There is a saying in sports that because only one team can be champion, the rest are merely selling hope. There is no better merchant of that, with no more willing a clientele, than the Toronto Maple Leafs.
That clientele includes both the paying public and the local media. With the team’s training camp opening late last week, the buyers and sellers were trading full force. The headlines trumpeted coach Paul Maurice’s declaration that the team would make the playoffs and compete for the Stanley Cup. Captain Mats Sundin’s arrival from his off-season home in Sweden was celebrated on the front page of one newspaper, it noting that he was back to lead the team into “Day 1 of the Leafs’ Cup quest.”
That the team missed the playoffs the past two seasons and hasn’t made even a Cup final in 40 years was mentioned in passing. Caveat emptor and all that.
But like a good meal of Chinese food, that hope never really lasts. Should the team’s new players, most notably winger Jason Blake and goaltender Vesa Toskala, not exceed Leafs’ fans wildest expectations the knives will be out. It’s as certain as the seasons.
So both the team and its fans should enjoy September, that month when defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo can still win a Norris Trophy, when Sundin will finally find that high-scoring winger, when all of GM John Ferguson’s off-season moves are on target to pay off.
It’s too bad they actually have to play a season.