On Thursday night, the 2nd of December 2010, the Edmonton Oilers throttled the Toronto Maple Leafs. Something started happening that has been strangely absent at this point in Brian Burke's tenure as General Manager...the fans were booing very loudly. Losing patience with the rebuilding process, teased by a winning streak to start the season, the fans are starting to get upset that the team sucks. We've seen this happen before. I believe that the fast start convinced a significant number of Leaf fans that the rebuilding process would be as Brian Burke said it would be, fast. Why else give up two 1st round draft picks for Kessel? Now that they are who we thought they were, Leaf fans are angry and if history has taught us anything, they will collectively choose a lightning rod for their rage.
I should perhaps explain what it is that makes me allergic to Leafs Fans. Generally, they are excellent “fair weather” fans, who act proud and passionate. Perhaps a little too mouthy for the lack of hardware the Leafs have collected in recent memory, but that is generally accepted, often encouraged fan behavior. And no, they do not pass out rings to the team that eliminates Ottawa from the playoffs.
The nuisance of Leafs Fans comes when the weather turns foul. When the team starts losing, Leaf Nation becomes afflicted with a pandemic that I like to call “Larry Murphy Syndrome” after a great player chased out of town. Rewind to 1997, when the Leafs finished second to last in the Conference. That season, I had the privilege of attending a Leafs vs. Red Wings game at Maple Leaf Gardens. Larry Murphy, then the top scoring defenseman for the Leafs had been condemned by Leafs fans, and each time he stepped on the ice or touched the puck, the fans erupted with booing and jeering. Leafs fans blamed him for their futility, forcing the GM to unload him on the Detroit Red Wings for future considerations. Mr. Murphy laughed all the way to the Stanley Cup finals, drinking from Lord Stanley’s Cup while the rest of the Leafs were hard at work on the golf course. He was the missing link for the Red Wings, collecting 11 pts that year in the post-season.
You see, in Leaf Country, nobody will say “we simply got beat by a better team.” Somebody is always to blame. I define Larry Murphy Syndrome as “a concurrent characteristic combination of opinions and emotions of a large group of fans that believe they are qualified to run the hockey team.” When a fan base becomes afflicted with Larry Murphy Syndrome, more often than not it forces the General Manager to make bad business decisions to appease the fans who believe that they are smarter than the qualified manager. This Syndrome is spread through over-exposure to a media machine that also believes itself to be of superior intelligence to team management. Having grown up in Ontario, I am painfully aware of the “media bubble” that has engulfed the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Toronto has not made the playoffs since 2004 and the amount of negative energy and anger simmering through the collective consciousness of “Leaf Nation” is on the verge of going Super Nova. Wikipedia defines the most common type of Super Nova as “the core of an aging massive star ceases to generate energy from nuclear fusion, it may undergo sudden gravitational collapse into a neutron star or black hole…” Sound familiar? If the Toronto Maple Leafs don’t turn things around soon, this is going to get ugly.
Just ask Larry Murphy about his last season in Toronto. Bryan McCabe is a non-Cup winning example of the same syndrome. He was chased out of town, and it did not make the team any better. I can see Tomas Kaberle becoming a villain very quickly. Just imagine if they had Jeff Carter to center the Kessel line? Phil Kessel will not get booed. He's the only exciting player on the team right now. The best thing for the team would be to start winning again when Phanoof comes back.