09/22/2014 (9:52 am)
Had a chance to take in ESPN’s annual rankings of North America’s 122 sports franchises where the Maple Leafs managed to finish 122nd.
Now, this was a survey of fans, and what Leaf fan is going to be happy with anything about his or her team after the way it finished last season?
Fans are asked if they’re happy with the coach? Are you kidding me? Randy Carlyle finished a shocking 113th, ahead of the coaching situations in Pittsburgh (replaced), Carolina (replaced), New York Islanders (retained), Vancouver (replaced), and Florida (replaced).
BANG FOR THE BUCK
No shock really about bang for the buck (122nd), which marks wins per fan dollar. They could probably win all 82 games and still finish in the bottom half in that category.
Fan relations (117th), low in my books, probably the result of the spillover effect from such a horrible finish to the season. The amenities at the Air Canada Centre are quite good compared to a lot of rinks. The team does quite a bit of promotional and charitable work, much of it not covered in the media. Their rink refurbishing program and visits to hospitals are admirable. Their problem may be they’re in so much demand it’s hard to please everybody.
I know there were problems with long lines and the price point of the recent fan fest, but give the team credit for trying. And more gamee tickets will be available to the general public this year.
Ownership came in at 105th, the highest ranking. Yikes. This Bell-Rogers partnership is going to be a disaster and with Tim Leiweke leaving, there isn’t going to be a referee to end the feuds and set direction. It could well turn out that fans will pine for the “good old days” when the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan owned them.
Dead last. That’s 122nd, if you’re counting. No argument here.
Players (120th) based on effort and likability. On the surface, this would sting. But if you think about the Leafs, who comes to mind first? Phil Kessel? Dion Phaneuf? Nazem Kadri? Jonathan Bernier? Hard to say, really. Kessel’s a singular talent, but not good in front of cameras and that hurts his image. (Let’s not forget the “Thank You, Kessel” cheers that rained down on him in the 2013 playoffs.) Phaneuf seems stilted while he and the more affable Kadri are both polarizing figures, with fans demanding they shore up the parts of the game that are flawed. Bernier’s a nice dresser and all, but he supplanted a fan favourite — James Reimer.
Toronto historically has loved its fighters and grinders and on-ice menaces, especially if they can score a bit. Think Wendel Clark. Tiger Williams. Tie Domi. Even a Darcy Tucker.
Who could be popular Leafs?
Colton Orr? Not a chance, especially since the age of the enforcer is passing. Leo Komarov? Maybe if he plays in Toronto for consecutive years. Morgan Rielly? It would be something if the fans oohed and aahed at his talent. William Nylander? Get back to us in five years. My money’s on Kessel if the team turns it around.
Title track put the Leafs at 121st, in front of only the Minnesota Timberwolves. That’s the fans’ way of saying they don’t like the direction of the team. Most likely that’s a shot at GM Dave Nonis. The core of players are his. The core has let the fan-base down in spectacular fashion three years in a row. You can’t blame the fans for how they feel.
Stadium experience is an interesting one. Leafs come in at 109th, ahead of Calgary, Edmonton and the New York Islanders. That the Isles are last, with the shoestring budget and the oldest arena in the NHL, is no surprise. The fans of the Leafs, Flames and Oilers truly haven’t had much to cheer about in recent years.
But there’s no doubt, the Leafs stadium experience could be better. For one, copy Montreal’s use of the big screen. At the Air Canada Centre, any stoppage in play is a reason for some in-game host to yammer on about some lame contest, or for some ad to blare. By contrast, the screen in the Bell Centre shows commercials — but without sound. The sound of the game — be it an organ or a chant — continues.
The Leafs are aware their in-game experience is lacking. Changes are coming this season. Let’s hope they get it right.
“The Toronto Maple Leafs is one of the most historic teams in sports, with one of the strongest fan bases, and we obviously don’t think this list accurately reflects that. Our focus though is on building a winning club and continuing to create even more access for Leafs Nation, not for the sake of a ranking on a list, but for our fans.” –Dave Haggith, MLSE senior director of communications.
How about this tidbit from the IIHF’s website that points out that the average goalie is four centimetres — or about an inch and a half — taller this season, compared to 20 years ago.
The IIHF measured the 1994 Olympians, who played at 181.9 centimetres (5-foot-11). Back in that era, goalies that were 5-foot-8 were fairly common and Curtis Joseph (5-foot-9) and Ed Belfour (6-foot) would be considered undersized by today’s standards.
At the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, the IIHF said the average height of the 36 participating goaltenders was 185.9 centimetres (a little more than 6-foot-1). Within the NHL, the average height of goaltenders league-wide during the 2013-14 season was 186.2 centimetres.
AROUND THE WORLD
The Champions Hockey League resumes play this week. It’s basically European hockey’s version of soccer’s champions league where the best teams from the European league’s play off for a champion, taking small breaks from their league games.
Leafs prospect Andreas Johnson (Frolunda) is second in CHL scoring. Here’s a YouTube compliation of a recent six-point game.
AROUND THE NHL
Thought by many to be washed up, Dany Heatley is getting an audition on the top line with the Anaheim Ducks. He is practising with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
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