I was raised in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. So it goes without saying that I grew up watching hockey as a Maple Leafs fan. When you’re from Toronto, you’re a Leafs fan. It’s as simple as that. (Except for those weirdos who root for the Habs.) So what I’m about to say is about as sacrilegious as a non-religious person can get: I’m pretty close to being done with hockey.
The first response to that is something like “a true hockey fan never loses their passion.” And that might be true. Maybe I’m not a true fan. All I know is that I watched every Leafs game from the age of 14 to about 25 or 26. Since then, the number of games I watch has been dropping with each passing season. A big part of that is that the Leafs are not a good hockey team and haven’t been for a long time. I’ve never bought in to their winning streaks or making the playoffs in a lockout-shortened season as signs that they’re a team a couple pieces away from contention. They are a team that is deeply flawed from the roster through to the front office on to the ownership. They aren’t close to being a good team. But that’s not the only reason why they’re losing me.
Hockey is still one of the most entertaining sports to watch, if not the most. And I say that as a huge baseball fan, one that knows watching baseball is pretty damn boring for most people. Hockey is easy to enjoy. So lately I keep asking myself why I can’t bring myself to sit through an entire game.
My interest in hockey has been in a gradual but steady decline. It started with the 2004-2005 lockout. Going a whole season without NHL hockey showed me I could live without it. The 2012-2013 lockout confirmed it. Two lockouts in less than 10 years makes it easy to grow tired of all the bullshit that come with any professional sport. For the record, I think the players were right for wanting more. I don’t blame them. I blame the owners. I blame Gary Bettman. And his stupid face.
But it’s not just him. It is the Leafs. It is nearly 50 years without a Stanley Cup and only a few legitimate shots at one within my lifetime. And it is the seeming indifference from the new ownership to create any sort of sensible plan to do anything about that.
You can’t really blame them. Seats in the ACC get filled no matter how bad the team is, how directionless they are, how lost they are. When Rogers and Bell bought the Leafs, they knew they were getting a property with a virtually guaranteed profit. They weren’t buying the team to make it better, they were buying it to make more money. If the team happens to win, it just means Rogers and Bell will make even more money.
They didn’t want to buy the Leafs, they wanted to buy the Canadian pastime. They want Rogers to be forever intertwined with hockey. That’s why they bought Hockey Night In Canada. That’s why they have exclusive hockey video apps with never before seen camera angles only available to Rogers customers. I mean, are you really a true hockey fan if you’re not a Rogers customer?
That’s where it seems like they’re headed, at least. And it makes it hard to watch HNIC now. The whole show feels like it’s just a vessel for shilling Rogers garbage. But it’s not just the Rogers apps, programs and services. It’s the hosts they brought over. Any sports program that has Damien Cox and Nick Kypreos as insiders is one I don’t want to watch. Plus, they kept Glenn “describing a professional hockey player as competitive is as in depth as my analysis gets” Healy.
It’s the same with the Leafs. I think there’s an argument to made that hiring Brendan Shanahan as team president is less about improving the team and more about showing Rogers’ connection to hockey. If he helps the Leafs win a Cup, even better. It’s an opportunity for exclusive downloadable content of video from the winner’s dressing room only available through Rogers.
With both the Leafs and with HNIC, there doesn’t seem to be any logic behind the decisions other than “We’re Rogers and we can do whatever we want and you will like it.” I don’t feel like I’m watching a hockey game anymore, I feel like I’m watching hockey on Rogers brought to you by Rogers sponsored by Rogers.
Maybe I’m letting token corporate ownership get to me. Maybe a real fan wouldn’t let ultimately meaningless stuff like this interfere with their love of the game. Maybe I’m too jaded and pessimistic from watching my favourite hockey team never win anything. Maybe I should just shut up and watch the game. Or maybe losing interest in hockey is what being a Leafs fan is all about.