Monday, May 14, 2018

Spring of discontent for Toronto sports fans

For Toronto sports fans, this has been the spring of our discontent.  Everything looked so promising for the Maple Leafs and the Raptors as their 2018 seasons drew to a close.  The city was flushed with excitement and a sense of anticipation.  Even if the Leafs and Raptors failed to win their respective league championships, we had hopes that they would go deep into the playoffs.  Our optimism was not just fuelled by wishful thinking.  There was solid evidence that both teams were poised for some degree of playoff success.  After all, the Raptors won 59 games this year and finished first in the Eastern Conference of the NBA.  They set franchise records for most wins in a season.  As for the Leafs, they also had a fruitful season, finishing third in the NHL's Atlantic Division with 49 wins and 26 losses. They are loaded with young talent such as Auston Mattthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.

So what went so horribly wrong?  Well, both teams failed to step up in the playoffs.  Their best players did not come through when it really counted.  They didn't pull together.  They weren't hungry enough.  There's no way to candy coat it.  In their first two games against the Boston Bruins, the Leafs looked overmatched and unprepared.  Boston played with confidence and poise. The Leafs, on the hand, didn't resemble the same team that won 49 games during the regular season.  Where were Auston Matthews and William Nylanders?  A team's top players are supposed to shine in the playoffs.   Boston's big line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak completely dominated the Blue and White.  In addition, Leaf goaltender Frederik Aandersen was far from outstanding.  Freddie was not so steady.  The red-headed Dane has certainly played better, but it was not all his fault.  The Leafs' defence was not exactly stellar and Jake Gardiner. had a painful Game 7.  Gardiner he took the loss hard, declaring that he "didn't show up" and that he "let a lot of people down."

Jake Gardiner
The Maple Leafs lacked leadership and discipline in their series against the Bruins.  They didn't have their eyes on the prize.  Otherwise, Nazem Kadri would have been able to control himself instead of incurring a needless three-game suspension.  Kadri's suspension cost the Leafs dearly.  The Boston series clearly exposed Toronto's weaknesses, especially their defensive flaws.  The Leafs just weren't ready.  At least they gained some playoff experience - the hard way.  Looking ahead to next season, they have chosen a 32-year-old whiz kid named Kyle Dubas as their new General Manager.  They should also has a team captain in plac by then.  We will see what happens.

As for the Toronto Raptors, I honestly expected much more from them than from the Leafs.  They played so impressively during the regular season and it seemed as if their time had finally come.  The first playoff round ended well for the Raps.  They defeated the Washington Wizards in six games.  However, for the third season in a row, they were spooked by the Cleveland Cavaliers and King LeBron James.  James completely unnerved the Raptors.  They didn't know how to deal with him..  He psyched them out.  He toyed with them.  He humiliated them.  It was difficult for Toronto fans to watch.

What happened to DeMar DeRozan?  Although healthy, he was benched for the final 14 minutes of the Raptors' 105-103 defeat in Game 3 against Cleveland.  DeRozan is an all-star.  He's no LeBron, but he's the Raptors' best player.  Something is terribly wrong when your best player is so ineffective that he isn't utilized in the closing minutes of a crucial playoff game.

Coach Dwane Casey paid the price for the Raptors' poor performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the playoffs.  He was fired soon after, despite the 59 wins and receiving the Coach of the Year Award from the NBA Coaches Association.  As sports fans know, it often happens that way.  The players can't all be fired, so the coach becomes the fall guy.  I'm not saying that Casey doesn't bear any responsibility for the Cleveland debacle.  No one player or coach should shoulder all the blame.  That fiasco was a team effort and Casey deserved better.

Dwane Casey
So, it's the middle of May and the Toronto Maple Leafs have gone another year without winning the Stanley Cup.  That's 51 years and counting.  The Las Vegas Golden Knights, in their first year of contention, are still alive in the playoffs.  If they defeat the Winnipeg Jets, they will earn a berth in the Stanley Cup Final.  It's hard to believe that Vegas has gotten so far in their initial season.  I admit that I am biased and that I would prefer Winnipeg to win.  However, I don't want to underestimate the Knights.  They have certainly exceeded expectations.  Yet, even if they weren't playing Winnipeg, I couldn't bring myself to cheer for them to win Lord Stanley's Jug.  It doesn't feel right.  It doesn't feel as if this new franchise has paid its dues yet.  The Golden Knights' success is  rather galling to Leaf fans who have waited patiently for so many years and to all the NHL teams who have never won the Cup.  Still, if they manage to win it, they will be the legitimate victors.

- Joanne

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