Friday, July 4, 2014

Fresh Hope

For those of you keeping track and perhaps, cheering on the Toronto Maple Leafs, the odds of a Stanley Cup parade in the near future are declining rapidly. Not to mention, the last festivities of this kind were held way back in 1967.

To determine the reason why there have been no celebrations on Bay Street is an impossible task. Fingers can be pointed at every level within the organization. Even the on-ice officials are included in the blame-game. Remember the non-call in game 6 of the Campbell Conference final - the contest where Kerry Fraser and crew missed the carving applied to Doug Gilmour?

Wayne Gretsky's overtime goal in game 6, sent the series back to Maple Leaf Gardens for a seventh and deciding game. The winner would receive an all paid expense trip to the Stanley Cup final and a date with the Montreal Canadiens.

Unfortunately for Toronto, Gretzky put on a show at 60 Carlton. He had all the weapons and sunk the Leafs ship.

Many Toronto faithful are of the opinion that if the Leafs had gotten by Los Angeles, a Cup victory over Montreal awaited them.

The '92-'93 Habs didn't hold a candle to the red-hot Canadien clubs of yesteryear. In particular, when compared to the powerhouse squads coached by Scotty Bowman in the 1970s.

In 1978, Toronto and Montreal collided in the conference final. It was the last time they met so deep in the post-season. Toronto joined Montreal in the next round thanks to Lanny McDonald's overtime goal in game 7 against the New York Islanders.

And it didn't get any easier facing Montreal in the conference final. During the regular season, Montreal strung together an impressive 59-10-11 record and scored a league-high 359 goals.

As expected, the Canadiens continued their march to the Cup final by stampeding over the Leafs and sweeping them in four-straight contests.Montreal reached the top of the mountain when they defeated Don Cherry's Bruins and were crowned champions.

In 1993, a possible match-up between the two Canadian teams seemed more even. Montreal closed out the year with 102 points, while Toronto registered 99 points. If Toronto had advanced, there was a good chance, unlike in 1978, that the final wouldn't be a blow-out for either team.

But it never happened. The stars weren't aligned for the long-time rivals to once again battle one another for all the marbles.

Several decent playoff runs followed for the Maple Leafs. Still, most agree Toronto's best opportunity to shake there post-expansion blues was in 1993.

If the Greater Toronto Area is to host another Cup parade, they may have to look outside-the-box.

The Maple Leafs inability to add proven top-end talent results in them spinning their wheels and negating any meaningful progress.

A second National Hockey League franchise (located in Toronto or a nearby suburb) could be the answer for Cup starved Toronto residents. Sure, there are no guarantees a second team in the GTA would hoist Lord Stanley's gift to hockey, but there would be fresh hope. And that is a major component to being a fan.

Comments made on social media this week suggest that hope is evaporating. "Same team going to be iced again this year, maybe worse actually," declared one posting. Another asked, "...how much longer are they going to rebuild? They have 3 playoff wins in 12 years it's getting ridiculous."

On June 25, Tim Leiweke, who holds the top job at MLSE, spoke at a Board of Trade gathering. Many share a belief the Maple Leafs wouldn't allow or welcome neighbours to their gated community. But as Leiweke pointed out, "we just have one vote," in reference to a league-wide referendum which would be required for expansion or relocating another team to Toronto.

Any worries Leaf ownership have about losing their standing in the Toronto market are unfounded. Almost 100-years of passion and unwavering support doesn't suddenly expire. Like any relationship there are good and bad times. A rocky patch doesn't always result in divorce.

The Maple Leafs will, forever, be Toronto's team. But with this comes a public trust to meet a high standard both on and off the ice.

In fact, due to the nature of their business, Bell and Rogers could benefit from the competition. The immediate rivalry between the Leafs and the new boys in town wouldn't hurt the TV ratings. To help sweeten the pot, the newcomers most likely would sign either a short-term or long-term lease to play out of the Air Canada Centre.

Then, there are the hockey fans in Toronto who just want to relive or experience for the first-time a Stanley Cup victory on their home turf.

In his book - "1967 - The Last Good Year" -  Pierre Berton wrote: "In 1967 we looked forward with anticipation. In 1997 we look backward with regret to the 'good old days' when nobody talked about deficit or 'downsizing'."

And for Toronto Maple Leaf fans, they look back to 1967 when there was hope for many more Stanley Cups.

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