No Leafs Go!

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

Among Canadian hockey fans, no team raises passions like the Toronto Maple Leafs.

If you're one of the team's fans, you bleed blue and white and you consider yourself part of the Leafs Nation.

If you're a fan of any other Canadian team, your second-favourite team is whoever is playing the Leafs that night. And there's no hotter ticket than the one that gets you into the arena when the Leafs come to your city.

For Montreal and Ottawa, the new collective bargaining agreement won't change any of that.

But if you're in Vancouver, Calgary or Edmonton, you're about to find out how much you really mean to the people who run the National Hockey League.

From now on, the Leafs will come to your town once every three years.

The plan that, according to a well-placed source is "almost certain" to be imposed, will see divisional rivals play each other eight times per season. Each team will also play four games against the other 10 teams in the conference.

To get to the 82 required for a full season, a team will play a home-and-home series against one division in the other conference on a rotation basis.

It's not only the fans of the Canucks, Flames and Oilers who will feel the impact of this decision. In all of those cities, as in every city in Canada, the Leafs have lots of loyal fans and they too will be short-changed.

Back in 1997, the then-GM of the Leafs, Ken Dryden -- who is now the minister in charge of spending taxpayers' money to replace parents with state-subsidized surrogates -- recognized the importance of the Leafs in Canadian society.

He wanted what made sense for his team -- a move from the Western Conference to the Eastern Conference. But he also wanted to minimize damage to the Leafs' mystique across the country.

So a deal was arranged whereby Toronto would join the other eastern teams but, unlike the others in the conference, play twice a year in each of the western Canada venues.

In order to make this accommodation to their schedule, the Leafs didn't travel to the Pacific Division.

Even though the franchise has fans everywhere, it made a lot more sense to give Canadians -- who love and hate the Leafs with passion -- what they wanted, even if it meant shortchanging Leafs fans in cities like Los Angeles and San Jose.

NEW NHL ORDER

But under the new NHL order, the sensibilities of Canadian fans are of no great concern.

The league is run by lawyers who, naturally enough, think like lawyers. In their minds (one uses the word loosely), all rules must be equally applied. There is no room for emotion, only the enduring fiction of "equality under the law" and the all-important bottom line.

While there's no doubt that new balanced schedule will heighten rivalries and can be rationalized on that basis, a significant aspect in its favour, as far as the owners are concerned, is that it reduces travel costs.

It is not inconceivable that some eastern teams could go through the entire regular season without having to spend 10 nights on the road.

The teams would therefore spend less on such things as hotel rooms, players' per-diem allowances and various other travel costs.

If you want to grab someone's attention in the new NHL, no phrase does it as successfully as "spend less."

On the other hand, phrases that are of not the slightest concern to the American owners, except perhaps for their soporific value, are ones relating to Canadian mystique, Canadian pride, Canadian passion, Canadian heritage, etc.

Or for that matter, any two-word phrase the begins with "Canadian" except "Canadian revenue."


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