The Leafs' Apology

Rex has hockey on his mind this week and he has some choice words for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Rex has hockey on his mind this week and he has some choice words for the Toronto Maple Leafs.


Read a transcript of this Rex Murphy episode

What do you call a hockey team that issues apologies? IKEA.

And where does that happen? Why in Toronto of course, centre-ice for the ‘losing-est’ franchise since the invention of the puck.

It’s said that Don Cherry sheds tears on his high-collared neck every time he walks past the Air Canada Centre when the Leafs are playing. We all know what he’s feeling.

How long has it been since the Maple Leafs won a Stanley Cup?  Or even made the playoffs?

It’s been so long the time-scale is geologic:  glaciers have melted, the earth’s plates have shifted, dinosaurs (Harold Ballard) have vanished, since any Toronto newspaper could front-page a Leaf victory.

I’ve checked on Wikipedia. The earth was young when the Leafs had men on the team, understood that the purpose of the other team’s net was to shoot pucks into it, when the thought of losing to some American team with Ducks in its name was an unspeakable impossibility.

Think. History buffs may remember these names, from the days before The Fall: Mahovlich, Keon, Armstrong, Horton, Bower.  They were the kind of players that made up a team that earned them a word not heard so much in Toronto today: winners.

Winners. The last time that word bruised the lips of anyone around the Air Canada Centre, he was arrested on the double charge of reckless falsehood and criminal optimism.

Aware that Toronto Hockey has equal suspense and less esteem than the city’s annual Duck Regatta, the club’s owners - just back from the piling up the bullion in the counting house - this week decided that after yet another year of empty dreams, flattened hope, crushed expectations and broken hearts they should apologize to the team’s despairing fans (it’s not known if they sent flowers).

They are buying full-page ads of apology.  Is this a hockey team, or a band of overpaid flagellants? Did The Rocket apologize? Howe? Hull? Lafleur? Orr? Lemieux?  Of course they didn’t. They could play hockey. They were too busy winning. 

45 years out of the finals - longer than it took the trees to grow, that supplied them the wood, to make the hockey sticks, they don’t score with. Whole forests have been felled for no real reason.

You apologize after 2 or 3 losses, or even 5 or 6.  You do not apologize for a 45-year losing streak. You go into exile, or take up ping-pong, or selling vacuum cleaners. In other words you leave the scene of the country’s worst sport’s crime.

Playing in the country’s biggest city, filling the arena for every losing game and losing season - you don’t need to apologize - you’ve lost the right to apologize. "Sorry" is not something you get to say. "Sorry" is something you’ve become.

For The National, I’m Rex Murphy.