Hodge: It’s downright tough being a Leafs fan

Despite my last 47 years of denial and rejection of the team…I must admit to having never completely given up on them.

It’s difficult to decipher whether it is embarrassed or simply mocking the fact it is included on the Wall of Glory.

On one hand it seems to sneer at you, with a resigned sense of disgusted defiant defeat. Here I am—deal with it.

Yet on the other it appears to be avoiding the situation, like the black sheep member of the family attempting to hide during the family portrait session.

While it does hang in a predominant spot within my ‘man-cave’ hockey room it sadly dangles in an almost apologetic way, akin to a shamed puppy or an uncomfortable apple.

It’s likely just my overly absurd sense of imagination but there almost seems a sense of sorrow about its cloth persona. Understandable, I suppose, due to some 50 plus years of mediocrity.  Life must be difficult, even for an inanimate object such as a hockey sweater, if it’s connected to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Yet, despite my last 47 years of denial and rejection of the team that Harold Ballard and Conn Smythe once ruled as slave masters—I must admit to having never completely given up on them. There is still that tiny little itsy-bitsy bit of hope in my heart that someday the Leafs will truly become mighty again. That (gasp) once again they may proudly grasp the Stanley Cup.

Like the ‘little train that could’ I still ‘think they can’.

I have not yet given up the dream that some day it will be socially acceptable (and perhaps even popular and politically correct) to wear that Maple Leaf sweater hanging on the wall.  However, I still also believe in elves and hobbits and dwarves…

Earlier this week there was a minor flash of hope for Leaf followers that perhaps the long overdue rebuild back to glory may have started. While he has done very little to actually improve things in his first year running the Leafs, new team guru Brendan Shanahan started trading away significant expensive players  to the highest bidders last weekend. Shanny shipped out two veteran players to Nashville for a late first one draft pick, a relatively unknown (so far) minor league youngster, and a journeyman forward whom Shanny will like flip to yet another team in further rebuilding moves.

A gazillion Leaf supporters are hoping it is the beginning of a major team purge that leads to a climb back up the ladder of hockey respectability.

In the perfect world Shanahan will eventually dump enough current key players and load up on draft picks and potential stars for the future while sinking the club to the bottom of the league standings this year. By doing so he would then earn one of the top draft picks next spring.

Snagging a coveted junior sensation such as Connor McDavid or even American prospect Jack Eichel would give the Leafs a cornerstone of potential super-stardom to build a club around.

My hope is Toronto unloads (supposed) studs such as Phil Kessel or Dion Phaneuf to cellar-dweller teams such as Buffalo for their draft picks. Sadly the Sabres likely have their eye on McDavid as well, and will not take the Kessel bait.

In truth, the Maple Leafs could draft and trade for all the best players in the world, however until they get rid of Mr. Kessel I will never be able to cheer for the Leafs again.

Kessel remains one of the dirtiest players in the league, using his stick like a pitchfork, or hiding behind tough teammates after hacking and slashing opponents. My distain for Kessel as a player has only been exceeded by my disgust for former Canuck coach John Tortorella and red-neck racist commentator Don Cherry. Thankfully the Canucks gave Torts the boot and Cherry will soon be sent out the pasture for over the hill colour broadcasters.

But I digress.

The Maple Leafs have an opportunity between now and the March 1 trade deadline to significantly alter their future fortunes. I am not alone in my hopes that, like millions of other Canadians, in the near future I will be able to once again watch a Leaf game without a sense of foreboding growing in my gut before the puck is even dropped.

Kelowna Capital News

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