"Be more specific," I told him. No one got it.
If you want a more specific recap, it’s after the jump. But I understand if you are not interested. I won’t take it personally. It gets kind of weepy.
The Leafs lost to the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 in the final game of the 2011-12 regular season. It was a season that brought us hashtags such as #firewilson (and subsequently, the firing of Ron Wilson). It was a season where Phil Kessel scored 37 goals and had 82 points in 82 games played, but he didn’t score any last night. The goaltending was not good enough, and while it was not horrible tonight, it was still not good enough. The special teams were decidedly un-special (Tomas Plekanec scored short-handed on a 5-3 tonight, so that continued.) As with many of these last few games, there is not much good to say. Read the standard fare here. It was, as Paul McCartney said, "a suitable ending, I think."
What was more suitable about the evening was the strange dynamic in the Bell Centre, or at least what might have been a strange dynamic, if Ellen Etchingham is to be believed. She’s not. I’ve written before what I think of tanking. It’s moot now, as we know the Leafs will draft at least 5th overall, so there is that to look forward to. But what was supposed to happen was that in a fabric of the universe ripping move, Leaf fans would be cheering for the Habs, and Habs fans, for the Leafs, in order to hope that such urgings would gerrymander the draft order in their respective teams’ favour. It didn’t happen, at least not at the arena. True, most fans in our section were blasé at best, the usual grammatically incorrect chants of "Leaf sucks" not lasting very long, and not having their usual gusto; the unoriginal sing-song "67" was met with a resounding "69" from the Leafs fans in the area, which either confused or delighted the clever Habs fans into shutting up. Well played. The usual banter was there, but not in full force. Everyone agreed that we hoped better for our respective teams next season, as the rivalry is much more fun when both teams aren’t horrible. But we stuck to our sides. There was no tanking in the stands.
Another funny thing happened. The Habs fans were there, cheering and supporting their last-place team. I, for one, was shocked at this, because it is well-documented that while Leafs fans are fools who mindlessly support their team no matter how bad, with the direct result of the team remaining bad, Montrealers will not stand for a loser. (try not to puke when reading those links) No sir, the Bell Centre empties right out when the team is poor, sending a message to management to shape up, or ship out! Yet, as their team gathered at centre ice to give some lucky fans the shirts off their backs (What self-respecting Habs fan would want them? Send a message!), the crowd stood, and cheered! And applauded! And it seemed as though they did not want to leave. Maybe they were waiting to send their message directly to the players, I don’t know, but from the perspective of my little Leaf-sized brain, it looked like they were just hockey fans who loved their team, through thick or thin, were sad about the season, though happy to have beaten their rivals in the final, meaningless game of the year. Respect.
The Leafs, make no mistake, were listless and bad. This was not fun hockey game to watch. I actually had a moment, at the end of the second period, when the ice cleaning staff came out on the ice, where I thought, wow, they have a lot of commercial breaks. I hadn’t even noticed the period was over.
But this poor play might be ok, I think, for the long run (not for draft pick reasons). It wouldn’t do for the Leafs to go out on a high note because, well, it would not be a true note. The team is not that good. And now, they have the summer to think about that. I’d rather that, then have them think, well, we won that last game, maybe we are not that bad. Do hockey players think such things? I don’t know. Will management look at the post-Wilson part of the season differently from the Wilson-era? How do you judge this team?
It seems to me an aggregate look at the season is meaningless. Without going into the Fenwick numbers etc., (I know they have not been good all year), what seems a more likely representation of the team? 4 months of play that saw them sitting in 6th in the conference? Or two months where they could barely win a game, a level of futility so low it couldn’t possibly be sustained for an entire year? Certainly the team’s true ability lies somewhere in the middle, and by the magic of statistics we can say that with league average goaltending, this team could have made the playoffs. Coulda woulda shoulda.
Where do we go from here? As fans, to the Rogers Centre, perhaps. Some will say that if management does not recognize a big problem, not limited to goaltending, the Leafs are going nowhere. Indeed, every team would like to add players, shed salary, and find a diamond in the rough. Oh, and competent goaltending, can we get some of that, too? It is often repeated, either as an excuse for poor play, or as an example of management doing something right, that the Leafs are (depending on the lineup) the youngest team in the NHL. Presumably this means they will get better. There are stats for this too, ages when forwards peak and ages when defencemen peak, and if we had goaltenders, I’m sure they peak sometime, as well. Will it get worse before it gets better? Will the kids grow or stunt? That’s for management to sort out. As a fan, we can’t know. All we can do is hope.
And hope is something Leaf fans know all too well. Optimism is a good quality, in case you were wondering.
Wait’ll next year! Go Leafs Go!