Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Toronto Complex

You can tell we've all been a little bit starved for material these last few weeks. As fun as it is to watch a retread of last year's final after more than a month without the Canadiens, this Jacques Martin story really brought Habs fans back to the table.

But we're not alone. Maple Leafs fans, after a good sojourn of more than 6 weeks are just as starved and depraved as us. Despite having an entertaining, pig-headed, if not slightly demented, quote machine for a GM; the major newspapers and bloggers from Leaf Nation all pounced on the opportunity presented by the Jacques Martin hoopla.

Predictably, the bulk of our rivals came out with negatives for the hiring.

Toronto Sun:
Proven how, he didn't say. In Ottawa, he specialized in strangling the creativity of his players and frustrating reporters with his inability to answer the most basic of questions. But this is what Les Glorieux is reduced to now. Martin isn't the worst coach out there but he certainly isn't the best. The Habs won't allow themselves to hire the best anymore. They hire the bilingual. When you search only for bilingual, a short list of qualified candidates gets even shorter.

That's the only way you get to Martin.

Pension Plan Puppets:
The honeymoon is over, and it's now Jacques Martin's time to answer for his crimes against hockey. I for one look forward to this coming Habs season.

Down Goes Brown:
Gainey: OK, so let's skip that part and move on to Ottawa.

Martin: Well, with the Senators I was best known for accomplishing something that virtually no other active NHL coach has managed to do.

Gainey: Which was?

Martin: Losing to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the playoffs.

And here:
If you're going to lose in the first round, you might as well hire a pro.

ESPN (via Torontonian Burnside):
We're not sure exactly what Gainey thinks Martin will bring to a Montreal team that hasn't won a Cup since 1993 and has failed to advance past the second round in that same span. Maybe it's more of the same mediocrity?

It's systematic from fans of the Maple Leafs. Whereas Canadiens fans were too unmoved to bother expressing opinions on the Leafs latest playoff-eschewer-to-be last season, there's hardly a Leafs blog worth its weight that passes up Martin bashing. I think it's essentially because Leafs fans, young ones especially especially have built their identities around two fundamental truths:

1) That beating Ottawa in 4 consecutive playoff series was the best thing about their decade

2) That 1993 was their year, cheated only of their latest Cup by foul refereeing

I find it curious that Leafs fans dwell so much on an opposing team and an opponent's coach. In Montreal, we love the Boston wins, but serious fans look past those to ask where the success goes against the 28 other teams in the playoffs. Similarly, the Leafs, powered by the largest budgets in the early 2000s were pretty flat against anyone but Ottawa.

Yes, Ottawa did lose several series in a row when they faced the Leafs, but on 3 of 4 of those occasions, the Leafs held home ice as the favourites. Never mind that Toronto was also trundling through the pre-lockout NHL with handy use of its enormous purse while Ottawa at times was fluttering on the edge of bankruptcy. In retrospect, it seems the two Ontario teams were on similar paths of ascendancy at about the same time – Toronto from 1998-2004 and Ottawa from 1998-2007. The only differences, really, were those head-to-head series. And, of course the fact that Ottawa both won the league and made it all the way to a final.

I suspect that if a psychoanalyst were to probe into Toronto's complex about Jacques Martin, they might find a more profound complex about the falterings of Pat Quinn with sometimes superior and often more playoff-ready contending teams. (I suspect they'd have a lot to say about me writing this article about Toronto's complex too...).

If the Jacques Martin critics are curious, the 1993 playoff pretenders are tedium personified.

This sentiment was cemented further for me recently when I rediscovered that the Kerry Fraser hiccough was a missed call, not a false call (forgive me for not dwelling on that for near two decades). That in itself takes their imaginary Cup much further into the realm of extrapolation. With their imaginary PP, the Leafs would now have had to score to win the game – something they may well have done. But given they had a chance to win in that same game and didn't (rather took a penalty and lost), and then had chance to win in game 7 at home and didn't – imagining 5 more victories for the team backstopped by the illustrious Felix Potvin is a bit of a stretch.

As Habs fans, we now hold two of the items dearest to the Leafs fans' hearts – Jacques Martin (their charmed opponent) and the 1993 Stanley Cup. I hailed the Marting hiring initially as sound and well-considered given the team we have; I take pleasure now in thinking that we might leave Leafs fans eating their words as well.

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