I’m not going to make the case that the Toronto Maple Leafs twosome of Austin Matthews and Mitch Marner had a great playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens. I’m not even going to make the case that they played as well as they could have played.
But I am going to make the case that, had they had hit the score sheet a few more times, the Maple Leafs would still be playing and would have moved on to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But that’s not the point of this post. In this post, I want to also make the case that Maple Leafs’ fans shouldn’t kick their heroes when they’re down. Instead, I’m warning fans and media to think logically about what’s happening. I believe that, if they were logical, they wouldn’t risk killing the geese that consistently lay golden eggs. And those geese are Matthews and Marner.
Sure, Matthews and Marner Suffered Power Shortages – But …
Both Matthews and Marner suffered power shortages during the playoffs. Plain and simple, they didn’t score at the same pace they’d scored at during the regular season. During the regular season, they led the team on the score sheet; but, because they didn’t find the score sheet during playoffs, that absence made a difference to the team’s success.
That lack of production has seemed to infuriate a vocal part of the Maple Leafs’ fanbase. It also has fueled hockey writers who suggest the Maple Leafs’ players let their fans down. Specifically, “Dubas’ highest-paid players let him down, let you down.” (from “Who will be the first Maple Leaf to go? That’s what everyone is asking,” Steve Simmons, Toronto Sun, 02/06/21).
Personally, I’m disappointed, but the players didn’t let me down. That’s crazy talk. And for fans who believe this team let them down personally, I encourage them to think about it clearly. And, should they still think they were personally let down, I encourage them to get a life. Honest, it’s true!
This Is the Time to Embrace These Youngsters
Instead of being petulant, this is exactly the time fans should embrace these two young NHL stars. This is not the time, especially when Matthews and Marner are feeling dejected about how things went during this playoff series, to start pecking on them like a buzzard in the Arizona desert (Matthews’ home by the way, if you get my drift) pecks on road kill. Peck. Peck. Peck. Until nothing is left except bones.
If Maple Leaf fans think I’m speaking harshly or that no Maple Leafs’ hockey players have suffered fan abuse, all they have to do is look at the history of the team. Two players stand out in my memory. One is actually a Hall of Famer, and that player is Larry Murphy. The second was an offensive minded, puck-moving defenseman who played through an injury (but played poorly) and was basically booed out of town. That person was Jake Gardiner.
Ironically, if you watch the YouTube video above, Mitch Marner comes to Gardiner’s defense. With Gardiner, the Maple Leaf fans were merciless. They simply kept coming. In school we’d call that bullying. But fans use the excuse that these players “make big money or they are professionals.” Wrong again!
Will Marner Be Booed at the Start of Next Season?
Now sadly I believe the same could happen to Marner. I’m more than worried (think it’s inevitable) that, when next season starts and fans are in the stands, the first sound Marner hears in the first game he plays in front of fans when his name is announced he’ll hear a chorus of boos.
I’m not sure how much confidence Marner has or how tightly his head is screwed on, but being booed like that would be a lot to take for a 25-year-old young man – professional or not, well-paid or not. No one’s able to shut their ears to verbal abuse or feel appreciated when their fans turn on them.
Dubas Accuses the Media of “Turning On” Marner
And if you think the phrase “turn on” Marner is too negative, that’s exactly the phrase Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas used in his end-of-season interviews with the media. When Dubas was asked if he was considering “moving” Marner, he said:
“I think disposing of two players of their calibre because the puck didn’t go in the net for them in a seven-game series” (then Dubas named the writer and went on to say) “I think if after the fourth game you weren’t super critical of them, to go after the seventh game and turn on them, from a management perspective, would be foolish.”
(Comment: Dubas called the writer by name and spoke directly at him. Second, he used the phrase highlighted “and turn on them.” That’s direct.)
Fans Should Be Thoughtful About How They Treat Matthews and Marner
I’m fortunate in writing about the Maple Leafs because the team has passionate fans. A few of them email me regularly to share their thoughts about the team they’ve cheered for since they were children. One is super fan David Lambert, who suggests:
“I guarantee that Marner will be booed at the start of next season. Frank Mahovlich left Toronto because of the constant Toronto press pressure. Jake Gardiner and Larry Murphy both got booed out of town; and, although Gardiner won’t make it to the Hall of Fame, Murphy certainly did. If Marner continues his marvelous play, he too will have a spot there.”
Finally, Dave notes: “I have concerns for this young boy’s future and his confidence. Leaf fans are looking a gift horse in the mouth. Please take the best of care.”
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