Connect with us
[the_ad id="89560"]

Bruce Dowbiggin

In Toronto The Leafs Always Fall In Spring


8 minute read

Something really needs to be done for Toronto Maple Leafs fans. After a frantic trade-deadline session in which GM Kyle Dumas collected defencemen like Costco points— while adding Ryan O’Reilly from St. Louis— Leafs Nation is more depressed than ever at the chances of breaking its humiliating 55-year Stanley Cup drought. Or the accompanying 55-year Stanley Cup Final drought.

Why? Because while Dubas was playing Elon Musk, accumulating assets, the teams the Leafs must defeat in April/ May/ June were likewise spending hand-over-fist for the available talent during the Deadline. There was enough short-selling to make the TSX declare a halt to trading.

So Leafs Nation is distraught. If they were a lame horse they’d bring out the veterinarian’s wagon. If they were raccoons they’d be trapped and sent away. If they were trees with Dutch elm disease we’d cut them down and burn them for firewood. No hockey fans should live this way. But they do.

If this had been a decade ago there might not have been this much of a free market. Toronto might have stood pat and been okay to make a Cup run. But this year has seen a bull market for Eastern Conference teams employing the same strategy as Toronto. Buy now. Pay later. Here’s the frantic Eastern Conference shopping list from just the past fortnight.

New York Rangers: Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko. Boston Bruins: Dmitry Orlov. New Jersey DevilsTimo Meier. Carolina Hurricanes: Jesse Puljujärvi and Shayne Gostisbehere. New York Islanders: Bo Horvat. Tampa Bay Lightning Tanner Jeannot. Pittsburgh Penguins Mikael Granlund. And so on.

(No wonder Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, the purported big catches by Eastern Conference teams last summer, are going to be sitting at home watching the playoffs and counting the money Calgary couldn’t pay to get them to stay in Alberta. But we digress.)

So the first round of the 2023 playoffs in the East is going to be like the Charge of the Light Brigade. Many will enter the valley. Few will exit. There will be many expensive casualties. For Toronto the first-round opponent will likely be battle-tested Tampa, which beat Toronto in Rd. One last April. And, if you’ve been in a deprivation tank the past six seasons, let us remind you that Toronto has lost every year in the qualifying or first round since 2017. Zero series wins.

Excellent teams, good teams, okay teams. All with the same fate. Which is why Leafs fans are setting themselves up for bad things this spring. On the surface the team looks strong. Loaded with offensive fire power in record-setting Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares, they have 3.37/ goals a game for the season (down from last season’s explosive total but still productive.). Their goals-against was 2.64— and that was before they added defensemen Erik Gustafsson, Luke Schenn, Jake McCabe and others.

There is now depth throughout the skaters for when injuries start to ravage lineups in the playoffs. How many Cup contenders in the recent past have been denied because they ran out off healthy bodies? Give Dubas and coach Sheldon Keefe marks for that. This should work.

But also ask why they have been unable to develop/ trade for/ sign an elite goalie. As it always does, Cup success will all come down to that most enigmatic element. The duo of Ilya Samsonov and Marty Murray are… unpredictable. As of this writing’s Samsonov— the bell cow— is 5-6-1 on the road. Lest we remind you, the Leafs cannot play all their games at home. Meanwhile, Murray— owner of two Stanley Cups from his Pittsburgh days— has battled an ankle injury.  His goals-against average is middle of the NHL pack.

This is not to say that neither goalie can’t find the magic elixir. The lore of Cup winners is full of players who find it suddenly in the heat of a Stanley Cup. Murray was one of those guys in his rookie year when he took over from Marc André Fleury and led Pittsburgh to the 2016 Cup.  Presto! He simply reversed the narrative. It happens. Just not a lot.

To sum up, the Leafs hopes of breaking the hex will largely depend on finding a goalie who can a) stay healthy b) make the easy saves c) not read the Toronto media. Good luck with that. Maybe buy a lottery ticket too. It can be done.

Adding to the general neurosis of Leafs Nation is the issue of what will another disappointment mean to the future of captain Auston Matthews whose five-year $58.17 million contract is now eligible for an extension. (He and Nylander can both receive extensions this summer.) Comparable salaries mean Matthews will get a top-5 NHL salary going forward if/ when he signs. Also, does he sign for another five years or for eight? Will a Cup win cement him in Toronto for another decade?

Or does the Arizona native— disappointed with failure in blue and white— play out the next season without signing, as did fellow American Johnny Gaudreau, and then return to his homeland to play in a state with no income tax (Texas, Florida, Tennessee, Nevada, Arizona)? Does he, like Gaudreau and fellow American Tkachuk, simply pine for a warmer climate and familiar friends?

As we say, Leafs Nation needs an intervention before the playoffs start. After that it’s going to take a small miracle.

Sign up today for Not The Public Broadcaster newsletters. Hot takes/ cool slants on sports and current affairs. Have the latest columns delivered to your mail box. Tell your friends to join, too. Always provocative, always independent.

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 . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via

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.

Follow Author

Bruce Dowbiggin

Succession Planning: Justin’s Excellent Chinese Adventure

Published on

Continue Reading

Bruce Dowbiggin

The Formidable Superstar, Jim Brown Never Fit Black Or White Stereotypes

Published on

“M***er fuckers be hanging off him. Eight of ‘em be begging Jim, ‘Please, Jim, would you fall down, please? We’re on TV, my kids are watching’.” Richard Pryor  on NFL players trying to tackle Jim Brown in the 1960s. 

The death at 87 of legendary athlete/ film star/ political activist Jim Brown comes just over three months from the death of hockey icon Bobby Hull. Both were alpha males possessed of adonis figures, the essence of vitality in their time. Brown gave up the NFL to become a film star. He went on to champion causes in the black political movement.

Hull went on to sire a HHoF player Brett Hull and work in the cattle industry. He also traded on his stardom. He is still regarded as one of the five most famous Chicago sports figures of all time, up there with Michael Jordan, Dick Butkus, Gayle Sayers and Ernie Banks.

Neither man was without controversy, however. Brown’s name was frequently associated with domestic violence. According to press reports, “On June 9, 1968, Brown, then 32, was booked on suspicion of assault with intent to commit murder against his girlfriend. The arrest occurred when Brown lived in Los Angeles while working as an actor. The woman, a model, was found semiconscious and moaning on a concrete patio 20 feet below the balcony of Brown’s Hollywood apartment.”

There were other incidents with police involvement, many in fact, but you get the drift. Hull, too, had a nasty legacy of domestic assault stemming from incidents involving his first wife. Neither man spent time in jail for the episodes. Hull made some politically insensitive remarks as well.

But, funny thing. When Hull died the Canadian sports press reports dutifully dredged up all his personal business to rebalance the adulation he received in life. As we reported at the time, some people thought that part of his life defined Hull.

But you had to look very hard into the reports of U.S. sports media on Brown’s death this week to find much about his less-attractive side. The praise for his athletic prowess was effusive. Rightly so. But for the liberal sports press that came of age in the 1960s, it was too much to taint Brown’s political legacy by showing his less-flattering past. So they almost universally gave it a pass. In one interview, Bob Costas, the liberal’s liberal in the press box, skirted the issue to dwell on his boyhood memories of Brown.

Wonder why? Those news sources that dared mention it— the New York Times— were lambasted for sullying his reputation with the facts. “It’s the New York Times vs. ESPN for scumbag of the week” is a sampling of the pushback from the sports world.

While playing at Syracuse, Brown was perhaps the greatest lacrosse player in American history before going on to football fame with the Cleveland Browns of the NFL. We can still remember, as Richard Pryor did, the sight of No. 32 dragging defenders along behind him as he set rushing and TD records in a 12-game season— records that are still mostly unassailable. He’s a Top Five NFL player all-time. Colts HOF tight end John Mackey summed up Brown’s style. “He told me, ‘Make sure when anyone tackles you he remembers how much it hurts’.” They did. Vividly.

We can also recall the shocking news that Brown was ditching football in 1966 after nine NFL seasons to star in a Hollywood epic, The Dirty Dozen, with Lee Marvin, John Cassavetes and Donald Sutherland. (He intended to return to the Browns but when they wouldn’t let him miss training camp he retired.)  How would he do? We rushed to see the film. Brown was just fine, dragging his fellow cast members after him like NFL players as he took on the Nazis.

He went on to star in 100 Rifles as Hollywood’s first black action star. Other movies followed. When the glamour of films lost its lustre Brown became an icon for the black political movement. He supported Muhammad Ali in his fight to avoid prison for refusing to serve in Viet Nam. He created camps and schools for black children and was a recurring figure at the seminal moments for black empowerment.

But his philosophy was not today’s Marxist #BLM brand. “We’ve got to get off the emotional stuff and do something that will bring about real change,” he said. “We’ve got to have industries and commercial enterprises and build our own sustaining economic base. Then we can face white folks man-to-man and we can deal.” He was not easily intimidated.

In 2018, Brown and Kanye West met with President Donald Trump to discuss the state of America. Criticized by the black community for the meeting, Brown said, ”we can’t ignore that seat and just call names of the person that’s sitting in it”. Brown called Trump “accessible”, and said that the president was not a racist. The Brown obits in liberal media buried those quotes deep in stories.

Still he scared some folks. Files declassified in 2003 showed that the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service and several police departments had monitored Brown and the Black Economic Union, attempting to smear the group as a source of Communist and radical Muslim extremism. Hillary Clinton would have been proud.

Brown himself was into unapologetic self-improvement as he showed when he went to Pryor’s hospital room after the comedian set himself alight while freebasing. While others soft pedalled their advice Brown made it clear that Pryor had to kick drugs, and that he would help him do so. (As thanks, Pryor later screwed Brown in a film deal that would have brought him millions.)

Brown was unrepentant when confronted about his past. “I’m no angel,” he told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer in 1970. Regarding the assault allegations, he said, “I’ve never been convicted. I’ve just been harassed. I’ve been hit so much I don’t sting any more… I take it and look my accuser in the eye. I don’t look at my shoes when I talk to anybody. I know what I am. I only have to live with myself.”

That he did. The biggest difference between him and Hull was that the critics of the Golden Jet wanted to get tawdry clicks from his life story. With Brown they wanted him to advertise their Woke selves. That’s a huge and crucial difference in this insane world.

Sign up today for Not The Public Broadcaster newsletters. Hot takes/ cool slants on sports and current affairs. Have the latest columns delivered to your mail box. Tell your friends to join, too. Always provocative, always independent.

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 . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via

Continue Reading