Jeff Veillette (Jeffler)
March 31 2014 11:21AM
As the Toronto Maple Leafs' losing skid goes from "normal" to "concerning" to "I'm pretty sure we're watching a fictional movie", there's a lot of emotions being expressed across the fanbase. A lot of them seem to be of a weird and confusing delight, which is the topic of everybody's usual arguments. But should those who "saw it coming" be bragging? I feel the answer is complicated.
The Lead Up
A lot of people were warning of the flaws of this team heading in, and as the season progressed. Last year's team featured a bunch of players who had the best shooting percentage of their careers, and James Reimer standing on his head (yes, it's possible. He's done it for like, his entire healthy career). The Leafs, reacting to ten minutes of hockey in a 5500 minute season, made wholesale changes.
The issue, of course, is that these changes involved stripping out the players that had below average years, instead of the ones who seemed to suddenly break out of nowhere. Maybe the idea was that they were regressing. More likely, the idea was that they didn't mesh with the direction of the team. So changes were made. The lucky were kept, the unlucky were scrapped, and the "heart and soul" were brought in to get lucky.
For a while, it worked. But ultimately, this was a team winning based off of a near-Vezina starter ("1A", they said for months), and a very good quality backup in net, and a couple of players shining. This was a team that would, once again, leave you holding your breath, waiting for the inevitable, and pull a win out of their butts. We're 76 games into the season now, and only 18 times have the Leafs skaters felt "hey, it might be worth taking a shot" more often in a game than their opposition, who have littered the net enough to put this team on pace to be near the most shots ever allowed in a season, while being mediocre headed the other way.
Except, again - the pucks were occasionally going in when they needed them to, and at the same time, they were staying out. No betting man would rely on these results unless they have an addiction.
Leafs fans have an addiction. It's pro sports. Not just that, it's what we've been exposed to since we were young children. Hell, my first memory as a human being comes from pre-school. I remember grabbing a laundry basket (the ones with the vents), calling it a goalie mask, and declaring myself Felix Potvin.
As such, when the minority, driven by a curiosity and passion for the intricacies of the game, raised there hands and said "eventually, this is going to be a problem", many argued. It was the equivalent of putting your ears and screaming LALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU LALALA, in a sense, but it came from people who didn't care about the means that the Leafs got the job done, just that it happened.
That's respectable; some people aren't that invested into it, and just want positive entertainment out of their entertainment product. But the arguing, it was bad. It lasted months. Both sides degraded into exaggerated insanity. Bernier was the saviour, or he was destined to crash like a meteor. Tyler Bozak was a fringe star, or he was a fringe AHLer. Punches decided the games, whether they were wins or losses. Every player, every aspect had it's polarizing debate.
The plummet itself doesn't make the skeptics correct. Nobody in their right mind had "eight game (and counting) losing streak will derail the team" in their season preview, unless somebody decided to write one that was the opposite of the plot of Moneyball for a laugh. But what it did was bring the long-term result to something more in line with the "fringe team that likely misses" expectations.
Should those who called this be bragging? From my personal perspective, the best choice is to feel vindicated, but not superior.
I, like many others, have been expressing my concerns about this team throughout the year. In some regards, I've been harsher than others. In some, I've been softer, and in some, I've been on about the same page. But I took a lot of heat for going against the grain of the standings. If I engaged in every single bone someone tried to pick with me, my last sleep would have come before the last draft.
To have a lot of my speculation come out to be correct in the long term feels good. From a selfish, personal standpoint, it means that the effort, research, and thought process I've committed myself to over the past year and a bit is played out like expected, and is losing areas to be disputed by it's opponents. In that respect, it's a good thing.
On the other hand, this shouldn't turn into an state of gloating. One should express viewpoints and opinions for two reasons; either to get a legitimate conversation going, or to provide information and perspective to those who are willing to listen. Screaming "LOOK AT HOW RIGHT I AM" is no method to win a person over. All it does is aggravate and kick people while they're down, rather than open to what you're saying.
This also ignores the fact that outliers to statistical analysis do exist, and two weeks ago, this was a team that looked like one. Last year, they were one. There's a difference between "I wouldn't count on it lasting" and "It definitely won't last". If you were speaking the latter, you're technically more correct than those who were full on "this team is awesome", but that doesn't make you right either.
Not to mention that there's still time left in the season. The odds are low that this team can turn it around, but let's not pull out the "Mission Accomplished" banners before the war is over, especially when there shouldn't be fighting in the first place. You're all on the same team, but take different approaches in how you consume what you like.
At the end of the day, take the opportunities to explain what went wrong, long term (I'll have a lot of content along those lines up over the coming weeks). But don't be a sore winner; no matter how much criticism your opinions have gotten up to this point, by reacting in this way, you just sound like somebody who has more interest in being seen as smart than someone who has a passion for what you're talking about.