Custom Search

Leafs: please get rid of “no complaints, no excuses”—now

As we await the big, bad Bruins in what should be an interesting match-up at the ACC on Saturday night, some Leaf supporters may be feeling a bit 'heady' just now.  You know, that feeling you get when things start to go well and you have a little giddy-up in your step.  Having a winning record - albeit very early in the current NHL season - can do that for you.  And while there have been some encouraging signs in the play of the blue and white the last couple of weeks, there is one little thing that is sort of sticking in my craw, as it were.  And it has nothing to do with how the team is playing.

Can I share?

I understand that corporations and various organizations nowadays seem to feel they simply must have some made-up creed to live by.  I will acknowledge that sometimes those phrases or slogans do seem, however temporarily, to inspire the troops.  And this applies to sports teams as well.  (Some of us are old enough to remember, for example, the "We are Family" line utilized by the Pittsburgh Pirates on their way to a World Series championship back in 1979.)

Do you remember (of course, we all do) when the term “excellence” was used routinely by so many corporate organizations that it was eventually, well, just kid of funny.  The whole business world was evidently made up of companies with useless slogans and righteous-sounding mission statements.  All those companies were supposedly “number one” in their field and yes, promoted none other than a “culture of excellence”. (Now, I’d be hard-pressed to believe that all their employees were necessarily  as pleased as the happy talk made it sound.  And a true test of any of those companies when it came to  customer service responsiveness and capabilities might have  exploded the excellence theory, but you get my point.  It all sounded good for public consumption, eh?)

I’m not suggesting that striving to “be your best”—as an individual or an organization—is not laudable. It is, of course.  I’m just not sure that simply saying it a lot makes it so.

So how does this relate to our Maple Leafs?  Well, when I heard Randy Carlyle, upon the promotion (well earned, by the way) of Ryan Hamilton, telling reporters this week that Hamilton had the right attitude, I was pleased.  Hamilton is a guy I have talked about here in the past:  the “good solider”, in hockey terms, who finally got two games in the NHL last season as a call-up from the Marlies.  It was almost the same kind of late-season call-up that Tim Brent earned a few years ago, and helped parlay him into an NHL career with the Leafs and now the Hurricanes.

But unfortunately (maybe only for me) Carlyle punctuated his praise for and description of Hamilton by saying he was one of those, “no complaints, no excuses” guys.

There, he said it.  Again.  (He says it a lot.)

That mantra “no complaints, no excuses” was, of course, one of the many well-worn phrases of Dave Nonis’ predecessor in the Maple Leaf General Manager’s chair. While the intent of the statement is fine (we don’t mumble and groan here, we don’t blame anyone else, we just fight through, etc.) the line has eventually hit the wall for me. Now, every time I hear it from someone in the organization, it just feels so transparent that it is an old message they are clinging too, something they feel they need to repeat, rinse and trot out again for public consumption by we gullible Leaf fans.

Why does Carlyle keep saying it?  Does anyone think we’ve somehow forgotten the line that's been said as often as it has been? What are they trying to convince us of?

In my mind, the more that kind of empty stuff gets said, over and over, it reveals that those are just words— and that, just maybe, the organization is thinking they are hard done by in some fashion.  It just sounds to me like a cover up for their true feelings, which they can only suppress by saying “no complaints, no excuses” again and again.

Once you say it enough, it just sounds like, well, you are complaining and you are making excuses.  Especially when you are an organization that has exactly zero playoff game victories in the past nine seasons—much less a series win.

I know others may feel very differently and think the slogan is great.  To me, it’s old and needs to stop.  Let’s move on to something else.  Al Davis made "Just win baby" famous with his Oakland Raiders for decades.  But he owned the team - and they won championships some years.  Over the past many years, that phrase rang hollow, before Davis' passing, when the Raiders struggled to even put a competitive team on the field.  When they were really good, it worked.

You know what this occasionally crotchety old Leaf fan really wants to hear?  Less talk (which Nonis is indeed providing, thankfully).  And what would I like to see?  Success on the ice, on a consistent basis- full stop.  Once the Leafs deliver that, then those little sayings might ring true.


  1. I often wonder how hard it is to be original when repeatedly speaking with the media... then add to that... in Toronto.

    The phrase you have identified is getting tired and worn (by those of us who hear it so often), yet I know I must take responsibility for hearing it so often myself, because I keep listening to so many interviews!

    I can't imagine being Randy Carlyle (or any coach/player) and having to answer so many similar questions about a win/loss/state of the team/player without 'falling back on' the safety valve of a well-worn phrase.

    It has lost its cache, yet we are insatiable in our hope for something original to 'hang on to.'

    This is not a criticism of our 'needs/desires' - it is, rather, a recognition of a deep-seated 'unrequited love' for our team. One that desires something... anything... to 'keep us going' until things eventually improve and we finally become consistent winners.

    At which point, we can ultimately stop thinking about the length and difficulty of the road to our new found joys, whilst trying ever-so-diligently to forget about the fanbase of the teams that are (and must be) sinking into our soon-to-be former despair - who, themselves, must quickly come up with catch phrases of their own (to replace the joy of actually winning) upon their transposition to the position we are vacating (the exchange of their losses for our wins).

    This is the product of all zero-sum games... though, the degradation we are enduring now is part of the joy to come - and that's why we hang on - the crown of long-awaited victory is sweet for those who endure!

  2. A very relevant topic, Michael, and while it's probably just a sign of the times, I find the casual use of superlatives and absolutes a bit disturbing.

    When I think "no complaints, no excuses", I think of Wendel and Dougie.

    When I think of excellence, I think of Gretzky, Lemieux and Orr. Not Colton, the better one before him, who admittedly played before I knew what was what. But I've researched him enough to know he did fit the bill.

    Those merits, nowadays, seemingly get thrown about at a whim. It defeats the purpose and intent of the description. In this day and age, every team seems to be full of those "do or die" personalities, until they did neither. Or those "no complaints, no excuses" guys, until they complain or excuse themselves.

    I would appreciate, for the sake of certain linguistic validity, that sports people would refrain from using words they obviously cannot comprehend.

    But, interesting choice by our current head coach to kinda quote our former GM. Is he someone Nonis fully trusts?

  3. Michael,

    If these guys, players coaches, and management have to come up with honest, insightful and original things to say to the media. Don't you feel we will end up with a whole lot of dead air? Not to mention having to find actual jobs for the paid promoters of the team, you know the ones. They masquerade as media. I have a microphone, I am not a shill of MLSE. The message is the product, or whats left of it.

    Big game against the bad boys from Boston tonight. Boston has brought its 'A' game against Toronto since the Kessel deal. I will have to tune in to see if that trend continues or if the good Leafs of the last two games make an appearance. Happy viewing. Still love the look of the site.

  4. Said beautifully and with a poetic touch, InTimeFor62- thanks!

  5. You "got" my post, thanks CGLN. And your last line made me stop and think for a moment. And I'm not fully sure I know the answer.

  6. I recognize that it's awfully difficult not to fall back on tried (and not necessarily true) and well worn phrases, Jim, and find something to say for public consumption that is not filled with cliches. Few athletes or coaches have that "skill". I've just grown tired of that particular phrase (which also evokes memories of "every game is a tryout...", which hit a wall for me long ago as well).

    Yes, the Bruins are here. Good Leafs, bad Leafs? Revealing, perhaps.

  7. I also don't like the use of the "catch phrase", especially in sports. Coaches who start by saying "I don´t talk about officiating" usually throw in a "but, tonight...". If there were really "no complaints, no excuses" they wouldn't have to say it... ever, because the rest of the hockey/sports world would say it for them. When someone else praises your virtues and what you are, without you having to say it, you've made it.

    How great would it be if the leafs shut out the bruins tonight on a kessel hat trick, and the fans chanted "thank you seguin"?

    Too much?

  8. Great post, portuguese leaf. You have so well captured precisely what I was trying to convey. Thank you.

    Fair or not, Kessel and Seguin will always be linked, at least in the minds of a lot of Leaf followers. It is what it is.

    Kessel is due, yes- including against the Bruins!

    Should be fun.

  9. Hi Michael,

    You hit a nerve with me, but sort of the opposite way lol

    I actually don't put very much stock in any of these things. I work in and around advertising and promoting and all that. I've seen corporations brand and re-brand, go through torturous exercises to craft a mission statement, a vision statement. I am sure you know what I mean.

    It's pretty much all BS.

    Everyone 'strives to be' the 'top performing/top selling/preferred supplier' 'service provider/widget producer' in the marketplace. And they will all 'achieve this goal' by providing 'the best quality/lowest price/excellent customer service' while 'adapting to the changing needs of our customer'.

    Call me a cynic (many do lol) but really I am not troubled by these repeated mantras. It's part of the corporate mentality that is now applied to sport. And it's a whole lot of the same stuff they've all been saying forever.

    I mean, it changes slightly. Imlach always talked about guys who worked hard. His teams worked hard, or give the opposition credit they really worked hard. People have had to 'play for the crest on the front not the name on the back', 'raise their compete level', 'take away the opponent's time and space', 'want it more', 'execute better', and 'play our game'. But really, it's all the same thing.

    Much of it has to do with this incredible media coverage. I can't believe we were so worried about how much hockey we missed with the lockout... there's been a game on TV, with all the accompanied half hour pre game, half hour post game, midday day hockey-centric gabfests almost every day since the lockout ended. They've been back 2 weeks, I think I personally have watched 10 full games.

    You're certainly not wrong. But it's just a symptom of overexposure and the same kind of thing we see in everyday business.

    The way it struck a nerve for me was I see these lists all the time of words and phrases that need to be expunged from the lexicon because they've lost meaning. Most recently I saw 'creative'... get it off your resume, it's so overused. Hey, as a graphic designer, what would you propose I use? Problem solver? nope... Thinks outside the box? eww no... unorthodox? well that is fraught with issues...

    It just makes me laugh a bit. Mostly because people seem to get hung up on the words of it. Everyone adopts the same words... excellence, compete, hard work, etc.

    I think your point is "stop repeating it, just say this is what you believe and then get it done. Fine, every game is a tryout... now promote them. Great defeat did not rest lightly... then stop losing.

    Just do it. Oh... umm... sorry Nike...

  10. I was nodding along throughout your comment today, Mark. Gave me a smile, too! Nice twist on what I was saying. Thanks.