Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Tavares, curses and Round 2: The first ever “the Leafs actually won” mailbag

I’ve been doing this writing thing for a long time, dating back to my first blogspot post back in 2008. I’ve written a lot of different things, many of them deeply weird. I’ve covered drafts, all-star games and Stanley Cup finals. I’ve impersonated an NHL GM, tricked a player into thinking he’d been traded at the deadline, and debated Ken Dryden on TV.

But there’s one thing I’ve never had a chance to do, until now: A reader mailbag about the Toronto Maple Leafs actually winning something.

Oh, we’ve done Leaf mailbags. Have we ever. Just not like this. Not when we’re all… what’s the word? You know, the one that means the opposite of miserable. Look, we’re still getting used to this, give us an adjustment period.

I put out the call for questions on Sunday morning. Here’s what I got from those of you who were somehow sober enough to put a coherent thought together.

I’m conflicted. Like a lot of Leafs fans, I said the regular season didn’t matter for two or three years running and felt that winning in the first round this season in particular was merely table stakes. Now that they have accomplished what I felt was the bare minimum for a team with this much prime talent, am I supposed to feel good? Am I allowed to enjoy this?

I’m caught between wanting to be elated and also having the feeling of a parent who told their kid to tidy up their room 67 times before they finally did it. Please advise. – Mike S.

Yes, you should feel good. Yes, you’re allowed to enjoy it. No, they haven’t won anything all that meaningful yet, but so what. As long as you’re not going full throttle as if they just won the Cup, you’re good.

For one thing, if they’d lost again – especially after blowing a 3-1 series lead – then we’d all have been miserable. And more than that, the team would have been blown up. There was no avoiding it. Being a Leaf fan after another early exit would have been absolutely awful. Now we don't have to be. If you sit by the phone all day waiting for bad news and the call never comes, that’s worth celebrating.

But even more importantly, it’s OK to just enjoy it when your team makes you happy. That was the point of last week’s post on non-Cup playoff runs; when only one team can win the Cup every year and there are 32 teams in line, you can’t rely on that as your sole source of joy. You’d lose your mind, and the league would lose its fan base. It’s OK to cheer on the baby steps.

Your kids finally cleaned their room, and they did a good job of it. Screw it, take them out for ice cream. We have to embrace the joy where we can find it.

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