HYNESIGHT by James G. Hynes

A few weeks ago, Maclean’s magazine ran a cover story explaining why the Toronto Maple Leafs perpetually stink, despite being ensconced in the world’s richest hockey market. The reason, said the article, is that Toronto fans continue to pour money into the team’s coffers, year after year, regardless of its performance on the ice. There’s no incentive to do the hard work of finding and developing the talent necessary to build a Stanley Cup winner when this won’t have any effect on the Leaf’s bottom line.
What makes Toronto fans so willing to settle for second best, or even twenty-second best, without shutting their wallets the way fans do elsewhere? Trying to watch this year’s final series on the CBC has alerted me to part of the reason. Leaf fans elevate mediocre players to stardom they could never attain elsewhere for the same reason they think Bob Cole is a great play-by-play commentator: they don’t know any better.

NHL hockey has undergone major changes, especially over the past decade, but Leaf fans are still waiting for 1967 to somehow reappear. And hopelessly radio-oriented commentators like Cole have been obsolete on TV for more than a few decades, but Toronto fans still love the guy who tells them what they just saw with their own eyes. So, even though we were once again spared having to watch the Leafs blow a playoff series this year, we still get another dose of the Leaf’s terminally inept play-caller on the CBC.

Even from the back of the bar, we can all see which end of the rink the puck is in, and which team is moving it, but that’s what Cole keeps telling us. And when he isn’t telling us what we can plainly see, he’s finding other ways to belabour the obvious. Clichés and nugatory observations cascade from his lips like trash from a dumpster upended at a landfill.

On other channels (especially RDS, where I do most of my watching as a diehard Habs fan), the puck moves from name to name to name. Often, we’re told in real time who’s making a pass, who it’s intended for, and who intercepts it. With Cole, names are mentioned at best half the time, and usually after the play is over, rather than during it. In the current final series, entire shifts go by during which the only people who touch the puck are “Detroit” and “Pittsburgh.” Even on the radio, this is pretty poor commentary, and on TV where we’re all seeing what he sees, it’s worse than useless.

What passes for play-by-play commentary in the “knowledgeable” Toronto market fits well with the product the Toronto team puts on the ice. In both cases, mindlessly loyal fans are getting exactly what they deserve. As for me, my French is good enough for RDS, merci beaucoup.

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