I’m sure there are a few people today feeling some sense of schadenfreude at the Leafs’ misfortunes. Not me.
A few years back, though, Joe Queenan coined the term scheissenbedauern – "shit regret", as he called it, "the disappointment one feels when exposed to something that is not nearly as bad as one hoped it would be." And it's scheissenbedauern that I’m feeling this morning with regard to the Leafs. They are not nearly as bad as we should hope they could be.
|STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR|
|See you in September.|
In the everybody-shares-the-wealth world of North American pro sports, the ashes of the weak contain the seeds of their rebirth – High draft picks such Crosby and Ovechkin to make those cold winter nights a little warmer now and perhaps later, or in the case of lightning bolts like Tim Duncan, enough to change the entire course of a franchise.
The Leafs aren’t that earth-shaking bad to count on some outsized talent coming aboard for next year. They are in that sort of in-between world -- not quite in either race, be it the playoff variety or the one for the few blue-chip pieces available at draft time.
But there’s another reason for feeling scheissenbedauern. It’s that the Leafs -- much moreso than the Raptors, who have nowhere near the history of futility and concurrent milking of the fan base that their senior sporting partners have, and with pieces like Chris Bosh and Charlie Villanueva, look a lot closer to making an upward move -- could do with a dose of the humility, ridicule and comeuppance that would come with dropping right down to the basement.
Now that would be schadenfreude. Otherwise, I really have nothing to say to add to the Leafs’ latest playoff "drive." But if you missed them, there are a couple of essential reads from the weekend. First, Damien Cox pulled out an elegant précis of their age-old top-down troubles here:
Of greater interest is the apparent operational rift between coach Pat Quinn and GM John Ferguson, the involvement of president Richard Peddie and the rumoured uncertainty over the chairmanship of Larry Tanenbaum. None of this should surprise anybody who has closely watched this franchise over the past 15 years.
Or the past four decades.
Over at the National Post, Teresa Tedesco on Saturday wrote of the Leafs’ (and John Ferguson Jr.'s) “plan” to rebuild and write off this season – absolutely no surprise there -- but as she points out, it’s full of contradictions:
“Few Leafs fans and ticket holders are aware that Mr. Ferguson's strategy, described as "building not buying," received the board's blessing in January, 2004, before the NHL lockout last year, and that he has been slowly implementing it ever since.
But that new approach was never really articulated to a public that has anxiously waited for the newly minted general manager to put his stamp on the legendary hockey franchise. Indeed, if Mr. Ferguson committed two years ago to rebuilding the team with talented youngsters in lieu of high-priced veterans, that strategy has not had any discernible impact on the Maple Leafs roster, which still leans heavily toward older players.
At this point, I’m feeling the same sort of fatigue that one feels toward the end of stories that run over their best-by date. Sources are coming forth explaining the strategy, long after it matters. Third-string goalies are playing (and playing well, for a night anyway), the high-priced additions from last summer are either injured or inactive or ineffective and entrails are being read as we check the latest playoff watch:
8 Montreal 79
9 Atlanta 76
11 Islanders 71
12 Florida 71
With the season winding down, everyone's looking for answers and heads to be rolled.
But once those ritual beheadings are taken care of, we’ll all be back in September, ready to rev it up all over again. The Leafs know it, even if they have a hard time admitting to it on the record. It’s the fiction that unites us all.