WHEN A Torontonewspaper reported last month that league governors were talking informallyabout putting a second NHL team in the city—a story commissioner Gary Bettmantrashed—it made some wags wonder once again, When will Toronto get a first NHLteam? The Maple Leafs last won a Stanley Cup in 1967 and have not made theplayoffs since the NHL's 2004--05 lockout. Yet on-ice ineptness hasn't smudgedtheir bottom line: They've sold out every game since Oct. 31, 2002 (averageticket price this season is $76.15); they're one of only two NHL teams to sellpersonal seat licenses; they have highly profitable local TV deals; and for thethird straight year Forbes has named them the NHL's most valuable franchise,estimating their worth at $448 million.
For now at leastLeafs Nation is being rewarded for its loyalty. Despite a roster that resemblesthat of an expansion team, Toronto turned hard work and a flurry of shots ongoal into a creditable 5-4-3 record through Sunday that included a win inDetroit over the Stanley Cup--champion Red Wings, a shootout victory in NewJersey that featured 48 shots in regulation against Devils goalie MartinBrodeur, and an impressive 5--2 win last Saturday over the EasternConference--leading Rangers.
Credit Ron Wilson,the veteran coach in his first season in Toronto, for opening a window on theLeafs' musty air of entitlement. He has juggled lines and lineups, at times notdressing Toronto's highest-priced forward, Jason Blake, or veteran Matt Stajan.Wilson even pulled his No. 1 goaltender, Vesa Toskala, in favor of CurtisJoseph in a shootout loss against the Ducks because of Toskala's subpar recordin shootouts. (Chastened and better prepared, Toskala stoned three of four NewJersey shooters last week.) Said Wilson, "We're just holding themresponsible for their performance. If they're not adhering to the minimumstandard I set, they won't play. It's not an issue of who they are, how muchthey earn or how big a fan club they have."
Wilson's fan clubshould be moving to bigger quarters soon.
November 10, 2008
The Pop CultureGrid