As a Blue Jackets fan, I’m both excited and on edge. Last night’s win versus the Coyotes brings Columbus to the brink of postseason berth (but not completely in yet). It spawned some magnificent work, and I imagine arms around Ohio are still sore from all the celebratory fist-pumping. Yet all is not well in the rest of the Eastern Conference, and as a hockey fan I’m left with mixed emotions. Last night’s elimination of the Toronto Maple Leafs takes something great away from the NHL.
Of course, I don’t actually mean this year’s team. Let’s not be stupid about this: it’s very easy to rationalize what happened to the Leafs this season. In short, Toronto did have a team built for sustainable success. Much of the problem is based on a lack of puck possession and an inability to defend. Other have discussed these issues with more eloquence than I can muster. James Mirtle is one of the best writers in hockey under normal circumstances, and he has been on fire in recent weeks. All his articles are worth reading, but his 3/26 commentary on the Leafs’ collapse and the companion piece on 3/30 are some of the sharpest writing you’ll see on the matter.
Of course, if you’re short on time, some tweets from Mr. Mirtle and the illustrious Eric Tulsky summarize the situation quite nicely.
Taken together, this is the big-picture idea of shot differential statistics as a proxy for possession. No one is claiming clairvoyance on the Toronto collapse. Statistics-based writers were (and are) merely suggesting that the long-term prospects for the Leafs should have been in question all season thanks to poor possession play.
For me, though, the real problem exists not in a bad hockey team being out of the playoffs. The issue is the fans of that team being disengaged from the playoffs. In the past few years, I’ve found myself following more and more Maple Leafs fans on Twitter, reading more their articles on blogs and fansites. These people are honestly some of the NHL’s best at sharing their passion, and it’s infections.
If you haven’t been to Pension Plan Puppets (and I’m not sure how you’d stumble onto my blog without having visited the site), I’d suggest stopping right here and reading through their site a bit. If I can offer a suggested starting place? Go to one of their game threads during the Leafs’ playoff appearance last year. Maybe the one on May 5th during a victory celebration? It could take a while to load, but the sheer jubilation is well worth your time.
We don’t get that this year. We don’t get the glorious, internet-crushing joy of the Barilkosphere going bonkers at every bounce of the puck. No shrines to the glory of Kessel (no more “pewpewpew“), no songs about Reimer (or Bernier), it’s all gone away to lamenting another poor season (and fretting what happens next if the team doesn’t enact real change).
Maple Leafs fans suffer the most from all this, but the rest of the (non-Montreal, non-Boston) hockey world takes a hit without the most visible and vocal fans cheering during the postseason.