May 4, 2004, the day the Toronto Maple Leafs played their last playoff game. The Maple Leafs are in a unique position among NHL teams and find themselves alone as the only team to have not clinched a postseason berth since the salary cap came into effect in the last lockout. Their Stanley Cup drought has been much publicized but that title only goes to one team every season while over 50% of the league’s teams battle in the playoffs. The continued playoff drought should be a serious area of concern for Maple Leaf management.
I’ve made the argument before and I’ll make it again, that the Maple Leafs are at serious risk of alienating their “future” ticket and merchandise buyers with their continued absence from the playoffs. Any child born after May 4, 2004, over 8 long years ago has yet to be alive for a Maple Leaf playoff game.
Young hockey players these days look up to the superstars of the game as their idols. Not since the days of Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour and Mats Sundin have the Maple Leafs had a true “superstar” and inspirational leader on and off the ice. Kids these days are emulating Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and Steve Stamkos. As a result, even young kids in a hockey-mad city like Toronto can be seen wearing Pittsburgh Penguin, Washington Capitals and even Tampa Bay Lightning jerseys in increasing numbers. Granted there’s no statistical report I’m aware of to quantity just what impact the Maple Leafs post-season drought has had on fan support from children, but it only makes sense that it would be having some measurable impact. Kids these days want to support champions and it’s difficult to get them to continue to cheer for a perennial 9th-15th place finisher as the Leafs have been since the 04-05 lockout.
I’m not saying for a minute that the Leafs are now or will anytime soon be in any financial trouble. They’re the most valuable franchise in the entire league but that is largely due to their seemingly unwavering fan support, but at what point will that fan support start to falter?
The Maple Leafs haven’t exactly been the “Blue Jays” of the 2012 off-season and no one is saying they’ve made moves of any significance that would suggest they’ve drastically improved their chances of competing for a playoff spot next season. One this is for certain – another lost season means another lost opportunity for the Leafs to end their playoff drought and attempt to reignite their young fans of the future.
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