It used to be so much fun laughing at Leafs fans. You remember. The talk of “losers since ’67” and all that. I’ll never forget going to a Montreal-Toronto Saturday night matchup at the Bell Centre with my son, like maybe 12 years ago, and, as usual, the joint was filled with obnoxious Maple Leafs fans. That night, as we walked in, they were taunting Habs fans, shouting — “Ha ha, you haven’t won since ’93.” And us Canadiens fans just laughed even harder, reminding them they hadn’t won that Cup since 1967.That was then, this is now. Ever since Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment hired Brendan Shanahan as president of the Leafs in the summer of 2014, the former loser Leafs have, at the very least, joined the discussion as a potential elite team. I am well aware that they still haven’t won squat in the playoffs under Shanahan, general manager Kyle Dubas and overhyped coach Mike Babcock. And yes, if the Leafs once again lose to their kryptonite — that would be the Boston Bruins — in the first round this coming season, I have to figure Babcock is going to be feeling some mega heat.But the Leafs are a smartly managed team and you have to think that when Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews get another year or two under their belts and Dubas finally gets a stud D-man, they’ll be a serious Cup contender.Things are much less certain for Montreal Canadiens fans. My friend Chris, a lifelong Leafs fan, believes that in a kind of straight-out-of-an-old-Star-Trek-episode way, the Habs and the Leafs have switched places.“The thing I’ve noticed here in the last few years is that it reminds me of Toronto in the bad years, where people would get excited for them just making the playoffs,” said Chris, who moved to Montreal from Toronto in the mid-’90s. “Like the goal here didn’t use to be for the Habs to just make the playoffs. The goal used to be to win the Cup or at least compete for the Cup. You can criticize Toronto now, but they’re trying to win the Cup. They’re doing everything they can do to win the Cup.”I suggest it’s actually worse than that in Montreal. Look at last season. Many fans were actually happy to celebrate that we ALMOST made the playoffs. That’s how low the bar has sunk.“I feel a bit like I’m in a reverse universe,” Chris said. “Growing up, the Habs were always really good and the Leafs were terrible. Not only were the Leafs terrible, but they were managed terribly. Harold Ballard was a terrible owner. They spent many years without a good general manager. Whereas now I think the Leafs are managed well.”
Leafs’ John Tavares beats Canadiens’ Carey Price in overtime last season. In a cruel twist for Habs fans, Toronto is now the well-managed elite team, while Montreal struggles.
Allen McInnis /
In the bad Leafs years, they stayed bad because the fans accepted it. That’s what happens when your fans are happy not making the playoffs because … fill in whatever handy excuse the Habs managers toss out.“You get what you accept,” agreed Chris. “It’s all about standards.”As Paul Weller from The Jam memorably put back in the day: “The public gets what the public wants.”Chris and I discussed the different spending patterns of the Leafs and the Habs. They are, respectively, the second and third most valuable teams in the National Hockey League, with pretty well the same market value ($1.45 billion for the Leafs in the Forbes evaluation in December 2018 versus $1.3 billion for the Canadiens). Yet the Leafs are spending every penny they can to compete, while the Habs have left $8 million below the cap on the table for two consecutive years and look likely to once again not spend to the limit this coming season.When you’re counting your pennies, you lowball the stars, like free agent Alexander Radulov in the summer of 2017 or restricted free agent Sebastian Aho this summer, and you end of not getting them.Chris is a management consultant who spends much of his time crunching numbers for corporations and says it’s entirely possible that team president and head of the ownership consortium Geoff Molson is deliberately trying to save money. Teams don’t make such figures public, but the common wisdom is that the Canadiens make a profit of $2 million per playoff game.“If you save that $8 million in cost, that’s going to increases your profit by $8 million,” said Chris. “So you’d need $8 million in profit (to equal the profit made by not spending). So if you’re making $2 million in profit a game, you need four home playoff games.”To be fair, you might spend to the cap or a bit beyond and still not make the playoffs. Or you make the playoffs and only get two home games. My point is, the surest way to make the profit is by not spending the money.“It makes you wonder a bit when it’s three years in a row (of not spending to the cap),” Chris said.So it email@example.com/brendanshowbizRelated