Sometimes, I’m reminded that NHL hockey is a professional sport, which makes it entertainment. And, whether one wins or loses, the question should be whether one is entertained. The Toronto Maple Leafs are in the business of entertainment.
Honestly, I really enjoyed the hockey the Maple Leafs played all season. In fact, although I cursed at the television a few times during the recent first-round series loss to the Lightning, I also knew that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if the Maple Leafs lost.
They did lose; and, I was right. The world didn’t end.
Related: Spezza Says He Only Wants to Play For Maple Leafs, Feels Lost
That Said, I Get the Ire of the Maple Leafs’ Fans
At the same time, I totally get why Maple Leafs’ fans have become so impatient with the team’s lack of winning after so many seasons. Most fans are middle-class, working people whose jobs are measured by their success or their failure to produce. A life insurance salesman must sell insurance. A carpenter must be able to build good-quality houses. A realtor must list and sell those homes.
Jack Campbell job is to make saves for the Maple Leafs
For these workers, close (to selling a home) isn’t good enough. A lack of success means they’re out of a job. As Elliotte Friedman noted in his recent 32 Thoughts, for much of the Maple Leafs’ fanbase “in their jobs or industries, not succeeding for this many years means consequences.”
Friedman also noted, “This is what Brendan Shanahan and Kyle Dubas must navigate. From their perch, they see improvement — a team that finished fourth in the NHL with 115 points. Their customers don’t see enough.”
Consider the Example of a Highly-Paid White Collar Worker
Friedman is right. Specifically, just considering the salary numbers, let’s consider a highly-paid, white collar profession (such a university professor). For example, a “successful” university professor goes to university and studies for about eight to 10 years, then takes a job with a relatively – considering all the salaries of all the workers in Canada – high salary.
Say that professor taught at one of the best universities in Canada, also wrote books that provided royalties, was paid to give speeches globally, was contracted by organizations to do research for extra pay, and even taught extra courses during the summertime for extra income. Now say that, at the peak of that professor’s earning years, that person made just over $200,000 a year.
Now, say that professor had retired well, was approaching 80 years old, and was fortunate to have a good pension that paid well until his death. Perhaps there were even other sources of income like writing and more teaching — all for extra income.
Now, considering that professor’s lifetime of salaried work including a pension- say 60 years of high-paid financial success. That professor would not have come close to earning what any of the top five paid players on the Maple Leafs make in a single season.
The Dilemma: Elite Athletes with Working Class Fans
That’s the dilemma for the Maple Leafs as a team and an organization. The Maple Leafs’ fanbase doesn’t – except for a rare fan – come close to earning the kind of salary the players make. Nor, do the fans live with the status that wealth and notoriety afford. Those are only some reasons the Maple Leafs’ fanbase simply doesn’t understand the team’s lack of success.
From the fan’s perspective, they don’t want a single Maple Leafs’ player to take their work or their status for granted. They don’t want a single Maple Leafs’ player to dog it on a back check. They don’t want to see a single Maple Leafs’ player NOT fighting hard for the puck or NOT protecting the goalie. They want hard-working players they can relate to.
It’s probably not realistic, but I’d love to see someone on the team say something like:
“Fans, we let you down. We let ourselves down. I’m sorry. I thought I did the best I could, but I need to do better. This offseason I’m going to commit myself to work even harder to get better. And, when training camp comes, I’m going to come in more mentally and physically ready to win.
I’m going to push myself and I’m going to push my teammates to win – not just in the regular season, but in the postseason too. It isn’t good enough to come close. I might not succeed, but no one will fight harder to win than I will. I promise. Our fans deserve better.”
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