The Curse of Mats Sundin?

Being a sports fan in Toronto isn’t fun, or at least it hasn’t been for a long time. The city hasn’t seen a major league championship win since the ’93 Blue Jays. Twenty years of cold winless winters and summers that are over by spring training is enough to make even the most devout Toronto sports fan a crotchety, cynical, rotted husk of a person.

But how do you explain why the city and particularly the Leafs have been so misfortunate for so long? With the Leafs looking like they’re about to take the title of longest playoff drought from the Panthers when Florida presumably makes the playoffs this season, one has to get down into a Tebow and ask why.

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How do you explain a 4-14-2 recent record and being outscored 77-43 down the stretch for a team that was on track to make the playoffs all season? In late January going into February the Leafs were on pace for the most points since the lockout, and I think everyone’s run out of blame to pass around for the skid. It’s all been covered: fire Wilson, fire Burke, trade Kessel, fire Allaire, demote Phaneuf, and lethally inject both goalies and call up Marlies backup Mark Owuya.

What do we do when we run out of answers?

When we run out of blame, stats and all logic, the answer is the supernatural. Every sports town, even the winning ones, has a ghost story or two to answer why they haven’t seen the fruits of their labour. Blame Marty McSorely, the great Bambino, the Sports Illustrated cover and so on. The Leafs have several of their own, passing the buck to the late Bill Barilko, Frank Mahovlich’s curse, and I’m sure 2008’s The Love Guru didn’t help matters. 

The curse is the only way to comprehend what’s happened and it might be the psychologically healthiest way for Leafs fans to cope. Let’s not break out circuitous analysis as to why Toronto can’t win, let’s just say we’re cursed for the sake of our communal sanity. Here’s my offer:

The Tank officially began on Tuesday February 7th on the road against the Winnipeg Jets in a hard-fought one-goal-margin loss, followed by another disappointing one-goal loss 48 hours later to the Flyers. It got worse from there. The Leafs haven’t won a game at home since February 6th – coincidentally (OR IS IT?) the last ACC game before the team honoured ex-Captain Mats Sundin. That matchup was preceded by an approximate 30 minute ceremony in which the current roster stood at the blueline lapping up more applause than they’d heard all season. They were in the presence of greatness, treated to a lecture from a former torch bearer about what it means to wear the Leaf jersey. Fans were schmoozed with Sundin’s kind words about their loyalty, passion and commitment through the year. Sundin encouraged the fans to “cheer them on, to give them that extra energy they need to win games.” This advice came from someone who had experienced scathing cynicism of fans at a time when they were largely a winning team.

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Could Sundin and his lucky #13 being hoisted high above the helmets of the second youngest team in the league been too much pressure for this group to handle? Probably not, but if we’re gonna lose and lose big, we have to generate a nice story around it all and this one works just fine for me. And while the rest of Leafs Nation is chanting fire Burke and keeping an eye on draft picks for next season, I’ll be hosting séances in my lucky #13 jersey hoping for the best.

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