Why Laugh at the Leafs, the Symbol of Humanity?

I get it. The Toronto Maple Leafs have been the brunt of jokes for a half-century-plus.

However, once you’ve seen the same recycled joke, the shtick wears out its welcome. My wife, Shannon, born and raised in California, still gets a kick out of some of the jokes and memes related to the Leafs’ misfortune. Having only lived in Canada for a few years, Shannon, in all fairness, isn’t used to the bombarding of anti-Leafs humor as those of us, like yours truly, who grew up in Ontario. And hey, even I’ll admit it: sometimes I’ll see a clever quip about the forlorn franchise that I’ll enjoy.

Joking at the Leafs’ expense most recently came to the forefront after the club fell on the wrong side of a 7-3 drubbing to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

That defeat opened the Leafs’ 2023 playoff schedule — on home ice, no less — even though the Lightning finished 14 points behind their first-round opponents during the regular season. Nevertheless, Tampa Bay had been to the Stanley Cup Final three-straight years into this season, winning hockey’s Holiest prize during their former two trips. Nevertheless, that forgetful game only added to the Leafs’ historic woes. Woes that include their collapse in Game 7 in the 2013 playoffs against the Boston Bruins, their inability to get past the first round (not since 2004), and, to an earlier era, the gross mismanagement of the their cantankerous owner (rest his soul) Harold Ballard.

So, why even laugh at the Leafs?

I don’t ask that question because it’s mean-spirited, but rather out of confusion.

Again, I get it. The Leafs are gluttons for punishment, so to speak, but shouldn’t that give more reason to be empathetic?

Photo by Zia Syed on Unsplash

Let’s face it: unless you’re a diehard fan of one of the Leafs’ most hated rivals — like the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, the aforementioned Bruins — I don’t expect you to have a soft side for the blue-and-white. However, when fans of teams who have never really had any sort of rivalry with the Leafs, it leaves this writer confused.

My wife, Shannon, grew up — and remains — a fan of the Los Angeles Kings. That I can definitely relate to. But let’s not forget the intense conference final series the clubs had with each other in 1993. It may have been 30 years ago but it remains one of the greatest, most controversial, playoff series in NHL history — and one that is a great source of contention for Leafs fans all these years later. Some teams don’t even have that kind of history with the Leafs, yet they’re quick to laugh at the club when they fall.

So, for those whose teams aren’t one of the Leafs’ chief rivals, what’s with the resentment?

After all, as far as this writer is concerned, if any team represents humanity the most, it’s the Leafs.

Here is a franchise that has gone through so much change, even misery, only to come up short every season. As human beings, while we certainly have our share of achievements, we also generally fail more than we succeed. That isn’t meant to sound cynical but rather realistic. Think about it: you get the job you want, your fiancee accepts your marriage proposal, your book gets published — just three examples of success. But success is a broad term, much like failure — although we tend to use less-intense verbiage in lieu of the latter. Nevertheless, we tend to think of examples of failure in the context of divorce, bankruptcy, losing a job. It can also mean something more trivial such as losing a debate with a friend or going to Starbucks and finding out they’re out of the syrup you need for your favorite drink. Again, though, using a not-so-harsh alternative to “failure.”

My point remains intact, though. the Leafs are, for all intents and purposes, the symbol of humanity. We lose more than we win; and, unlike the Leafs, weren’t fortunate not to lose on a grand stage in front of tens of people, much less tens of thousands. If anything, why not laugh at the most successful teams when they lose, like the aforementioned Lightning? Okay, let’s not try to make a right with two wrongs, but still, why laugh at the Leafs?

Also, for what it’s worth, the Leafs followed up their Game 1 dud with a 7-2 drubbing of the Bolts in Game 2. Certainly not a bad way to respond.

Maybe it’s being a Los Angeles Kings or being a Boston Red Sox fan — both franchises with infamous championship droughts that ultimately ended — but the empath in me certainly holds the Toronto Maple Leafs near and dear. Still, the ifamous owners of the NHL’s longest championship drought (56 years), the Leafs, playoff struggles aside, haven’t had a consistently good team in many years. Frankly, while I dread the thought of what might happen in Toronto if and when the Leafs do raise Lord Stanley’s mug, I relish the thought — and, dare I say, inevitable moment — when this once-hapless, proud franchise has their moment in the sun. It would not only be an exhilarating moment for the franchise and their ever-loyal fanbase, but for those outside of the club’s fanbase that realize that even they can accomplish something significant.

Featured Image Photo by Scott Gummerson on Unsplash

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