This summer is pretty well in the books with the kids back at school, work schedules back to normal and it was snowing in Calgary last week.
The NFL is back and continuing its TV ratings decline. Baseball approaches the playoffs and the shoes will be squeaking soon on hardwood for the NBA fans. I feel like I have left something out — something that fans in Toronto would annually dread. I’m struggling to remember what fall event would always strike fear into the hearts of Torontonians. Fear mixed with a tiny bit of belief that this would be a breakthrough campaign.
Oh yes, of course: hockey season.
Toronto Maple Leaf fans would take inventory of the summer free agent signings, the composition of forward lines and defence pairings, and who’d be manning the space between the posts. But something has changed this year, and it’s something very encouraging for a city that hasn’t had a hockey championship parade since the end of the Original Six era.
There is a new hope. Massive amounts of hope are backed by this unbelievable fact: the Leafs are leading the odds in 2018-2019 to win the Cup on most online betting sites and in most Vegas casino sportsbooks.
Another Canadian team, the Jets, is locked in at number 3, with the always reliable Tampa Bay Lightning at number 2. After the top three, the odds balloon for the rest of the league and I didn’t even bother to look for the team I’ve backed most of my life: hockey’s on-ice production of Les Miserables, the pathetically run Montreal Canadiens.
WATCH: Excitement in Toronto as Tavares and Co. report for first day of camp
No, I’m not a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. I admit to enjoying the late 1960s, all of the 1970s, and the dominance the Habs enjoyed in those years. I remember when the Leafs won a quarterfinal by a hair over the Islanders only to be completely destroyed by Les Blue, Blanc en Rouge in the semis. Not this year. With the Canadiens a shambles, I will be paying attention to the Blue and White and their squad of maturing young stars and the addition of John Tavares.
Toronto has recovered from that disaster third period in the playoffs against the Bruins through insanely great management, a little draft luck and one of the best management groups in the game. After years of the Harold Ballard clown show and the jammed turnstiles that printed money hand over fist, I’m preparing to eat a giant bowl of shame poutine and hope there is a parade down Yonge Street next June.
Toronto fans have always accused Hab fans of being arrogant jerks and they have, or had, a point. But Montreal fans only pitied the Leaf fan. Callers on sports radio programs desperately suggesting ANYTHING to get the team going:
“Rip the ‘C’ off Sundin and give it to Domi. He’s got heart.”
“Tell McDonalds to ban Phil Kessel or trade him to them for a bag of McMuffins.”
Or my all-time favourite:
To which the host reminded the caller that his name is Nazem Kadri and he’s a natural centre. I only hope the intellect of these sports/talk callers will improve with the team’s rank in the standings.
Training camp is underway and the buzz in Hogtown is amazing, certainly with less profanity than the buzz you’ll encounter in Montreal or Ottawa. Or Vancouver. And it’s just days before they open the season at home on Oct. 3 for one of the most anticipated seasons since the Wendel/Doug era. It will be exciting to watch the Leafs take on the … err, Montreal Canadiens.
Okay, I may be watching a Seinfeld rerun that night.