No Reimer Reason: My Round-About Apology to the Toronto Maple Leafs

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by Kolby Solinsky

Editor, White Cover Magazine

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Know this: big cities, big people, and big everything… they’re sensitive.

Sinatra was manic depressive and wore a toupee. J. Edgar Hoover persecuted hippies because he secretly was one. And, Toronto doesn’t like it when you rip their beloved Maple Leafs.

We tease them and lament them and put them down and root against them (and, yes, sometimes we hate them), and that often leads us to wrongly believe they can’t hear us.

They’ll say they don’t care, but they do, because no city could possible despise its role as the “Yankees of Hockey” more than Toronto.

I never knew this. I always thought my taunting and my goating — the vitriole level of mine, though, puts me far below other Canadians outside of the southern Ontario — was some kind of way of leveling the playing field between us.

They get a home game on Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday of the season. They get mentioned in the playoffs more than the Canucks or Senators do, and the Leafs are never even in the playoffs.

When I first arrived in London, Ontario — and lasted five years there — I told my roommate, “Ugh, I hate the Leafs.”

He asked, “Why?”

Not wanting to be too cruel too fast to someone I just met (I wouldn’t worry about this five minutes later), I just said, “I don’t know.”

He said, “I thought everyone loved the Leafs.”

THAT’S WHY.

(You may realize, by now, that this isn’t going to be a straightforward apology.)

Now, I’ve told this story to other Queefers (Leafers) since then, and they all say they’ve never thought that. They all say they know they’re hated. It’s true. They do know they’re hated.

But, it doesn’t change the look of disbelief on their faces everytime one or more of them hears it for real.

It’s like that scene from 42, where Jackie Robinson’s wife is struck standing still in a bus station in Mississippi, staring at a bathroom that says WHITES ONLY, and she says, “I’ve just never seen one before.”

(The Robinsons were from Pasadena.)

She knew those bathrooms existed, but seeing is believing, isn’t it?

Seeing is disbelieving, most of the time.

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I’ve been pretty hard on Toronto in the past — and I’ve written very hard about them lately.

I’ve gone every which way on legacy of Brian Burke. I’ve blasted Mikhail Grabovski and his millions he doesn’t deserve more than several times. I’ve chastised everyone in that organization and accused them of a genetic and geographic imbalance that has not only cost them nine years without the playoffs, but 55 years without the Stanley Cup.

Lately, I have tried to argue — and it really is true — that my disdain for their management style has been out of love.

I’ve begun to sympathize with them. The playoffs aren’t as much fun without them. In some way, they still make it a little more Canadian than it already is, and I like Ottawa, too, but they’re not doing it for me.

It’s no longer fun to hate the Leafs. Nine years is enough.

want to see Toronto win, so it was killing me to see them cut themselves off at the foot with every overpaid contract and every one of Ron Wilson’s anti-media manifest (may he Rest in Peace).

I hate how their fans glorify everyone but Phil Kessel, who is now and has been for the past four years their only superstar.

I hate how Toronto can’t go a week without giving themselves too much credit, but that’s only offset by how much they hate themselves the next week.

Right now, I’m loving the 2013 Toronto Maple Leafs, but I’m not loving them like Toronto loves them.

I love them because they’re not the Maple Leafs.

They seem to play in spite of their location, like they finally all looked at each other across their locker room and said, “Fu*k everybody outside this place. We can play. We can win.”

Phil Kessel is one of the greatest players in Leafs history, and the fact his fanbase still treats the trade that acquired him — which saw Tyler Seguin eventually go the other way — as a mistake and a terrible deal is one of the most ridiculous public shamings that city’s sports crowd has ever committed.

In many ways, Kessel (now) is so much more of a player than Mats Sundin (ever was). He’s faster. He plays bigger. His shot and the way he sees the ice is on par with anyone else in the league, and that does include Sidney Crosby, Nicklas Backstrom, and Patrick Kane.

Sundin was a great man, but let’s not confuse who he was off the ice with who he was on the ice.

He was a point-a-game player and a captain. Done.

Canadians clamour for those “slow and steady wins the race” guys, those “strong and silent” types. Sundin was one of them, and his legacy is certainly enhanced because he took the Leafs to two Eastern Conference Finals.

That said, I look at Sundin’s time in Toronto like I look at Markus Naslund’s time in Vancouver (and, yes, I know Toronto fans will hate that. I’m not saying Naslund was as good of a Canucks as Sundin was a Leaf. But, for a time, he certainly was better than Mats. For a time, he was better than everybody.) I see it as a early-to-mid-2000s distraction from the reality, and the reality was that neither the Leafs in 1999 or 2002 (or the Canucks in 2003) were ever going to win those Stanley Cups. They were better than they’d been in a long time, but they weren’t legitimate contenders. Vancouver could never play with Colorado or Detroit, and Toronto could never keep up with any rotation of Buffalo, Carolina, Philadelphia, et al.

Kessel is a real hockey player. James Reimer is a real goalie. James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri are playing to win, not playing to satisfy 5.5 million Ontarians.

These Maple Leafs are a lovable bunch, Toronto, and I do sincerely apologize for all the grief I’ve given you since 2004. I apologize if it ever sounded like I was rubbing vodka in your wounds.

Just know, I’m on your side now.

And, you’re in the playoffs again, so you can go back to not caring at all what I think.