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Bruce Dowbiggin

Door Mats To Mats’ Darlings: Has Toronto Became The NHL’s Defining Brand?

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Imagine the Chicago Bears being the NFL’s most valuable property? Or the L.A. Angels being MLB’s prime franchise. Or the Brooklyn Nets being the NBA’s strongest brand?

That’s the best analogy for the Toronto Maple Leafs (estimated value US $2 billion-plus) being the NHL’s most valuable franchise. Former Leafs hero Mats Sundin told Swedish television this past weekend that, from his perch in Sweden, the Leafs are the strongest brand in the NHL. The former captain of the Buds compared them to soccer giants FC Barcelona or Man United as a sports property. The GOATs of team sports.

And no one laughed. This despite the fact that the Leafs are the Picassos of pain since their last Stanley Cup in 1967, never reaching even the Finals in all those years. After decades of misery, their fanatical fan base couldn’t cheer home Usain Bolt in a three-legged race. By Sundin’s standards, however, they’re the equivalent of the Catalans and the Red Devils.

It should boggle the mind. In addition to their sizeable markets Barca and Man U have long histories of championships in their leagues and in European competition. Their histories are studded with great names like Messi, Ronaldinho, Cristiano Rinaldo and Wayne Rooney (among many). Their value is immeasurable.

But because of their market size (southern Ontario is now about 12 million) the Leafs can claim a captive audience addicted to their losing. And a never-ending cash box that defies description. It was therefore poetic that the Stockholm Syndrome franchise spent this past week in Sweden, being lauded by the fans of Tre Kronor. Toronto’s Swedish star William Nylander was greeted as a rock star. It was ramped up even further when the insouciant sniper— he rides the subways in Toronto— scored the winner in OT against Minnesota.

Toronto’s claim on the NHL’s first pew might have been laughable till recently. The undisputed soul of hockey has always been Montreal, home of the 24-time Cup Canadiens. The Habs were class. The Leafs were crass. Montreal was Jean Beliveau. Toronto was Tiger Williams. Wearing the tricoleurs bestowed a heritage on the wearer. Wearing the maple leaf was, as we wrote this past April, a testament to futility.

And yet, without winning a single honour, the Leafs have claimed undisputed possession of the brand as NHL’s model team. The decline of the Habs as a constant contender probably has much to do with it. Their 24th— and last— Cup was in 1993. Since trading Patrick Roy in 1998, they’ve lost their glitter.

Current Montreal GM Kent Hughes sums up the new reality when asked if the Habs can win without a superstar. “Everyone would like McDavid or Draisaitl,” he told Slovak journalist Martin Toth-Vaňo. “We’d like them, too… Do we need a star? Edmonton is at the bottom of the table with two of the biggest stars in the league.”

Sure, Kent. The Habs’ talent gap has allowed the Leafs to horn in on the belt as the NHL heavyweight. For the corporate set, at least, Toronto is the home of the English language communications industry. The people who decide the lineups for highlight shows and who to use in advertising live in the bosom of Leaf Nation, and the product reflects as much.

For some time eager investors have sought to convince the NHL that, like L.A. and New York’s tristate area, Toronto’s market should be shared amongst at least two teams. So far, commissioner Gary Bettman has been unable to create an indemnification plan for a competing squad that would satisfy the contented MLSE partners who own the Leafs. Suffice to say it would be a billion dollars-plus should common sense prevail.

So buckle up. Toronto has one of the top teams again this year. A Stanley Cup would not defy reason. Except… don’t you always satisfy your customers in business? It would appear that Leafs fans love losing. Why mess with a good thing?

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Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

BRUCE DOWBIGGIN Award-winning Author and Broadcaster Bruce Dowbiggin's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience . He is currently the editor and publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster website and is also a contributor to SiriusXM Canada Talks. His new book Cap In Hand was released in the fall of 2018. Bruce's career has included successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster for his work with CBC-TV, Mr. Dowbiggin is also the best-selling author of "Money Players" (finalist for the 2004 National Business Book Award) and two new books-- Ice Storm: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Vancouver Canucks Team Ever for Greystone Press and Grant Fuhr: Portrait of a Champion for Random House. His ground-breaking investigations into the life and times of Alan Eagleson led to his selection as the winner of the Gemini for Canada's top sportscaster in 1993 and again in 1996. This work earned him the reputation as one of Canada's top investigative journalists in any field. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013) where his incisive style and wit on sports media and business won him many readers.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

From The Border To Kevin O’Leary, Canada Is Freaking Out Americans

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Tequesta, Fla.: Those Canadians who spend time in DeSantisLand  know that our American hosts are blissfully unaware of what happens in Canada. Outside blaming the True North for brisk weather like this week’s near-freezing temps in the South.

Then, out of nowhere, Canada and Canadians are suddenly blasting down the pike like an Alberta Clipper. Example: While everyone is talking the bum rush at the southern U.S. border, former GOP presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy was frothing about the steady tide of illegals crossing southward from Canada into the U.S.

He told X ,“The Northern Border is the next frontier for illegals. Career politicians including Republicans derided me for saying it last year. Now we’re starting to see the consequences.” One of the consequences is the PM not talking about our leaky border. But since the Liberals removed visa requirements for Mexicans the flood gates have opened. Canada’s fastest growing industry is human smuggling.

Vermont residents are very engaged with Canada’s dirty little secret. Swanton, Vt. resident Chris Feeley told reporters that “he has been hunting in the area since he was a teen and rarely ran into anyone. Now he sees illegals frequently. ‘The border patrol actually told us, ‘You guys might want to put a pistol in your backpack’ because nine out of 10 of them are just here for a better life, but there’s that one guy that’s got a rap sheet,” he said.

Will Trump build a northern wall as well as a southern barrier? Inquiring minds in Canada want to know. Then came the bimbo eruption from New York’s governor Kathy Hochul. Hochul’s state has the highest percentage of Jews in America (seven percent). One and a half to two million Jews live in the New York City area alone. She has a vested interest in their issues.

So when the heinous Oct. 7 attacks murdered hundreds of innocent Israelis in their homes and communities Hochul (whose ancestry is Irish-American) sought to show her solidarity with her constituents. “If Canada someday ever attacked Buffalo, I’m sorry, my friends, there would be no Canada the next day,” Hochul said at an event for the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York.

“That is a natural reaction. You have a right to defend yourself and to make sure that it never happens again. And that is Israel’s right.” Hey, she likes us enough to massacre us in retaliation. Now that’s a caring neighbour. Not surprisingly, when Canada’s media grandees heard the news they plotzed. And Hochul scrambled to clarify her remarks. But for a few days, Canada was a something. Americas would obliterate us for destroying Buffalo. The mind boggles.

Next, the liberals in overheated #TDS legacy media had one of their periodic fits over former president #OrangeManBad . They were left aghast that another Donald Trump presidency might decline to protect NATO partners from the boogey man. Trump even suggested he’d give Putin the A-OK to do his worst on Luxembourg or Montenegro. Shocked and appalled, they declared the end of NATO and McDonald’s McRib sandwich.

What the Jake Tapper Brigade neglected to mention in all this fainting and pearl clutching was that this would happen ONLY IF rogue nations refused to pay their obligations under the NATO charter. (Why ruin a good hysteria over running the full quote? See: Charlottesville, Jan. 6, drinking bleach.)

Now, which American neighbour to the North of Biden’s Bedroom is delinquent in its obligations to NATO? Might it be Trudeaupia where it’s more important than agriculture minister Lawrence McAuley be seen casually gorging on lobster in Asia than paying up for deterrents against the Chinese?

So to all his other self-inflicted miseries Prince Justin of Rideau Cottage was confronted with the pitiful funding of Canada’s military (his government just cut military spending by a billion) and its reliance on the support of strangers when it comes to protecting the Arctic, among other tracts of lands. Trudeau has lobbied NATO to include other spending under its requirements. But so far, NATO is not accepting maple syrup, Melanie Joly desk calendars and Bollywood costumes as applicable contributions to defence spending.

According to reports reaching us in the Land of Farenheit, Trudeau responded to all this scrutiny by flying west in a carbon-belching jet to promote climate something-something. But how would an incoming Trump administration deal with Trudeau (and his paid media) who has made POTUS 45 a convenient whipping boy? Has Canada’s PM said too much already? Might Trump tighten the pressure on paying up— just in spite? Trump? Spiteful? Never!

Next on the screens of Americans was the ubiquitous Mr. Wonderful, Kevin O’Leary, Canada’s gift to Shark Tank/ Dragons Den. The recent civil trial of Trump in NYC has vexed him. So everywhere one looks O’Leary is schooling dim liberal hosts on CNN about the idiocy of the decision to fine Trump $354M for cheating no one out of nothing.

“It’s appalling. It’s unjust. I would go as far to say it’s un-American.” Here he is with some place setting named Laura Coates explaining how you do real estate in NYC. “That fact that he was found guilty, you might as well find guilty every real estate developer on Earth,” O’Leary says. “I don’t understand where someone got hurt … What developer doesn’t ask for the highest-price value for any building they built?… If this judgment sticks, every developer must be jailed. They must be found guilty. They must be put out of business. You can’t do this to one but not another. It’s not about Trump.”

O’Leary followed up by saying he wouldn’t be doing business in NYC until the decision was reversed. Others, including Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams followed suit, “100% of people who don’t understand banking, business, negotiating, or the world in general are sure Trump committed fraud. 100% of people who understand banking, business, negotiating, and the world in general saw ‘business as usual’ and no fraud.” Like O’Leary, Adams vowed not to visit nor do business in New York State, setting off an X wave of hysteria among former CDN sports writers and liberal arts graduates.

But Mr. Wonderful discouraging business is different. Hearing O’Leary’s warning to businesses to steer clear of NYC, Governor Hochul sought to reassure real-estate developers that the government will not go after them like they have gone after Donald Trump. Prompting Texas senator Ted Cruz to observe, “In other words, if you don’t make Democrats angry, you won’t get sued. But if you do, you’ll get the Donald Trump treatment.”

It’s almost too much Canada in the news. Luckily, Trudeaupia will slip beneath the waves of American attention again shortly, ignored and dismissed. To think we were that close.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via brucedowbigginbooks.ca.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

Deal With It: When St. Patrick Talked His Way Out Of Montreal

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Coming soon, our latest book “Deal With It: The Trades That Stunned The NHL And Changed Hockey”. With my son Evan, we look back to Espo to the Bruins (1967), Gretzky to the Kings (1988) , and St. Patrick to the Avalanche (1995), Deal With It tracks the back story behind the most impactful trades in modern NHL history. With detailed analysis and keen insight into these and five other monumental transactions, Deal With It recalls the moments when history was changed. Plus a ranking of the Top 25 Deals in NHL History.

One of the most memorable occurred 24 years ago, on December 6, 1995: Patrick Roy and Mike Keane from the Montreal Canadiens to the Colorado Avalanche for Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Rucinsky and Andrei Kovalenko. Trading, arguably, the greatest goalie the Canadiens history was the culmination of organizational dysfunction from which it has yet to recover. It begins with the hiring of former Habs Mario Tremblay and Rejean Houle when the Canadiens stumbled entering the 1994-1995 season. It started off well. Then on a November night in Montreal…

“With the team cooling off from their torrid start under (Mario) Tremblay, the Habs were at home for a Saturday night affair hosting a powerful Red Wings team on its way to breaking the NHL single-season wins record set by the 1976-77 Montreal team (62 to that club’s 60). With the closing of the Forum, the arena Roy had once dominated, Patrick’s dominance had become less-than-surefire. (He came in that night at 238-80-34 all-time at the Forum.) All that rich history didn’t help Roy that particular night and before a national TV audience the wheels came off for hundreds of thousands to witness.

Earlier in the day, Roy had had an impromptu breakfast at Moe’s Diner in Montreal with Detroit goalie Mike Vernon, who’d himself been forced out of Calgary after winning a Cup. Roy described his predicament. “It might be time for you to ask for a trade,” Vernon suggested to him. Fast forward to the notorious game. Getting bludgeoned by the Wings attack, Roy had given up nine goals before the game hit its halfway mark. Getting mock cheers for one of his few saves on the night- prompted a seething Roy replied with mock acknowledgement to the crowd. Clearly overwhelmed, Roy was kept in the nets as Tremblay let his star goalie get roasted by Scotty Bowman, who enjoyed getting revenge on his former player Tremblay for some remarks he’d made about Bowman’s coaching style.

Finally hooked after the ninth marker, Roy glared menacingly at his coach as he walked by on the bench. Stopping to take care of more business, he walked back across and, face-to-face, told a distressed-looking Corey that he had just played his last game with the Canadiens. As Roy walked past Tremblay on his way to the end of the bench, Roy and Tremblay glared eye-to-eye. Roy told him in French, “You understand?” This very public moment overshadowed what remains the worst home loss in the club’s storied history, an 11-1 spanking from Detroit. TV highlights that night across North America showed the stare-down.“The whole city was talking about it,” recalled Montreal native Eric Engels. “The team had suspended Roy and said they were going to trade him, and I just remember saying to the bus driver that they didn’t have to go this way, that they could salvage the situation.”

The following days saw the controversy erupt even further. Just months after plucking Houle and Tremblay from outside the organization, Corey sided with his inexperienced newbies and told Roy he would be getting dealt even when Roy apologized for his spat and vowed to mend fences. Typical of the climate at the time for even superior players who “disrespected” the organization, Roy was persona non grata in a matter of days. In his book, Serge Savard: Forever Canadien”, Savard explained the inevitability of the deal: “Patrick had become too important in the club. He took up too much space in the dressing room, had too much influence on the coach. Over the previous years, I had to handle him with kid gloves. I still had the same admiration for him as I did when we won the Stanley Cup in 1986 and 1993, where he played a determining role. But a change had become necessary. The team revolved around him too much. For the good of everyone, he needed a change of scenery.”

Team captain Mike Keane didn’t help lower the temperature at the Forum by claiming the man who wore the “C” with the Canadiens didn’t necessarily need to speak French and that he wouldn’t be bothering to learn it because the dressing room mostly communicated in English (true even in the most predominately French-based Habs teams such as the 1993 Cup winner that boasted no less than dozen Quebecois). Both Keane and Roy would go on the trading block together, joining similarly exiled pieces like Chris Chelios and Guy Carbonneau (the captain of the ’93 Cup winner, dealt after 1993-94 to the Blues for Jim Montgomery, after flashing the middle finger to a photographer who had eavesdropped on him playing a round of golf). Carbonneau’s successor at captain, Kirk Muller— an Ontario boy through and through— expressed how honoured and proud he was to wear the fabled letter patch. But he, too, would find himself gone to the Islanders partway through 1994-95. In other words, almost no one was sacred in Ron Corey’s world. Only four days after his dressing-down of the team president and head coach, Roy was notified by Houle that he had been traded.

Just like that, Montreal had parted with its franchise goalie as if it were still the “Original Six” days and players that got in management’s crosshairs were expendable. How traumatic was the deal for the rookie GM Houle? He’ll never tell. “And that is what I intend to do forever so that I don’t have to look back at a time that was difficult for me.” As for Roy, his take was “It was clear from the organization that they had made their decision. I said, ‘Okay, I’ll accept my mistake.’ I agree I was the one who made that thing happen on that Saturday, and both parties agreed it was in the best interests of us that we go different directions. I understand that you can’t put ten years aside and give it a little tap and it’s all gone. I lived through lots of good things in Montreal, but, again, it’s a turn I accept.”

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via brucedowbigginbooks.ca.

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