Custom Search

The Maple Leafs will become a hated team—and that’s a good sign

Let’s think about it:  there are all kinds of reasons why we hate “opposing” sports teams (or individual players) and I’ll get into that topic more fully over the next few days.  But two basic, central reasons that we hate a player or a team is that a) they are so good we can’t stand them or the aura of confidence they project  or b) we perceive them as dirty.

In my youth, I loathed the Habs with a passion.   I mean, I really, really hated them.  (Timely thought, since we were playing them Wednesday night.)  That feeling takes me back to the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Why?  Montreal in those days was so good, so talented and won so much, I couldn’t stand it.  (I was raised in a household of steadfast and passionate Hab supporters, so that might have been part of it for me, too…) And while I wouldn’t say they were, overall, ever a truly dirty team, once they struggled for a few years after their five Cups in a row in that late ‘50s era, they did go through a time when they were maybe not able to ‘protect’ their stars like Richard and Beliveau as they had before.  Once they brought up John Ferguson, a rugged winger from the minors, he leveled the playing field right away.  Suddenly they were super-skilled and mean. That probably made me dislike them all the more, because I recognized what difference-makers guys like Ferguson (who was at times a dirty player) and big Ted Harris were for Montreal.

I maintained my hatred for the ‘blue, blanc et rouge’ throughout the next decade, but I also found room in my hockey heart to come to despise two other teams in the ‘70s—the “Big Bad Bruins” and a bit later, the “Broad Street Bullies” in Philadelphia.  Both of those teams had talent (any team with Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito or Bobby Clarke and Bernie Parent had some talent, for sure) but why did I dislike them so intently?  Both teams, previously soft and easy to beat most nights (the Bruins pre-1967 and the Flyers in the early years of expansion) had become tough—very, very tough.  They were physical, finished their checks and could also fight.  And in that era, both teams were headliners when it came to dirty play—vicious use of the stick, among other things.

I wasn’t alone.  Unless you actually cheered for those teams, they were pretty much universally despised by hockey fans.  And while, as a Leaf fan, I envied their Cup wins and their toughness, I maybe as much hated that my Leafs weren’t quite tough enough to stand up to the Bruins and the Flyers.  It’s not that the Leafs didn’t try to match up against those teams (we had individuals who sure tried their best to) but we just couldn't beat them except on sporadic occasions during the regular season.  We lost to the Bruins in the playoffs in 1972 and 1974 and to the Flyers in 1975, 1976 and 1977 though, in fairness, we really went toe-to-toe with Philly the last couple of years that we met in the playoffs.

My long-winded point is simply this: the Leafs are seemingly becoming one of those teams that other squads hate to line up against.  The first goal in the Montreal game Wednesday night at the ACC was telltale.  Brown won a board battle and simply by being at the right place and the right time, McLaren was credited with a somewhat fluky goal for the good guys to give the Leafs an early lead.

Those who check in fairly regularly at VLM know I’m not the world’s biggest fight guy.  I accept that it has been part of the game, but there’s a part of me that wishes that it wasn’t.  That said, I’ve always, as a fan, appreciated the value of physical hockey.  Bert Olmstead (seen right in his hey-day with the Habs before he joined the Leafs in the late 1950s) and Bobby Pulford were to Maple Leafs in my early days as a follower of this franchise that stood out for me as classic grinders (before that term was used in the hockey world).  Olmstead was particularly abrasive in the corners and Pulford loved to finish his checks, much like Komarov nowadays but even nastier. 

In the ‘70s, players like Bob Gainey (Montreal) and Terry O’Reilly (Boston) epitomized flat out aggressive play.  They could hit and stop you cold and could fight, too.  Neither, though was a dirty player in my mind, though they were certainly intense and passionate (and played for the aforementioned teams that I couldn’t stand).

And this is what I see developing with the Maple Leafs right now.  We don’t have anyone who plays as well as O’Reilly while at the same time being as tough as nails  like O’Reilly was.  And Gainey was one of the best all-around hockey players I’ve ever seen, so I’m not suggesting we have someone of that ilk just now in the Leaf lineup.  But in the broad sense, doesn't it strike you that we are a team that irritates (Komarov, McClement, Kadri) and also can hit and grind in the corners and throw down if the moment comes when that is required (Orr, Brown, McLaren)?

I admit, when I heard we had picked up McLaren on waivers, I didn’t bat an eye.  I never thought Orr would play here again.  Yet here I sit, typing that they are somehow part of a mentality that is making skilled Leafs Leafs play freer and better most nights, while they keep the opposition honest.

What I see unfolding next is fans of other teams beginning to detect what is going on in Leafland.  That is, that we have a team that once upon a time was easy to play against (like the Bruins and Flyers I mentioned above) and now no longer is.  And those opposing fans will hate that.  They will see we are no longer a pushover and aren’t an easy two points on the NHL schedule.  They will also note that we have skill, too, in guys like van Riemsdyk, Lupul, Kessel, Kadri, Frattin and Grabovski, along with grit and the aforementioned nasty streak—and yes, the willingness to fight.

I’ve already noticed that teams aren’t enjoying playing the Leafs.  It’s not that we are necessarily out-‘skilling’ or out-chancing the opposition every night, but all it takes is two or three plays where we want the puck more (like the Brown-McLaren play mentioned above) and a close game (that’s all we seem to play most nights this season) turns in our favour.

We don’t have a “reputation” yet—it takes longer than 21 games to develop that, usually, but I don’t believe that is far off.  I think we’re close.  I don’t want us to be a dirty team, or fight constantly.  That’s not my point.  The game has always been about skating, passing and shooting for me.  I love speed and a player that sees the ice and makes plays, like Kadri’s tremendous pass to MacArthur to set up the second Leaf goal against Montreal.

But you also need teamwork, players who work for each other, who will do the tough jobs and are willing to do the little things that win games.  That’s the kind of team I’d like to see. Skilled, fast, physical, unified.  If other teams don’t like the Leafs, or their fans don’t like the Leafs, so what?

And won’t it be fun to be on the receiving end of “hockey hatred” from fellow fans across the Eastern Conference? We had that in the Quinn years.

And it was nice.


By all means I hope you’ll post comments today but I won’t likely be able to respond to your posts until later in the day on Thursday….I won't be near a computer during the day on Thursday.


It’s not surprising that the Habs were ready for the game Wednesday night.  The Leafs had won the first two games in the season series and that last game in Montreal was not one the Habs would let sit.

Mark Fraser is winning me over just about every night he plays.  But I posted on him recently so I won’t focus on the play of the rock-solid defenseman.  So many little things he is doing well.

I know some fans will question the Mike Bown major, but for me, that’s certainly not why we lost the game.  We usually win the little battles, as I posted above.  Not so much Wednesday night when Montreal had a lot of jump.

Kessel, van Riemsdyk and Bozak were all minus 4, though it was a night of odd goals, which was part of the reason for line’s bad number. (Bozak complained about the draw that led to the third Montreal goal, but the Montreal center was ready, so I can’t say for sure Bozak had a valid argument…)  I don’t think Phaneuf was as good as he had been lately but he wasn’t alone.

On to the Island.


  1. MIchael,

    You know that I don't approve of the carnival like, sideshow brand of hockey in a general sense. I appreciate players who can do more than score with their lefts and rights. A good all around hockey player is my ideal Maple Leaf. At this point of the shortened season, one thing is clear. The Leafs are a better team when they are bashing and crashing, intimidating and punishing the opposition. I haven't looked up their record in games in which there is a fighting major. I assume it is far better than in the games that they don't drop the mittens. Perhaps someone a little more dedicated will do the dirty work here, and look up the stats.

    On to the more controversial aspect of my comment. I have seen enough of Phil Kessel. The sooner Dave Nonis trades him, getting anything nearing a decent return, the happier I will be. Its obvious to me that he is never going to be a difference maker. He is the most skilled Leaf, most speed, best shot, and all of the rest. Great passer too, I just don't want to watch him do the rest of the things he does that bug the hell out of me. I would call him lazy and non competitive, but I think I can sum it up even better. He is not a winner. I would rather have Kadri and Frattin and two more Frazer McLarens, than subject myself to watching Kessel give up the puck as effortlessly as he did to Gionta on the last goal tonight. Even worse, is after he does it, is the nonchalant, half hearted, oh well, attitude on the back check. Better efforts are made in beer league hockey where I come from. I have always said that he is what he is, that he won't change. The only thing that I see changing with respect to Kessel is the sweater he wears. I will be the first to welcome the new guys, I have had enough of Kessel.

  2. We wont be hated if we play many games like we did tonight! I was at the game, and I had to check behind the bench to make sure Ron Wilson wasn't coaching last February! Quite simply, the Leafs were brutal tonight, and in no way deserved to be as close as the score indicated for two and a half periods. Scrivens cannot be blamed for this one. Almost every goal was a result of sloppy clearing or a turnover by the Leafs. They seemed unable to make two passes in a row, couldn't control the puck, and I'd love to see the stats on giveaways.
    To my eyes, images of last year's swoon started to present themselves. If this is a sign that other teams are figuring out how to play us - just like this time last year - we're in for another two months of learning curve.
    The goods news? Our goaltending is better, and our PK is better. So small steps have been made. But when your 4th line is the best line of the evening - and the egregious call on Brown just sucked the life right of us, it seemed - then you know just how much of a work in progress we really are.
    I didn't think we played all that well in Philly or Ottawa, and when was the last game you could say we dominated? Or even pinned the other team in their end more than once?
    Like you, Michael, I'm fine if we're the team other fans love to hate. In fact, I'd welcome it! Tomorrow's game will be a real test of this team's will to compete. Tonight it wasn't there.

  3. I'm going to be away from a computer most of the day during the day tomorrow (Thursday) Jim and I don't know if a lot of people will visit VLM after a Leaf loss- but I'm sure you realize that your comments on Kessel will not necessarily be widely embraced!

    I would, though, be interested in hearing if your view is a relatively isolated one or one that is shared by some other fans? I know your posts here well enough that this is not a comment simply made because of one frustrating loss.

    Let's see if others have a different perspective.

  4. I'd like to think the Hab loss was a one-off, Gerund O'. Carlyle seemed frustrated but somehow not shocked after the game. He knows they have lots of work still to do and there will be nights like this.

    I do believe that, overall, they have been a tough team to play against most of this season. The were at times in the early going against Montreal (at least Brown certainly was) but lost their edge or something...

  5. While observing the lack of time in the offensive zone, I was also aware that the Leafs were still in the game... and, that, is the difference from last year. We really didn't fall by the wayside until the third.

    I didn't feel as sense of dread when the major was called (though I did think Brown had tried to play the body from the side, yet was 'just off'... it was worth 2 min. in my mind) because I feel like the guys can kill those off. That is a huge contrast with last year! I only felt disappointed that they were so close to killing it off when the Habs scored - felt like a loss of the reward of another successful kill. Then it hit me... they're still short-handed and this could have been much worse.

    I felt like we could come back and we did stay in the game, so despite feeling this was not a great effort, we hung in there against a highly motivated Habs team that played well. I don't think the Habs will enjoy the aches and pains tomorrow... bet a lot of teams feel that way about the Leafs this year, as you said!

  6. Your last point speaks exactly to my post, InTimeFor62- the Leafs won't win every night, and won't even play well some nights. But if they keep playing hard most nights, they will become a team others hate to play against, if they aren't already.

  7. Yes, they will become very hated. They are the team from the center of the universe: Toronto

    They didn't used to be hated, because they were not very good, more laughable. But they are getting better and they have bunch of guys who play with an edge and are borderline dirty: Grabovski, Kadri, Komorov and Brown.

    I am still amazed at the Kadri passes from the last two games. There aren't too many guys in the NHL that can do that. Those passes are world class. I saw some of the passes in the AHL and wondered if he could do it against the best in the world. It appears he can. When Kadri gets better at faceoffs I want to see him on some shifts with Kessel.

  8. One final thought...

    I thought without Frattin or Lupul, that the Leafs just didn't have the horses to beat at team like the Canadiens.

    I don't mind Orr taking the ocassional shift with Kadri, but I would rather see Frattin on that line. Similarly, McClement cuts down on the offensive capabilities of the Grabovski line.

    I want to go back to the previous Leaf lines. Those can beat the Habs

  9. I read somthing very intersting right on subject today. It's a very intersting read.

    My take is this: We need tough, we need fighting (after all we do love the hits and scraps and overall nastyness in our team), and we need someone to protect our skill guys, but I don't think we need 3 of the same player.

    Let's say we land 3 very good players that become our 1st line and make our current lines slide down a position. Is anyone going get rid of any of the top 9 players to keep 3 fighters? Maybee one. It will always be scoring over banging.

  10. I know where Jim is coming from. I find Kessel difficult to embrace fully too, although I do not see his play nearly so negatively. I think much of the perceived nonchalance may be just that, our perception. Unfortunately, Seguin and Hamilton are my kind of player, players that we can plainly see have game. However, it could also be that their “game” is more stereotypical than Phil’s leaving some of us cold when it comes to Phil the player. Consequently, I want to embrace Kessel but his demeanor sometimes leaves me cold. However, to the extent I can accept that Seguin and Hamilton were gifted to the Bruins, I am warming to Kessel over time and see him as an important element going forward. The return in a trade would have to be substantial to want to see him elsewhere.

    On another topic, I would like to address some of the prevalent discussion among commentators and fans about Ben Scrivens. I have noted a lot of perception about Scrivens’ rebound control that I believe is misunderstood. The general view is that Scrivens’ gives up too many rebounds and that his rebound control is weak. I disagree with this perception and I will explain why. I believe that fans and commentators are conflating two things when it comes to Scrivens and rebounds. 1. There are rebounds that are defensive liabilities, the rebound that pops back into a dangerous shooting area and it is 50-50 at best which team will get there first. 2. There are rebounds that abet transition by directing the puck to a teammate. My belief is that Scrivens is using rebounds as a tool of transition in a very advanced way, albeit imperfectly.

    On the first point I see Scrivens as fairly typical. Players often try to create rebounds by shooting the puck into the hands or leg pads where they cannot always be easily corralled and can end up in a danger area. I see all goalies struggle with this offensive strategy, including exceptional ones like Carey Price, for example. I see room for improvement in Scrivens’ game in this area and part of this may have to do with the increased skill level of shooters and offensive play that he is now facing. When I listen to commentators however, I am left with the impression that his use of rebounds as a conscious tool of transition, to deflect the puck up to his teammates and create a transition to offense is often not appreciated. In my opinion, Scrivens is attempting to employ this tactic with emphasis that I have not seen to this time. I see this as an advanced, innovative strategy.

    Most fans and commentators, like your co-host Matteo for example, feel more comfortable with James Reimer, and that is understandable. Reimer plays a more conventional style, in fact an effective style that we have seen for many years, a time tested formula for success. It is more comforting in tight games. I think however, that some of the discomfort with Scrivens’ style comes from his use of rebounds as a tool of the transition game. Scrivens’ use of rebounds in this way is in fact quite advanced. I would like to see him continue on this path, as it can be very useful in creating odd man rushes and potentially be a difference maker in an important game. So I hope that they allow him the freedom to continue to develop in this area. Whatever the case, I think they need to get Scrivens signed before he becomes a UFA.

  11. You make a good point DP, that the Leafs have long been hated simply because of where they play- but not because they ave been a good side, or feared! Hopefully that will change...

  12. It's likely the Leafs will find room for Lupul and Frattin and any talented players to find their way to Toronto- and yes, that wlll require dropping some players who bring that 'edge'. That said, my sense, portuguese leaf, is Carlyle's approach begets a style of play that will make the Leafs hard to play against going forward- a blend of skill, but toughness and sandpaper, too. Thans portuguese leaf.

  13. Kessel is still a polarizing player for some, Bobby C., no question. You make the point well about what he brings though I too see what Jim is saying and how Kessel can be a frustrating guy at times.

    Thank you for your thoughts on Reimer/Scrivens- you played the position and know what you're taling about.

    I'm off site and can't quite respond in as much detail as I'd like to...

  14. Hi Michael.
    I'm a little late to comment here, but I just wanted to say that the Leafs are already a hated team, especially in Canada. I can't count how many times in my worldly travels people have given me the cold shoulder just cause I'm from Toronto and follow the Leafs. And they have the nerve to say that we think we're better than everyone? Yet they hear I'm from Toronto and won't even associate themselves with me?? Sounds like the pot calling the kettle black to me. Anyways, just to drive my point home, I stumbled upon this site the other day, which made me laugh and shake my head in disbelief. - -
    Blows my mind that someone would spend this much energy bashing another team, to go as far as making a website. Sad, really.

  15. Thanks for posting, Cartsy. You raise a good point- to some fans, the Leafs have always been hated.

    My thought is there may be reasons for more fans to hate them now, given the way they play under Carlyle. But yes, the historical dislike has been "out there" for a long time. Thanks Cartsy.