Dear Supporters of the Toronto Maple Leafs,
I think it’s fair to say we have never seen eye-to-eye. Until that first playoff series between the Senators and the Leafs in 2000, I was pretty much blissfully unaware of your existence, and I’m sure you viewed Senators fans with a sort of academic curiosity, sure that this new team in a small city was simply a passing fad.
If only things had stayed ever thus.
How have the Leafs tortured me? Oh let me count the ways. Whether it was Curtis Joseph assassinating Ottawa in a 4 game sweep, or Ottawa losing in seven games having been up 3-2 in a series, or Ottawa losing in seven games because Patrick Lalime, the myriad ways in which the Leafs’ playoff dominance was manifest were always excruciating.
Had this torture been confined to the arena, it may have been tolerable. However, being forced to live among you in the GTA at this time pushed my emotional stress to new heights. “Ottawa is too soft!”, you said. “The regular season doesn’t matter. We own you in the playoffs.”, you said. “Pat Quinn is twice the coach Jacques Martin will ever be.”, you said. And it was all true.
To watch teams as skilled as those Ottawa teams of the early 2000s lose to Toronto teams that subsisted on a diet of Darcy Tucker, Shayne Corson, and Tie Domi was nothing short of infuriating. And through it all, you Leafs fans never tired of reminding me of the superiority of grit and heart to European softness and skill.
So yes, you owned us. I admit this fully.
However, since the lockout, things have changed.
With the salary cap now encouraging a new, intelligent form of team building, Ottawa has enjoyed moderate success, whereas the Leafs are currently in the middle of a playoff drought that is longer than the number of seasons Ottawa has missed the playoffs combined.
Ottawa has even made the Stanley Cup Finals, and has created a new playoff rival: the Pittsburgh Penguins. In short, we’ve moved on.
Despite the disparities in the relative levels of success of our teams, tensions between us remain very high. Even when Ottawa was pulverising Toronto 8-0 in the middle of the Pizza Line years, you were always there to remind me of your past success, and how the regular season doesn’t matter, and how Ottawa would never move past their soft, choker label. Given your lippiness, I relished each opportunity Ottawa had to beat the Leafs, celebrated vigorously when they did, and sunk into depression when they didn’t.
But I realize something now: We aren’t so different, you and I.
My team is based in Ontario. Your team is based in Ontario.
Ottawa is a capital. Toronto is a capital.
I dislike the Habs. You dislike the Habs.
I like Down Goes Brown. You like Down Goes Brown.
Our GM likes to trade 2nd round draft picks. Your GM likes to trade 1st round draft picks.
There are subtle differences, but again, we aren’t so different, you and I.
You see, I finally understand. When you hate the Ottawa Senators and their fans, what you’re really doing is hating the Leafs and yourself. Frankly, who can blame you?
Since the lockout, you have always mocked Ottawa at the slightest provocation and I have responded in kind. However, the last 8 years of misery that you have endured have done something I felt was impossible: They have turned you and your team into an object of my pity.
It’s been 8 years since the last time the Leafs were even in the playoffs. At this point, when you relive the past glories of your playoff victories, you’re like the guy who can’t stop telling people what a great athlete he was in high school, how he nearly got a scholarship, how he scored the winning goal in the semi-finals in your senior year, only now he bags groceries at the local Loblaws. Yes, you may have bullied me when I was in high school, and you were the popular guy, but I’ve moved on now. I’ve got a wife. I’ve got a career. To rub your nose in the Senators relative success at this point seems cruel.
You’re in an abusive relationship, Leafs fans. Your management doesn’t care about the team. They know you won’t leave. They know you can’t.
I've read your blogs. I've seen your Youtube videos. Your bitterness and anger no longer makes me happy. It makes me sad. So, in an effort to bury the hatchet between us, I’ve come to offer something that you’re running out of: hope.
I'd like to invite you to come watch the Senators in the playoffs. It’s lots of fun. We have a young, developing team that plays a wide-open, run and gun system. The owner, Eugene Melnyk, is the biggest, most irrational Senators fan of all, and we never tire of listening to his ridiculous predictions on the radio. I know you’ve been to our arena. It’s very nice, don’t you think? We have lots of good players in the juniors who are going to be competing for a roster spot in the coming years. I’m not sure that it’s all going to pan out, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a lot of fun like this year was.
There’s a better way, Leafs fans. You don’t need to be beholden to your corporate owners who see you as nothing more than as a cash cow to be suckled until dry. I’ve forgiven you for your misguided ways, and as proof of this, I’d like for you to share in the joy and hope that I have as an Ottawa Senators fan. How long will it be until your playoff triumphs are merely stories passed around a campfire, the way the now mythological number 1967 is? It’s not too late to change.
I think you deserve better than this, Leafs fans. I hope you agree.