Tuesday, May 14, 2013

To Leafs Fans

Dear Toronto Maple Leafs fans that might be reading this,

       I feel for you.

      This is an empty statement from a nearly anonymous internet sports blogger (from a college dorm room, not his mother's basement), but sometimes sympathy is the first thing to begin the healing process from a brutal loss.

      Maybe this bit of information might help soothe your soul somewhat (or fill you with the same confusion you have about Cody Franson scoring 2 Game 7 goals): I'm a Florida Panthers fan, and what I went through last year is similar to what you've gone through this year. Before you close this piece and immediately assume I'm crazy, think about it, both teams were/are:

-- League laughing stocks, for different reasons sure, but laughing stocks.

-- Awful the year before, then came out of nowhere with a new GM and coach to surprise everyone and make the playoffs.

-- Supposed to lose in 3 to the teams they played in the first round, but then surprised everyone, including the fans themselves by taking the series to 7.

-- Both teams had crushing blown leads, the Leafs in Game 7, the Panthers being up 3-2 in their series and nearly eliminating the Devils twice in back-to-back OT games, which they lost. The Leafs one might be worse, but as some of your fellow fans said, if you were told you'd be in OT of Game 7 of the series before it started, you wouldn't complain. I didn't.

-- Better than the sum of their parts, and statistical overachievers, if you're into advanced metrics.

-- Told that their playoff run was a blip on the radar for a team that is not nearly as good as their run might indicate.

     I could probably go on, but then it would get boring. Us fans of the Leafs and Panthers need get to know each other better, since we'll both be in the same division next season, and many of your fellow fans will come down to watch hockey in Sunrise, Ontario at some point next year. And yes, I don't mind waiting 15 minutes past 7 on Saturday nights to play you guys because Hockey Night in Canada needs a longer intro.

    I know it seems weird that a Panthers fan would sympathize and even empathize with Leafs fans and their suffering, but despite Toronto being the center of the hockey universe and Sunrise being essentially a shopping mall with a hockey team, we have a lot in common. Brutally long playoff droughts that are not supposed to happen in the salary cap NHL, horrible mismanagement by countless GM's and coaches, one glorious 90's playoff run remembered in lore since nothing has happened to replace it yet, etc. The only difference is the money, but that doesn't really matter.

    It took me a few days to shake off a Game 7 OT loss, but what will bring you back is the feeling that despite massive heartbreak your team is at least out of the playoff muck. It might be hard to replicate the success next year, but the drafts of Burke and Ferguson (I know) have bore some fruit, like the drafts of Tallon and his litany of predecessors, as will the next few drafts for Nonis and company. The long-term future is better than it has been in quite some time, and that's at least a light at the end of the long tunnel.

    It was once said that politics makes strange bedfellows. Well, sometimes crushing Game 7 playoff defeats do as well. I know Leafs fans that being told your team is like the Panthers doesn't sound like an endorsement, but when you think about it, the Panthers are an example of a team the Leafs are like in some ways, and maybe the long-term positives can ease the pain of a brutal night, as well as sympathy from an unlikely source.

    Think of this as well: We'll have at least 2 nights next season to commiserate our uniquely tied sufferings at BB&T Center over expensive beers and terrible music choices while looking at an empty exclusive club after intermission.

    Eh, maybe that one hit too close to home.

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