Are the Leafs the NHL’s Red Sox?


Those who know me can tell you I am an avid reader.  I devour books at a staggering pace, specializing in sports books and autobiographies mostly.  And as the warm weather approaches, and the hockey season gives way to deck weather, my reading habit ramps up considerably.

Book of choice at the moment?  “The Yankee Years”  by Joe Torre.  A fantastic account of life in the major leagues and life as the manager of one of the most popular, most traditional, and at times, most dysfunctional franchises in the world.

Torre does an excellent job of taking readers behind the scenes of his time in New York, including a fist hand look of one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports.  That is, the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.

And that’s where the parallels started standing out to me as a Leafs fan.

Aside from my over the top affection as it relates to the game of hockey, I am a big fan of all things sports.  I have vested interests in baseball, lacrosse, soccer, football, and a few other sports as well.

I enjoy baseball.  I always have, ever since my dad took my brother and I to a Jays game when we were kids.

As a devout fan of the New York Yankees (and someone who keeps the Jays close to my heart) it pains me to say it, but the Boston Red Sox are to be admired.

While I would never admit it to friends while at the bar watching a Yankees/Red Sox game on ESPN, from top to bottom, the Sox are the definition of a franchise that has its house in order.

And believe it or not, while thumbing through the pages of “The Yankee Years” the story that I felt was familiar to me, perhaps was just that.

Call me crazy, but I think the current path of the Toronto Maple Leafs may just mirror that of the Boston Red Sox.

First and foremost, the unbridled passion from the fan bases of those two teams are among the biggest in all of sports, worldwide.  The Leafs and Red Sox all have a large group of followers (referred to by teams as “Nations”) and have fans planted in every part of the world, not just those cities related closely in geography.

Going in chronological order as it relates to the similarities, the Red Sox were a team that struggled mightily until new owner John Henry came into the fold.  While the Leafs obviously did not change ownership (and one doubts they ever will) the similarities are there between how Henry came in and ushered a new era into the club, representing change to way things happened on and off the field, something that the Leafs recently shifted their focus towards as well.

The Red Sox brought in Theo Epstein, widely regarded as one of the brightest minds in the game of baseball.  Epstein is a confident, hard working, motivated individual who wants to win and set up a foundation to be a winning team for a long time, something he has established in Boston with the Red Sox.

The Leafs, for their part, brought in Brian Burke.  Someone who was widely regarded in hockey circles as being one of the smartest GM’s in the league (in fact, he was named so twice by The Hockey News publication.)  Burke is a brash, confident person with a tremendous work ethic and a motivation to win, and set up a winning foundation, not unlike that of Epstein’s Sox.

Both men are confident in their abilities.  They both know what they want and how to obtain it.  And they both do a wonderfully skillful job at manning the ship that is a front office in one of the biggest sports markets, with one of the biggest teams in their respective organizations.

Both of them have an emphasis on surrounding themselves with the biggest, and most intelligent staff possible.  Both have seemingly grasped the concept that a GM doesn’t necessarily have to know how to do everything.  He simply needs to surround himself with people that do, and trust those people when he chooses to delegate to them.

Both of them are tech savvy people.  While Epstein was one of the first GM’s to introduce the statistical analytics into baseball, Burke seems to be completely on board with all things technological, including the use of PC Tablets.

While Wilson and Co. deserve credit for their integration, Burke, for his part, has taken a keen interest in their benefits to the club as well.

Both of them are incredibly dogged in their determination to bring the best players possible to their city, to play for their team.  Epstein, in his attempt to sign then free agent pitcher Jose Contreas, flew all the way to Nicaragua to meet with the pitcher, in an attempt to sign him.  He was unsuccessful, but it proved that he meant business in terms of bringing in the best possible talent.

Burke, of course, has done something very similar, with last year’s flight on July 1st to Sweden to meet and finalize the deal with Leafs goaltender Jonas Gustavsson (and perhaps a stealth meeting with the Sedin twins, though Burke may never admit to such.)

In fact, both men graduated with a Juris Doctor in law, though they came nearly fifteen years apart.

In terms of the way they want to shape their team, though the differences between hockey and baseball may vary widely, they both have a certain attitude as to how their teams are to be built in terms of attitude.

The Red Sox turned the corner when they brought in players like David Ortiz, Johnny Damon, and Pedro Martinez.  All those players, aside from having tremendous skill, had a certain “swagger” to them.  A “cant be beat, we’re not afraid of you” mentality that is just as bit responsible for getting them over the hump as their skill.

Toronto, through Brian Burke’s vision, is being built in much the same fashion.

Players like Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel, and Mike Komisarek carry themselves with a certain bravado that matches that of their GM.  They are all talented players, who are extremely confident in their ability, and have a certain “just try and stop me” mentality that should bode well for the Leafs in the coming seasons as they attempt to mold themselves into a contending team in the Eastern Conference.

Perhaps I have been out in the sun way too long.  Or, perhaps these comparisons are legitimate.

As a Leafs supporter, one can only hope for the latter.  Not only because I burn easy and that’s never fun, but for the fact that the fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs are just like that of the Boston Red Sox.

They are passionate about their team.  They live and die with their team.  They ride the waves of joy and the lightning of disappointment with their team, and its players.

They deserve the very best.

And just like those on the now famous 2004 Boston Red Sox club, members of the team that finally brings the Toronto Maple Leafs that long waited championship will be forever known as heroes and legends amongst the fans and devout supporters.

Let’s just hope it doesn’t take 86 years for Leafs fans to be afforded the opportunity to hold those players high as heroes and legends.

Want to take part in the first of the summer mailbag series’?  Send me an email at [email protected] and your question could be answered in a future column right here on MLHS.  There is no guidelines on what the questions could be about.  Could be about the Leafs, the NHL, what I ate for lunch.  Doesn’t matter.  Ask away, and I will answer in a future column right here on the Hot Stove.