October 4, 2009

Leafs Abomination by Michael Grange and Dave Feschuk

With the new season upon us again, eternally hopeful/masochistic fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs are hoping for a Stanley Cup - their first Stanley Cup since 1967.

There are reasons for hope once again: Brian Burke and his love of "truculence," an improved blue line and a young scorer will help the Leafs get back into the playoff race. But they are not anywhere near Stanley Cup contenders yet.

Blame history, so says the new book Leafs AbomiNation: The dismayed fans' handbook to why the Leafs stink and how they can rise again. Authors Michael Grange of The Globe And Mail and Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star take a long, painful look back at the past 40 years, simply highlighting all the incompetence and underachievement along the way.

It's almost a checklist of what went wrong. And it is a long list.

Buy The Book | Amazon.ca - Chapters - Amazon.com |

The authors spend much of the book blaming the various owners and managers for the team’s perennial mediocrity, drawing parallels with baseball's Boston Red Sox, who until an ownership change a few years back were the Leafs equivalent in terms of fan support, poor performance and bad ownership.

There is a bit of a bad-taste "blame the fans" feel to the book, which is an argument which we've all heard before. The theory being that the fans have sold out Leafs games for generations, continue to buy Leafs merchandise in record amounts that every other team would love to match. The owners don't have to try harder to bring a Stanley Cup to Toronto because the fans will always be there and the team will make more money than anyone else in hockey.

But the blaming the fans is a no-win proposition, and certainly confused me as to who the target audience of this book really is supposed to be. What are the fans really supposed to do? Many are born with Maple Leafs blue in their blood, passed down from generation to generation. No one can really expect them to suddenly stop going to games and buying t-shirts.

The book does get around to correctly blaming the incompetent hockey GMs and owners, comparing the organization to more successful teams like the Detroit Red Wings.

Despite the rude awakening for the Leafs faithful, there is a sense of hope in this book too. For all the screw ups, the authors do note that the future may be brighter. That the best organizations have one figure in charge who wants to win as badly as the fans. For now it appears Brian Burke has been granted that autonomy, giving long suffering Leafs fans another reason to believe.

The book was better than I expected. With the crude title and the cover photo of a paper bag wearing fan and the down-right comical $19.67 jacket price, I expected this book to be a bash the Leafs text with the only real purpose of making some money off of Leafs Nation, or the fans who hate the Leafs.

There was some high quality and insightful content in here, with characters like Richard Peddie, Larry Tannebaum, the Teachers, John Ferguson Jr. and even Pat Quinn coming across as fascinating. But you do have to search for these gems, as I found myself skimming through large portions of text.

Bottom line: Leafs books sell. This book has been on the Canadian non-fiction bestsellers list over at The Globe And Mail for a couple of weeks already.

Additional resources: You can read a free excerpts courtesy of the blog Pension Plan Puppets. Here's the excerpts of the chapter called Blame History:

The Globe And Mail also has a free excerpt titled 42 Years And No Hope In Sight. Also, the authors spoke on the Globe And Mail podcast.


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