You’re all frustrated by the years of losing that have accompanied following the Bills and Sabres, and I get that. But I had a funny feeling watching Game Seven of the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets series Sunday end in gut-wrenching fashion for our friends on the other end of the QEW.
I actually felt sorry for Toronto. They’ve got it worse than us.
It’s a surprise to feel that way. After all, I’m the guy who routinely rolls out “Laffs” on Twitter when it comes time to jab at the Maple Leafs, one of the easiest targets in sports.
But there is no big city in major sports having the kind of troubles – across the board – that Toronto is having. Blink your eyes at this tale of woe:
• The Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup since May 2, 1967, the longest drought in the NHL. They haven’t won a single playoff series since 2004, or two lockouts ago.
• The Raptors have won one playoff series in their 19 years – and that was in 2001, leaving them tied with Milwaukee for the longest drought in the NBA.
• The Blue Jays haven’t even made the playoffs since Joe Carter’s World Series-winning home run that seems like yesterday but was nearly 21 years ago. Kansas City is the only other MLB team that has failed to make the playoffs in the wild-card era.
• And there’s no need to explain the indignity foisted upon the city by the Bills in Toronto series, right?
In the case of the Raptors, this time seemed different. They had their kitschy slogan, “We The North.” They had their T-shirts, with some sections in the Air Canada Centre in white and others in red. The crowd even sang “O, Canada” in unison, with the hired crooner simply holding up the mic and letting the crowd take over.
They had a full house inside and thousands watching outside in “Jurassic Park,” which is normally called “Maple Leaf Square.” What a scene.
And it all ended with one final possession, one blocked shot and a one-point loss. Ooof. Ponder that all summer.
Opined Steve Simmons in the Toronto Sun: “It was Toronto sports at its best and worst and sadly at its most predictable: another chapter for the town that invented almost. Another script ending in heartbreak in a city that forever talks about what could have been.”
Yet for all the consternation about the Raptors’ defeat and the Leafs’ incredible Game Seven meltdown last year in Boston, let’s not forget those came in the first round.
We’ll raise you our four straight Super Bowl losses, or a skate in the crease in Game Six of the Stanley Cup final or 39 defensemen injured in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference final.
But at least we’re close.
(Yes, I know it wasn’t 39. It only seemed that way.)
The good news on the Raptors front is they’re pressing forward. Coach Dwane Casey got a three-year contract extension Tuesday. They need to re-sign guard Kyle Lowry, who said, “I love this place, I love this situation” on Monday.
In one series, even in defeat, Toronto proved to be a viable NBA city and maybe even a future destination for some free agents. That’s progress.
The Leafs, meanwhile, have everyone scratching their heads wondering what’s up since Brendan Shanahan was hired as president.
Their higher-ups are spending this week in Las Vegas at the organization’s annual pre-draft retreat. Of course, the subject of what to do with coach Randy Carlyle is likely coming up as often as which 18-year-old to call to the podium next month in Philadelphia.
There are plenty of people who want to see Carlyle get the ultimate Shanaban out the door with one year left on his deal. Makes sense. But you wonder if they would have already done that if that was going to be the plan.
Peter Laviolette, hired Tuesday by Nashville, is off the market as a Carlyle replacement. It would seem like the Leafs would have already hired ousted Predators coach Barry Trotz if they had wanted him. Perhaps they’re hanging on to see if San Jose is dumping Todd McLellan?
The Leafs haven’t won a single playoff series – and have only even played in two – since they beat Ottawa in Game Seven in the first round in 2004.
Who’s worse than that? Pretty much only a roll call of NHL dregs.
There’s the New York Islanders (no wins since 1993), Florida Panthers (none since 1996) and Columbus Blue Jackets (0-2 in playoff series in their 14 seasons). And that’s it.
Hardly the type of teams a stately Original Six franchise should be associated with. But that’s where the Leafs rest these days. While the Raptors can think they’re closing in on better days, the Leafs can only hope.
So keep your heads up, good folks of TO. We get it. Drought City is a tough way to be.
But one final slice of advice: Keep your grubby hands off our football team.