The Maple Leafs are back in the playoffs. For the first time since 2013 – and the first time in a full season since 2004 – the Leafs will take the ice for postseason action Thursdat night in Washington. And they'll do it with one of the youngest and most exciting rosters in the league, a team that looks like it's been built for sustained long-term success. For the first time in a generation, there's finally a reason for Toronto Maple Leaf fans to be happy.
And if you're not a Leafs fan, you're already sick of it.
I get it. I'm well into my fourth decade as a diehard Maple Leafs fan, but I recognize that collectively, we're not always the easiest bunch to deal with. Occasionally, we need to be knocked down a peg or two.
But like all good things in life, making Maple Leaf fans sad has to be done responsibly. You can't just belch out some half-formed insult and then look around for high-fives. There's an art to bothering Leaf fans, and if you don't put some effort into, you're just making the problem worse.
I'm here to help you, fan of one of the other 29 teams. Today, I present you with five key tips for dealing with the Maple Leaf fans in your life.
1. When in doubt, go with 1967. (But with one caveat.)
If you're going to insult a Maple Leafs fans, don't overthink. Just go with the classic: "1967". The Leafs haven't won a Stanley Cup in 50 years and counting, and we all know it. There's really no great comeback for a Leaf fan faced with a good 1967 bomb. It's simple, straightforward, and reasonably effective.
Now here's that caveat: 1967 only works if your team has won a Cup more recently than that. This seems like the sort of thing we shouldn't need to point out, but apparently we do. If you cheer for the Red Wings or Blackhawks or Bruins and some Leaf fan gets lippy, you just need to say "1967" and you've pretty much won the argument. But if you cheer for someone like the Sabres, Senators or Canucks, you need a different approach. (To a slightly lesser extent, this is also true if your team won their most recent Cup before you were born. Sorry, Flyers fans.)
And no, you can't get around that qualification by dropping an "At least we made the final" on us. That's a bad idea, for two reason. First, nobody cares that your team made it the final and then lost. Good for you, so did the 1996 Florida Panthers.
But more importantly, you have to think strategically here. At some point in the future, the Maple Leafs might make it to the final, come within a few games of ending their Cup drought, and then lose. That's going to be a prime opportunity to really twist the knife on devastated Leaf fans. But it won't work if you've spent years pretending that just coming close is a consolation prize worth celebrating. Think long term here.
2. "Plan the parade" works too
This one's a little bit painful to admit, but if you’ve already worked in a dozen or so "1967" references and want to mix it up, "plan the parade" can be effective.
It shouldn't be, because it's dumb. Maple Leaf fans are among the most beaten-down and pessimistic in all of sports; I can assure you that none of us are planning any parades over minor victories. If anything, when something good happens to our team, we're not planning anything except our exit routes through the meteor-infested apocalypse that's sure to follow.
So for years, hearing a fan of another team respond to a Leafs win by reflexively pulling out "plan the parade" was a dead giveaway that you were dealing with a simpleton. The insult bounced off us harmlessly, like an Ottawa Senator off of Gary Roberts. And eventually, it started to fade out of use.
But then came 2013, when MLSE hired Tim Leiweke as CEO. And in one of his very first acts on the job, Leiweke actually planned a parade. Literally. Then he gave an interview where he bragged about. It was the dumbest thing he did in Toronto, which is really saying something for the guy who gave Dave Nonis a five-year extension for signing David Clarkson.
Leiweke is no longer with the Maple Leafs. But the damage has been done, and "Plan the parade" is back in play. It won't work on everyone; some Leaf fans will just roll their eyes. But the hit rate should be high enough to be worth a spot in your arsenal.
3. Have a few of these in your back pocket just in case
Much like building an NHL roster, mocking a Leaf fan is all about depth. The "1967/Plan the parade" combo should be enough for most encounters, but if you run into an especially feisty Leaf fan, you'd better be prepared to dig deeper. In a pinch, these have also been known to work:
- "It was 4-1."
- Mentioning Tom Kurvers
- Mentioning Kerry Fraser
- Pointing out that this year's Leafs are only this good because they won a draft lottery. (It goes without saying that this one is off limits to Oiler fans.)
- Reminding them of the existence of The Love Guru.
- Saying anything bad about Bob Cole, although this one should be saved for emergencies because all right-minded and decent people within earshot will immediately form a kick circle around you.
4. Dial down the complaints about over-exposure
Yes, the Maple Leafs get way more attention that they deserve. Everything about them gets wall-to-wall coverage, even when their on-ice results say they should be irrelevant, and when they're even halfway-competitive, everyone loses their mind. If you're a Flames fan, it's going to be frustrating when your triple-overtime win only gets seven seconds of coverage on the national shows because Auston Matthews woke up with a hangnail that morning. We get it.
But here's thing: The Leafs should get more coverage, because that's what draws an audience. Maple Leaf games get higher ratings. Maple Leaf columns get more readers. Maple Leafs posts get more clicks. Maple Leafs debates, even transparently contrived ones, get more viewers and listeners. And it's honestly not all that close.
That's the media world we live in, and stamping your feet about it being unfair just makes it seem like you don't understand how supply and demand works.
And sure, it's annoying when Leaf fans act like they somehow earned all that attention, as if being located in the country's biggest media market is some sort of accomplishment and not just a fluke of history and geography. But you're not hurting any of us by constantly crying about it. Yes, sure, our team gets tons of attention because it's way more popular than yours. Zing?
As far as other topics to avoid, don't bother making fun of the ACC for being quiet or having empty seats after intermission; we don't count those people as real fans, and we rip on them worse than you do. Don't bother with your "deluded Leaf fans think every superstar desperately wants to play in Toronto" take, because every superstar secretly does. And you can mock us for being too willing to support a lousy product or for being so demanding that we run good players out of town, but not both. Pick a lane.
5. Finally, and far most importantly: Pace yourselves
Seriously, I'm worried for some of you.
After a decade of misery, the Maple Leafs have had one decent season. And that's all it was: decent. They barely made the playoffs. They're going to get swept in the first round.
One decent season. And some of you are already borderline apoplectic.
Look, I know we're all a little out of practice on the whole "The Leafs are actually good" thing, but let's leave something in the tank for down the road. This is year one of the turnaround. And while there are never any guarantees, there's a decent chance that this team is going to get even better. They may only be a few years away from genuine contender status.
And rest assured, if and when that happens, Leafs Nation plans to be completely insufferable. You're expecting the worst, and we won't let you down. It's going to be awful.
But until then, take a few deep breaths or something. This year was only the pregame skate. If you're already winded now, you're going to be in rough shape once the real action starts.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008; you may know him from Twitter as @downgoesbrown. His e-book, The 100 Greatest Players in NHL History, is available now. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.