I saw that the Leafs are dead last in ESPN’s ranking of pro sports teams. That’s not unexpected, and look at it this way, there’s nowhere to go but up. I do think, however, that a cut in ticket prices, until the results come, would go a long way to repair this tarnished brand.
But it’s time to consider how the brand got tarnished like it is. We all like to blame Ballard, who destroyed the franchise in the 70s and 80s. He regularly put his own ego above every other consideration, and got rid of anyone who outshone him. Keon, Sittler, Red Kelly, Roger Neilson, and the one that hurts most for the fans, Lanny. But Ballard has been gone a while now, God rest his soul, and the results have not reversed, other than a few, brief flashes in the pan. There is plenty of blame to go around, but in my mind, when this is done, there is one big winner (or loser), who did the most to perpetuate failure.
First, some onorable mentions. Number one, I ave to mention Gerry MacNamara. I know, he was GM under Ballard, but he gave a recent interview, where he said that he knew some of the things he was doing were wrong, but he had to, or Ballard would fire him. In another sentence, he said that it was not his fault that the results weren’t there. I give him onorable mention because of his cowardice. If you know it’s wrong, you have to stand up for what is right, even if it means you get fired. It will cost you prestige, and money, but it will save your honor, and your reputation. Most people would have decided, as he did, that it’s better to make lots of money and shut up, but I don’t think you would have. I think you would have quit, rather than let Harold push you around like that. Gerry didn’t.
Onorable mention number two goes to Cliff Fletcher. That may seem a funny choice, since he made the Leafs competitive with one single trade. I might get hate mail for questioning the guy who brought Doug Gilmour to Toronto. The reason I give him onorable mention is because he gave the impression that you can succeed with trades, instead of drafting and raising your own kids. It almost worked. And it created the impression that it’s the quick way to go, and avoid a long rebuild. Every bad choice that came afterwards was founded on this mistaken view. Let’s face it: Cliff knew the players, having been in Calgary before. He knew that Calgary management was stupid. So he took advantage of others’ stupidity. That’s not something you can repeat too often, because they eventually get the picture that you’re out to fleece them, rather than offer value for value. The better GMs, such as yourself, can keep making deals, because the counterparty knows you’re not trying to screw them. Pat Quinn also took this route, and also gets onorable mention.