Tag Archives: Toronto Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs Aren’t Any Good Because They Don’t Need to Be

In any discussion of the worst teams in North America, you often hear the usual suspects like the Knicks, Raiders, and any team based in Cleveland. None of these teams remotely compare to the open sewer that is the Toronto Maple Leafs. Because they are based in Canada, and because hockey gets much less coverage than basketball, football, and baseball, the truly remarkable underperformance of the Leafs over the past 30+ years has not gotten anywhere near the attention it deserves.

Even those who have no interest in hockey should be interested in the Maple Leafs, not so much as a sports story but more from the perspective of organizational mismanagement. Toronto is easily the biggest market in the National Hockey League, it’s stadium has been sold out for generations, it has more endorsement opportunities than any other hockey city, and more players in the NHL grew up as fans of the Leafs than any other team, not because of past greatness but because so many players were born within a 3 hour drive downtown Toronto. Yet despite all of that, the Toronto Maple Leafs have never signed a star free agent in his prime. The Minnesota, a relative hinterland that has already lost one NHL franchise, seem to have no trouble attracting top talent.

It isn’t just that the richest, largest market team cannot sign top free agent stars; they can’t draft them either. The Maple Leafs have by far the worst scouting and drafting system in all of professional sports. Their futility in the draft stretches back almost three decades. To put in in perspective, if you took all of the 1st round picks made by the Leafs in the 28 years, Luke Schenn would be in 4th place in total career goals scored in a Leafs uniform. He scored 14 goals in a Leaf uniform. Scoring 14 goals in your career with a team would be like a receiver racking up 250 career receiving yards. Not a single 1st round pick scored 30 goals in a season for the team. That would be like a basketball team having 28 years of first round picks and never finding a player who could average 15 points a game.

The reason why the Leafs have been so bad for long, and the reason why even non-hockey fans should pay attention, is that the team has operated as a monopoly for much of its existence. Toronto is the biggest city in the most hockey mad country in the world and there is just one NHL team in the city. The nearest other NHL team, Buffalo, is in a different country. It isn’t just that there are so many hockey fans in the city, it is that the city has, proportionally speaking, far more corporate head offices than any other city in the league. There are 7 million people that live within a few hours of downtown Toronto, and 95% of them are hockey fans. There is a single NHL team in the city and their stadium has just under 20,000 seats, and all of the corporations based in Toronto buy large numbers of season tickets to entertain clients, so there is an incredible supply/demand imbalance in the market for hockey tickets in the city. It doesn’t matter how the team plays, people will continue to show up.

The monopoly situation that the team finds itself was actually aided by the rise of the Quebec separatist movement in the early 1980s. During the peak of the separatist movement between the early 80s and the mid-nineties, when there were two referendums and breaking up the country, huge numbers of corporations moved their head offices from Montreal to Toronto. With more head offices came more companies buying more season tickets. With a huge waiting lists for individuals hoping to buy tickets, even the most disgruntled fan will hold onto his seats as he knows he will likely never get season tickets again if he were to give them up.

The reason why the Toronto Maple Leafs have not been any good for the past three decades is that they don’t need to be any good. Most other sports franchises at least need to give their fan bases some hope for the future. The Leafs could literally buy a bunch of size 18 skates and put the Raptors out on the ice and they would still sell out. As long as people line up to pay scalpers twice the face value of tickets to watch one of the worst teams in all of sports, there is little hope that the Leafs will become a competently run organization any time in the foreseeable future.

Toronto Maple Leafs Worst Organization in Professional Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs hold the curious distinction of being both the worst run yet also one of the richest franchises in all of sports. They have all of the money of the New York Yankees with the competitive performance of the Cleveland Browns.

That they are rich is not a matter for debate; Forbes routinely lists them as the NHL’s most valuable franchise and despite the highest ticket prices in the league, their games have been continuously sold out for several generations. Both the Ontario Teachers Union Pension Plan and scalpers owe their comfortable future retirements to the money making machine that is the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Though not even the most die-hard Leafs fan would argue that the Leafs have been a great team, many would argue that calling them the worst team in sports would be an exaggeration, and that they are merely one of many not very good teams. They might say that a lot of the negativity directed at the Leafs is a result of jealousy that the Leafs are always on Hockey Night in Canada and receive a disproportionate amount of media coverage. It is no doubt true that much of the negativity directed at the Maple Leafs is purely due to rivalries and jealousies, but if you step back and look at the facts, it is clear that even their critics do not appreciate just how awful this team has been for over a generation.

Great organizations like the Detroit Red Wings generally build their teams by making smart draft picks over time and developing their prospects. Teams that draft well don’t just have a smart GM; they have talented and hard working scouting and minor league coaching staff that follow strategic and methodical system of identifying and developing young talent. While any one pick could turn out to be a bust, in the long run a team with a solid system will outperform. The Toronto Maple Leafs on the other hand have displayed a shocking inability to either draft or develop prospects.

In the last 28 NHL drafts, the Leafs have not drafted and developed a single star with a first round pick. The first round picks by the Leafs in the last 28 NHL drafts have scored a cumulative total of 284 goals for the team. Not a single first round pick in that timeframe scored more than 30 goals for the team. More players have scored less than 20 goals in their Leaf careers than have scored 20 in a season in a Toronto uniform.

In fairness, Toronto traded their first round picks in several of those draft years. One year they traded their pick to New Jersey and they picked Scott Niedermeyer. Another year they traded a pick to Florida and they picked Roberto Luongo. A couple of years they picked a goalie. One of them was Eric Fichaud, who never made the NHL, and the other was Tukka Rask. Rask was then traded to Boston, where he went on to win the Vezina Trophy as the League’s top goaltender.

To put things in perspective, Nik Andropov has more than twice as many career goals (113) as a Leaf than any other player picked in those 28 years. You think that sounds bad? Luke Schenn is in fourth place with 14 career goals. A blindfolded monkey throwing darts at a draft board would literally have produced better results than Toronto has managed over the past 28 years.

The reason why the Maple Leafs have been so awful for so long at drafting suggests the team is suffering from some fundamental organizational deficiencies. This is no doubt due to being lulled into complacency from being the only NHL team in a city filled with affluent and rabid hockey fans. Toronto simply never really needed to build a top notch organization, because they knew that they knew no matter how terrible a team they put on the ice they could still continue to raise ticket prices every year and still sell out. As long as the fans keep forking over money to watch an awful hockey team, the Leafs will continue to be an awful organization.