OPINION: The Maple Leafs are two years away from being two years away

Feb 19, 2021 | Opinion

Being a member of the blue-and-white fan base is known throughout the hockey world as challenging and filled with disappointment. Every year we sit down in front of the television with renewed vigour, truly believing “this is our year.”

The Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup, considered by many as the hardest championship to win in sports since the league was six teams, in 54-years. Although there have been teams with great promise, the results always seem to be the same: nothing, nada, or as they say in Sweden, ingenting.

The most popular recent trait among all Leafs’ traits are the first-round exits. They enter the playoffs with high hopes until the phrase that makes every Leafs’ fan’s spine stiffen and shiver: first-round exit.

That was the case in 2013, 2017, 2018 and 2019. They were all done with that classic Leafs losing flare. It was never more the case than in 2013, the year that make the entire city sick to its stomach: Leafs versus Bruins, Game 7.

It is one of those games where every fan can tell you where they were watching it, what they were feeling. I, for example, was watching the team through a computer hook-up when the feed got cut off and Toronto had a four to one lead. I refreshed Twitter anxiously, seeing every goal update. By the time the feed came back, Boston was one goal away from the tie.

The rest is history. Boston won the game, eventually making it to the finals, losing to Chicago in six games.

And Toronto was left heartbroken. That year is now the benchmark for disappointment for Leafs’ fans. It’s a benchmark for the recent playoff losses, as in, “not as bad as 2013,” or “this reminds me of 2013,” phrases that ring in Leafs fans ears as they watch their team prepare for the golf course early season after season.

The 2020 NHL bubble led to another excruciating qualifying round exit to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

But it’s 2021 and the team seems to have something special going on.

Fans may roll their eyes, scoff and ask why this year would be any different. Losses like the Feb. 15 choke to the Ottawa Senators invoke feelings of dread. But anyone watching has to admit this team seems different as they sit atop on the NHL standings.

Leafs’ fans feel the need to justify their optimism, and anything less than a Canadian division win would have been seen as a failure before the season. But there are plenty of strong teams across the NHL, so first overall has to be seen as a success.

Despite this early success and hope starting to grow, even a mention of a deep playoff run is a touchy subject.

Supporting this team has been stressful, and I may end up being grey-haired before I’m 25. But there is nothing more exciting than watching Toronto play on Hockey Night in Canada. We turn it on every week, and despite the losses and the embarrassments, we keep coming back. It’s that commitment that makes the Toronto Maple Leafs’ fanbase the best one in hockey.