Saturday, January 10, 2009

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Loss

There are five discrete stages through which people deal with tragedy. To fans of this year's Maple Leafs, the stages will be familiar:

  1. Denial: You know, if a few of the kids player well, and Wilson gets them playing defence, and Toskala stands on his head, and the Rangers and Penguins team planes collide in mid-air at some point... this team could make a run at a playoff spot.

  2. Anger: ARGH, DAMN YOU MATS THIS IS SOMEHOW ALL YOUR FAULT!

  3. Bargaining: Can we at least beat the Senators and Habs? No? OK, can we beat the Senators and beat up the Habs?

  4. Depression: Toskala sucks, the young guys aren't developing, we get pushed around every night, we have no draft picks, Jason Blake just did a fist pump even though we're behind by five goals, and I'm debating whether the pipes in my basement ceiling will hold my weight.
Which brings us to stage five:
  1. Acceptance
Today, for the first time, I'm admitting to myself that I've reached stage five.

I accept that this season is a writeoff. I accept that the Leafs are a bad team. I accept that there's no point getting attached to anyone because at least three-quarters of these players will be gone in two years. I accept that there is no miracle coming. I accept that it's going to take years to fix all of this. I accept that now, it's all about the draft pick.

I accept that from now on, losses are good and wins are bad.

Gah.

If I'm being honest, I've been at stage five for weeks, maybe months. Maybe even since the beginning. But I've lied to myself.

The signs were there. All year long, I've never been especially bothered by a loss. When the Leafs won, great. When they lost, oh well. I've lived my Leaf fan life in a sort of strange purgatory, going through the motions but feeling numb about it all. In hindsight, I'm surprised I didn't paint my finger nails black and start writing poetry in my algebra notebook.

You have to understand, I used to be the guy you had to avoid at work the day after a Leafs loss because he might fly off the handle and start knocking coffee mugs off of random desks. And that was in the pre-season.

Not this year. In fact, oddly enough the only games that have bothered me this year have been the OT losses. We lost the game, and we moved up in the standings? Screw you, Gary.

So it's time to stop living a lie. It's time to come clean. It's time to live in the real world. It's time to start losing.

Well, OK, it's time to continue losing. But you get the point.

Just to be clear, I will not root against the Leafs. I can't do it. I can not sit down to watch a game and cheer for the other side. I can't high-five over another team's goal. I just can't. Being a Leaf fan is in my DNA. The instincts are too strong.

But I'm also not going to pretend to be mad about losing, or excited about a win. The lie is over. I can see the big picture. We need to finish last, or as close to it as possible.

I want...

... hold on, I can do this...

I want the Leafs to lose. A lot. As often as possible. As in, every night.

I feel so dirty. Hold me.




18 comments:

  1. I think I'm still in stage four, with a side of stage five. I know the team sucks, the state of the franchise depresses me greatly, but the losses don't seem to sting as much as they used to. I mean, we've already missed the playoffs three years in a row, what's another two or three if we can right the ship? Right? Apathy is beginning to set in on a game-to-game basis.

    I just keep telling myself that we might get Rick Nash this summer, and that one day it will all be alright.

    I guess we'll all get through this. Together.

    The whole Sundin issue bothered me so much because people expected him to bail out a franchise that can't function; people expected him to right the wrongs of all the mother fuckers upstairs. It would have been nice for him to give us a head start in one day getting better, but it wasn't his responsibility. And I can't be mad at him for putting himself first.

    I said this to a friend yesterday: "It's a tough time to be a Leafs fan." Especially if we end up in no-mans land in the standings again.

    I need a drink.

    And, are you saying it's weird that I paint my finger nails black and write poetry in my algebra notebook?

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  2. eyebleaf, I paint my nails black and have a black laptop

    oh well. As long as there are the wild threads at PPP and some form of alcohol in my system, I can get through the season

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  3. This blog captures my feelings entirely. The sad thing for me though is that I felt this way last year. Maybe I'm ahead of the curve, or maybe I'm happiest depressed.

    Even smiling hurts my face.

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  4. "and the Rangers and Penguins team planes collide in mid-air at some point"

    "Jason Blake just did a fist pump even though we're behind by five goals"

    "oddly enough the only games that have bothered me this year have been the OT losses. We lost the game, and we moved up in the standings?"

    Sir, you are Jesus of the Internet.

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  5. Wow. I have not seen the stages of my Leaf season so adequately described. I have been through every one of those stages, with the exact same feelings. I frequently reside in stage 3; as long as we're ahead of the Sens, it's a good season to me.

    But yeah, I see what you mean about the damage I'm doing to myself by being honest.

    I need to find a group.

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  6. Great read - finally a handbook for how to be a Leafs fan this year :)

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  7. Thanks for making me laugh during my morning coffee DGB. I had been stuck at 4 for a long time now. Most of the reason for that was "we get pushed around every night".

    Well finally after screaming "you bunch of wussies" every night at my TV, they started to show that they will not just be walked all over. And by the end of the second period I hit step 5.

    They biggest reason for that was not just the fact that the leafs stepped up finally, but because I realized the most important thing for this year.........Montreal will not win the cup.

    They have big George, but other than that they are bigger wussies than we are. And teams like Boston and Philly will eat them alive in a series. So let the losing begin because i know in my heart that the Habs are screwed....and really that's all i was looking for this season.

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  8. As much as I have to admit to some of the sentiments listed above... I kind of haven't changed my stance on things all season long.

    Don't know if I'm going through stages or what.

    I've never denied that the Leafs will suck this season, but I similarly haven't assumed they'd finish dead last in the NHL. Not only that, I don't particularly want them to.

    I don't expect them to make the playoffs, and never have... I don't think the team on paper is capable unless a few miraculous things happen as listed in your "stages".

    The thing is, I feel I've been realistic about this squad for a while. They're going to lose far more games than they win. They'll still hover around .500 all year though. They're not the worst in the NHL, and they aren't going to suddenly morph into Atlanta or the Islanders.

    Their goalies have sucked for a while. The Sundin thing is a non-starter... he's gone and that has nothing to do with the Leafs anymore in my mind.

    The fastest way to get the team to turn into a loser is to trade away anyone that is remotely decent on the club, i.e. Ponikarovsky, Antropov, Stajan, Kaberle, Kubina, etc. The problem is... in such a "fire sale" environment, teams will try to fleece the Leafs, and I really don't want the club to bail on assets only to undersell them horribly.

    I don't like when we deal away picks, but I also don't see many teams offering them to us either. Trade what you can away, but this process is still in decline.

    I predict next year could be worse than this year... and I'm ok with that too. I want them to bottom out, and that won't happen until the team is mainly stocked with youth like the LA Kings or Florida Panthers have been for a while.

    Get used to the losing, and focus more on the developments down the line I suppose.

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  9. while i'm watching the games, i still feel the same way i always have - hoping for a win, excited when they score, pissed when they get scored on on the next shift while their previous goal is being announced, angry when they lose. the big difference now is the anger is fleeting. before,i used to stew. a loss would often ruin my night. now, i'm basically over it within 5 minutes of the game ending; sometimes even before the end of the game. it's actually not a bad place to be - i still enjoy the in-game emotional highs and lows, but i've got none of the baggage.

    if this team somehow, magically, mysteriously, started playing well and made it to the playoffs, even squeaking in at 8th place, i'd be thrilled - i haven't watched Leaf hockey in may in a long long time. but realistically, all i'm hoping for is a few entertaining hockey games and a top 6 or 7 pick in june. oh, and for jason blake to stop fist pumping all the time.

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  10. Welcome to my world. I want the Leafs to be competitive, win when they play really well, avoid blowouts (not much luck there) and change the culture for the future.

    Its tough, on the last point, to run the line between losing and not being losers. Avoiding a defeatist attitude is really the most important task Wilson has. The rennovation will continue in the next couple of months.

    The teams with talent who have been disorganized will come back and pass the Leafs. The Leafs will finish in the bottom 5 this year, not the bottom but the bottom 5. If the God's are smiling they will win the draft lottery.

    But I suspect that Pony, antropov and Kaberle and Kubina will be traded, along with some less desirable assets, to obtain draft picks and young players about to make the leap to the NHL.

    I wrote this year off, hoping the Leafs would begin the changes. Except for Vesa's greater than expected weakness they are performing about what one expected, maybe even a little better.

    Last half will be brutal as the other teams shift gears and play better and the Leafs have been running in top gear from day one.

    A new coach and even the Sens might pass them

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  11. Welcome to stage five, DGB; we've been waiting for you! We have, in our best Friendly Giant format, a nice chair by the fire for you here. The rules here in stage 5 are simple. Don't interrupt anyone else sitting and muttering to him/herself, and please don't mention "John Tavares"; it gets the residents too excited and they can't sleep very well afterwards. Enjoy.

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  12. Most impressive. Summed up my week exactly.

    Sir, you are Jesus of the Internet.

    @Dan: If he were like Jesus he would die for the suffering MLSE has brought on us. Not that he hasn't threatened to go lie down in the road once or twice, but I think he's more like an internet Buda, whose knowledge and wisdom allows us to transcend our suffering, freeing ourselves from material desire and shame, leading us to inner peace and universal harmony.

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  13. Well-played General. I concur absolutely.

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  14. Welcome to the dark side.

    I've been in stage five since the preseason. To me a committed Leaf fan must be pragmatic and cheer for short term failure in order for a chance to succeeed in the future. Most of the herd fails to grasp this concept.

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  15. Indeed, stage5 has set in. With the way potential trade bait players have performed.....the rebuilding is going to be at least a 5 year process to just be playoff competitive.

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  16. If you're reading these tardy comments, you have probably guessed that I'm a hockey fan with nothing to do on a Sunday night who has stumbled upon a hockey blog rife with obscure Leaf references and nostalgia for all things Wendel Clark and Maple Leaf Gardens. Anyway, on to the inanity...

    think I went through the same thing in reverse. All season, I tried loving the loss, cheering for the loss, root root rooting for the other team. But alas, as you so aptly pointed out, it's in our DNA to want them to win. I eventually accepted this, and found myself in the same spot you ended up; I wanted them to suck and was happy if they lost, but only from a distance. While watching the games, my heart still beat the 'Go Leafs Go' rhythm. You may have heard it, for it was louder than the typical ACC chant.

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