North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Toronto’s a Leafs Town, even when they’re not playing

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Over at Backhand Shelf, Christ Lund has a good piece about the state of minor hockey in the GTA. I suggest you read it, he’s nailed the problem with the OHL in the greater Toronto area: it’s not working and it’s going away quickly.

This is the last season for the Brampton Battalion, who will play next season in North Bay. This can’t be much of a surprise, since the Battalion couldn’t even draw 2,000 people per game in 2010-11. Other teams, like the Mississauga Steelheads (formerly the Majors) or Oshawa Generals do a little better but are hardly on the same map as the Leafs. There’s a good lesson here: Toronto likes it’s hockey, but mostly when it’s wearing blue and white and playing in the Air Canada Centre.

And the lesson there isn’t just specific to the AHL and OHL, either. It covers a little bit of everything for the Toronto teams, too.

 Let’s talk about the Raptors for a second. Last night, they lost in a triple-OT thriller to the Utah Jazz, 140-133. What is on the front page of the Toronto Star? Ex-Leaf Mats Sundin. He’s on the front of the Toronto Sun, National Post and Globe and Mail, too. TSN Toronto has them below the fold, tucked away under a story about Sundin.

Sportsnet is the only place with the Raptors splashed on the front page, largely thanks to a great piece by Holly MacKenzie (which you also ought to read). Even when locked out, the Leafs are still the dominant presence in the Toronto media.  It’s even stranger than it sounds. The Raptors came into this season with high expectations, a coach entering his sophomore season and a highly anticipated rookie. One of their stars just got a huge contract extension. And the team has started the year off poorly: they’re 1-6 right now and Kyle Lowry, their best player, is hurt.

This is a recipe for a media maelstrom. Reporters should be hounding all over the team, they should be getting dogged in the media. If happened to the Leafs, can you imagine the level of hyperbole Damien Cox would level in each and every column? Can you imagine the level of discourse on Blue Lunch, Hockey Central or Blue and White Tonight? It would be crazy. And it’s not happening with the Raptors.

Think back to this summer: the Jays came into 2012 with a lot of hype and played pretty well, before injuries blew apart their season. As the year wound down everything went wrong: more injuries, loss after loss. A player wrote a slur on his face and the Rogers Centre room jammed open during a shower, drenching the field in rain. How did the local media act? Rogers Sportsnet 590 The Fan yanked their daily baseball show in mid-September for a hockey show, so we could hear about lockout news instead of pennant races or a look at why the Jays were melting down so spectacularly.

Look at the Argos. They snuck into the playoffs, won a thrilling game this weekend against Edmonton. Their defence, spotty all season (hell they finished with a negative point differential) was outstanding. They picked off a shovel pass, something that I can’t even remember happening before. This should be a big deal: the Argos are one win away from playing for the Grey Cup in their home building. Against Montreal, Toronto’s rival city, no less. If any NFL team was this close, can you imagine how insane ESPN would be? Let alone the local media? So why is local sports-talk radio focusing on the Hockey Hall of Fame?

This is the market Toronto fans live in. The Leafs come first here, even when they’re not doing anything at all. And even when everybody else is doing something worth talking about.

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