's quite simple. I hate the Habs, but I hate the current Bruins far more... so yes I will cheer for the Habs!

    This current team reminds me a bit of the 1993 Canadiens, in that I find them somewhat likeable as players.

    That 1993 team had Vincent Damphousse, Kirk Muller, Mike Keane, John LeClair, Guy Carboneau, Mathieu Schneider, Brian Skrudland, Patrice Brisebois, Rob Ramage, Lyle Odelein Patrick Roy and an aging Denis Savard. Some people say it was luck that they won, but I think they had a lot of character guys.

    On the current Habs, I like Boullion, Briere, Budaj, Galcheyuk, Gallager, Gorges, Markov, Moen, Prust, Subban and Price

    1. We've talked about 'likeability' here when it comes to our Leafs, DP, and I think you make a really good point about that Hab squad in '93. Lots of experience and character, for sure. And yes, the present day Montreal roster has some noteworthy character guys, too.

  3. Michael,

    As a long standing member of Leafworld, I have never cheered for another Canadian team in the playoffs. I have however, had lots of opportunities over the years, given the terrible state of the once proud franchise that I love.

    I do not wish the Habs to be victorious over the Bruins, any more than I wish the Bruins to beat the Canadiens. I know that it condemns me to a life as a less than charitable human being to wish that both teams lose the series. The fact that I believe both teams deserve to lose is a reflection on my passion for the Leafs, as well as my dislike for those other, better run teams. Even though a franchise not named the Maple Leafs, will hoist the Stanley Cup in June, seems a tad morose to me. Even though I ask so little of the Leafs, they continue to let me down.

    We have talked a lot this season about the individual players on the Leafs, and how talented, good, or even great they are, or can become. It saddens me that even with all the advantages this organization has at its disposal, they can't ice a good team. There is a huge disparity between being talented, and being good. A similar divide can be found between the good teams, and the great. Just this season, we saw a good team in St. Louis, lose to a great one, Chicago. St. Louis can go into the offseason knowing there is work to do, not unlike our Leafs. Whether or not the team will do the work to improve, is the big question, isn't it?

    Over the years I have had far too much practice watching the playoffs when the Leafs aren't involved. I find myself drawn to the games that offer me a window into what makes sports so enthralling personally. The competition on a nightly basis, the intensity of the individuals on the ice, the redemption stories, and the ones of condemnation. Even if the game that is presently being contested isn't a barnburner, the next one probably will be. The match-ups every year, are their own little crucibles. The talented Pittsburgh Penguins, vs. the more blue collar Blue Jackets, is a wonderful current example of this. Which team prevails, and why, is a fascinating discussion to be had for every round, and every series.

    When I don't have the Leafs on my mind during this time of year, I find certain stories catch my attention. Can Toews lead the Hawks to a third Stanley Cup? Can Crosby carry the Penguins, and overcome their goaltender to a second cup? Will a battered Getzlaf survive the bloodshed in the West to emerge in the end? Will Iginla get his hands on the Stanley Cup and have his own Raymond Bourque moment? Is this the year another dark horse makes a run to the final? The Blue Jackets are clearly my dark horse candidate at this point. I guess if I had to write the script for the postseason, I would write about Sidney Crosby carrying the Penguins to the Cup win. Thus cementing his place as the most dominant player of this generation. A hard fought battle with Toews and the Hawks, would go a long way to doing just that.

    In the end, I guess I am just cheering for more great hockey, all that any fan of the NHL can ask.

    1. Great post as always, Jim. I can appreciate that you are pulling for neither team. (I was an avid anti-Bruin guy for many years myself, going back to the Orr years, though when it was a question in those days of the Habs or Bruins, I preferred Boston...)

      Like you, I just love playoff hockey. The work ethic, the team play, it's quite remarkable. And yes, the Leafs have a ways to go to be in a place where they can consistently compete with clubs like the Hawks and Blues.

  4. Nothing compares to my love of the Leafs and it's a let down when they are not in the post-season. I find with Spring finally here after such a long winter, I'm just not much into the play-offs. (The confused wood- pecker that been working on the mail-box for days has drawn my attention away--it's thick checker-plate.) For the sake of harmony I'll cheer on the Habs as I have in the past. Hubby does the same for me. ( I'm not fond of the Pacioretty smirk) I think it will be interesting to see if a team without any top centers can go far into the playoffs. They say it can't be done, I guess we'll see.

    I've always liked Calgary for some reason. I seem destined to root for underdogs.
    I usually root for Canadian teams but so many teams south of the border have more Canadians in their line-up than up here.

    I've thought all along Chicago might repeat. They just have a way of winning those games where they haven't played their best. Toews is pretty special. I have a hard time cheering on Boston. I believe Crosby is playing injured and Fleury has been called out by his coach so I think the Pens will struggle. L.A. needs Quick to be his best.

    Nonis is in Finland at the U18 championship. He may be just scouting for the summer draft, or talking to Dineen (U18), Keenan (KHL), Komorov or the young player from the Fraser deal. I hope we hear something later this week. It's been so quiet, I'm glad you are still posting, Michael. C.N.

    1. I think it is a letdown for a lot of Toronto fans when the Leafs don't make the playoffs, Colleen. Some still watch the playoffs; others not to much. In your case, you have a family reason to support the Habs!

      And we will indeed see what Nonis is working on.

  5. Twenty years ago, my answer to this question would be a quick, simple NO! I really hated watching the Habs lift the cup back in '93. They have been the Leafs mortal enemy for a lot longer than I've been alive for sure, and nothing would make me happier than to see them in last place overall.

    It was right at that time that Gary Bettman was given the keys to the NHL. It took a few years, but once his influence began to take hold, it became apparent to me that his plan was to move the game to the United States, not just in growth, but at the expense of Canada. He jumped at the opportunity to move the Jets and Nordiques south, and almost got the Oilers too. There was a point where I feared that the league would have no more than the Leafs and Canadiens to represent Canada.

    As a Canadian, I always resented this. I cheered loudly when the Jets returned. I have found myself rooting for the success of Canadian franchises, not necessarily on the ice, but financially speaking. Bettman's southward expansion travails have been well documented, and I am happy that the bleeding stopped a long time ago and that the seven present Canadian franchises bring in the bulk of the NHL's revenue.

    So in the end, on-ice success does play a part in financial success (except in Toronto. Gee I wonder if that might make a difference in management motivation...ah, subject for another day). So I have made a habit of rooting for Canadian teams in the playoffs. I've heard some rather uninformed comments from Americans about how they have taken over the game since their teams win all the cups. Rather silly, really, since the majority of players still hail from north of the border. So that in and of itself doesn't bother me that no Canadian team has won the cup in more than 20 years now. But I do root for them. Okay, admittedly the Canadiens and Senators quite grudgingly so, but that's how my viewpoint has evolved.

    1. That's entirely fair, Pete. I sense a lot of Canadian-based fans have wondered about Bettman's agenda.

  6. Put it this way. If the Habs played a newly minted Russian Red Army team I would be cheering Da Comrade or something to that effect!!!

  7. These are not the 70's Habs, when my emotions ran high regarding their success (and often decimation against the Leafs), however, they don't inspire much interest in the absence of their identity as the 'Flying Frenchmen'. I'm kind of ambivalent toward them in the absence of the Leafs and still find myself 'uninterested' in their potential for success.

    There were times I lived in Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton where I showed passing interest in the teams when pursuing their trips to the finals. I was caught up in the Canucks run to the cup in the 80's (having no choice but to watch many of their games that pre-empted a viewing of my team after their entry into the league).

    Lanny McDonald's presence with the Flames garnered my interest when he won the cup there and the more recent runs in the new millennium had me watching both oiler and flame games.

    This year, I find myself 'dabbling' with some interest in specific players on other teams who I have always liked (even if I don't like the team they're playing with at the moment... like Iginla with the Bruins). Someone like Selanne has a 'sub-text' like Bourque or Lanny, but for the most part, I'm just tuning in the last half of the 3rd if a game is close, then watching with no particular rooting interest.

    I guess I'm a little more interested in the systems of play and the drama/excitement (even if it is disconnected and vicarious)...

    Are the only team still playing based in Canada my rooting interest? Nope...

    My actual interest is firmly placed upon the future Leafs who have started well in the AHL... The Marlies are the only team I'm actually 'rooting for' at the moment. So far, that's been enjoyable (even if the broadcasts leave something to be desired).

    1. I'm in a similar boat, InTimeFor62. While I really like the first round, I don't have a rooting interest these days. Like you, if there are players I like to follow, great. Otherwise, I simply enjoy watching good playoff hockey.

  8. The Marlies down on the farm swept tonight is their first round. I think they are the team I am cheering hardest for.

    Nice skilled goal from some AHL kids:

  9. I do wish the Marlies games were televised. I can't find a stream for them or I'd be watching.
    Mike Babcock is in the final year of his contract--( I don't think the Wings would let him go at any price) but I wish the Leafs would give it a try and make him an offer he simply can't refuse. If the organization wanted to make a big splash, and a huge immediate improvement, that would be it. CN