Spencer Abbott is why you can’t kill “Blue and White Disease”

Blue and White and the number 13, I love this kid already.

The day after the Toronto Maple Leafs were officially eliminated from the playoffs for the 8th consecutive year they announced that they had signed University of Maine forward Spencer Abbott. The highly sought after 23 year old winger lead his team in scoring this season with 20 goals and 41 assists for 61 points in 39 games. He was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker award, given to the top player in the NCAA. The Toronto Star reported on Thursday the 22 that he would have his pick of NHL teams to sign with. We’ve been told for the last two months that the Leafs are a garbage franchise with no future, no hope of attracting UFAs, and need a major overhaul in order to be competitive. So why the hell did Abbott choose the Toronto Maple Leafs?

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If you want to know what Abbott can bring to the Leafs head over to PPP. I think that Abbott’s signing represents something important about the identity of the Toronto Maple Leafs as an institution. Since Brian Burke took over he has made it his goal to eradicate the “Blue and White Disease” and “Culture of Entitlement” among Leafs players, but it is a fool’s errand. It can’t be done.

Abbott’s father’s remarks, as quoted in the Hamilton Spector, after Spencer signed his contract with the Leafs make that all too clear: “The Toronto Maple Leafs,” dad said, barely loud enough for anyone to hear. “Wow.” Even for Spencer himself the Leafs were more than just another team bidding for his services. In news that will bring a smile to Don Cherry’s face, Spencer Abbott grew up in Hamilton as a Leafs fan. It’s not as though the Leafs were the only team interested in Abbott either; the Spector says that Abbott’s decision came down to Toronto and Calgary. The kid who once pretended to be Doug Gilmour when playing road hockey chose Toronto.

Despite all their struggles, despite the almost decade of ineptitude they are still the Toronto Maple Leafs, and that still means something. It will always mean something. I have been reading Bill Barilko’s biography and in it his sister re-tells the story of learning about Bill debuting with the Leafs. Bill had been playing with a Leafs’ affiliate in Hollywood, something akin to the ECHL today, when the Leafs blue-line suffered a few injuries. He bypassed the Leafs’ AHL team in Pittsburgh and reported to the big club.

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When he sent word to his family in Timmins his sister was disappointed for him. She thought that going from playing hockey in Hollywood to Toronto was a demotion. Barilko’s debut was all the other kids at school could talk about and she was confused. A friend tried to convey the importance of the situation. “Your brother is going to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs” they said. This meant nothing to her. Then they told her that: “Your brother is going to play for the team that is on the radio every Saturday night” and she was thrilled.

The Leafs are not just another hockey team. They and the Montreal Canadiens are cultural institutions in a nation lacking in them. “Blue and White Disease” is a made up name for a disease that doesn’t exist, like restless leg syndrome. The truth is that no matter how bad this team is, it will always mean something to be a part of it. There is no sense in trying to eradicate it, you have to embrace it.   


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