Sunday, 16 July 2017

TBC: Leafs AbomiNation

I'm always one to throw a little shade on the Toronto Maple Leafs. It's just how we in western Canada view the Ontario city's NHL team. One thing I won't do is support the team in any way, so when I had a chance to acquire today's entry in Teebz's Book Club at a reduced price from the already-low price of $19.67 (nice poke at the team!), I jumped at that opportunity. It should come as no surprise that reading today's entry gave me some pleasure as the writers take a few shots at the Maple Leafs, so Teebz's Book Club is proud to review Leafs AbomiNation, written by Dave Feschuk and Michael Grange and published by Random House Canada. To say that Feschuk and Grange pulled back the curtains on why the Leafs were mired in mediocrity since 1967 would be a bit of an understatement when it comes to this book.

From the Penguin Random House website, "Dave Feschuk is a sports columnist with the Toronto Star and formerly wrote for the National Post. He has been nominated for a National Newspaper Award, and his piece on the underdog's life of Wayne Gretzky's hockey-playing brothers was included in the anthology The Best American Sports Writing. Feschuk lives in Toronto." Feschuk has been with the Toronto Star since 2003 where he covers all sports for the newspaper, and seemingly was on Phil Kessel's bad side while he played in Toronto. There has been no word on whether the current Penguins winger and former Leafs winger has changed his opinion on Feschuk since being traded to Pittsburgh.

Also from the Penguin Randon House website, "Michael Grange is a sports reporter for The Globe and Mail and an award-winning magazine writer, writing in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment for much of his 14-year tenure at Canada's national newspaper, the New York Times, and ESPN." Grange has since "joined Sportsnet in 2011 as a columnist for and regular contributor to Sportsnet magazine. During his time at Sportsnet, Grange has become one of the network's leading basketball analysts and regularly contributes to Prime Time Sports on Sportsnet 590 The FAN and Sportsnet Central."

Leafs AbomiNation goes directly at all of the misfortunes, poor hirings, bad trades, and inept management that the Leafs have exhibited since Keon and the boys captured the Stanley Cup in 1967. Names like Ballard, Stavro, Peddie, Tanenbaum, Ferguson Jr., and Quinn all get mentions within Leafs AbomiNation, but Feschuk and Grange point out that there have been smaller mistakes made by each of these men who have run the Leafs that have led the Leafs cleaning house and appointing a brand-new empire to rebuild the castle. Being that this book was published in 2009, a few points have long passed, but it's the examination of the ineptitude of eras of management that had me glued to the pages.

It's interesting that two men who work in and around the Maple Leafs for a living would embark on a project like Leafs AbomiNation, but they seemed to get input from almost all the subjects which they covered. Aside from those who have passed on, the authors allowed the men under examination to respond to the allegations of mismanagement with which they are associated. It didn't take the edge off the words that Feschuk and Grange wrote, however, as they ripped into management from every era that has contributed to the long-suffering that Leafs fans have endured.
Ballard's anything-for-a-buck lust knew few boundaries. Concerned about a loss in revenue from program sales when the NHL mandated that teams emblazon jerseys with the players' surnames, Ballard obeyed the ordinance to the letter: he saw to it that white letters were sewn on the backs of white jerseys, so fans couldn't possibly read them. He sold the Stanley Cup banners that hung from the Gardens rafters. He once made inquiries with the arena superintendent as to how many cucumbers would fit in the 30,000-gallon tank that held the mixture that circulated through the refrigeration pipes beneath the rink floor. "He said he wanted to make dill pickles to sell at games," rink manager Wayne Gilespie told the authors of the book Forever Rivals. "He'd dream up these schemes — anything to make a buck — then he'd forget about them."
While their fact-checking requires a little work - HBIC went deep into the jersey names in the past - both Feschuk and Grange bring to life stories about the Maple Leafs that seem almost implausible. Reports of John Ferguson Jr. turning down an opportunity to sign Fabian Brunnstrom long before anyone had heard about him is detailed in Leafs AbomiNation. Details on Pat Quinn's refusal to mentor Ferguson Jr. are written. The various interests of the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan as the majority owners are covered, and winning a Stanley Cup isn't high on their priority list. The squabbling between various segments of ownership through the years, the poor trades and scouting the Leafs have done, and the complete mismanagement of the team from top to bottom are all covered by Feschuk and Grange in Leafs AbomiNation.

I like a snarky piece as much as the next person, but I'm surprised that both Feschuk and Grange haven't been excommunicated by the Maple Leafs after all they wrote in Leafs AbomiNation. The writing is solid and the chapters read well, but there are definitely some stories that probably shouldn't have been put into ink if one was worried about one's career. I credit both Feschuk and Grange for taking that courageous leap in making that happen, and it makes for a very compelling book as we learn about the dirty laundry hidden behind the boardroom doors at MLSE. For that reason, there's no doubt that I, as a fan of things going wrong for the Maple Leafs, happily award Leafs AbomiNation with the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

You can find Leafs AbomiNation at most bookstores and libraries across this great nation!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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