Skip to main content
A scary good deal on trusted journalism
Get full digital access to globeandmail.com
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks SAVE OVER $140
OFFER ENDS OCTOBER 31
A scary good deal on trusted journalism
$0.99
per week
for 24 weeks
SAVE OVER $140
OFFER ENDS OCTOBER 31
// //

Toronto Maple Leafs' Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner and Nick Foligno celebrate Matthews' goal against the Winnipeg Jets during the first period on April 22, 2021.

JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

Nick Foligno is the Toronto Maple Leafs’ latest saviour.

His qualifications? He’s old, fun to listen to, can find Toronto on a map and, on the basis of a single game’s worth of ice time, projects to score 82 points next season. I don’t want to jinx anything, but Foligno may become the greatest Toronto Maple Leaf in history.

Foligno got off the ice after Thursday’s win over the Winnipeg Jets and said all the sorts of things that make Toronto melt.

Story continues below advertisement

“What I’ll remember most is the win. That’s what I came here to do, and help. It’s just so fun to battle with these guys. You could tell their attention to detail and how much …”

Anywhere else in the world, they like a little razzmatazz from their athletic stars. But in Toronto, they want to hear how average you are, and how happy you are with your averageness.

Calgary Flames cancel pre-game skate after player tests positive for COVID-19

Sharks’ Marleau breaks Howe’s NHL games played record

If aliens landed in Toronto, the right play would be popping out of the spaceship and saying, “We come from Alpha Centauri. It’s not that far. It’s nothing, really. We just wanted to be here with the boys because we love your attention to detail.”

Two weeks ago, goaltender Jack Campbell was the guy who was going to save the Leafs. His qualifications? Young, fun to listen to, can find Toronto on a map and, on the basis of 11 games, the best shot stopper since Wonder Woman.

Then Campbell had a couple of rough nights and the good times ended. In the space of three days, Toronto went from celebrating the reincarnation of Terry Sawchuk into a DEFCON 1 goalie crisis: “Why can’t the Leafs find a decent goalie? What’s wrong with Sawchuk over here? Why does he hate us so much?”

Before Campbell, it was Joe Thornton. Before Thornton, it was Jake Muzzin. Before Muzzin, it was …

You get the drift. Toronto can’t just be happy with good players. It isn’t even satisfied with the occasional great one. Toronto needs a player who will guarantee he can lift the city’s hockey curse singlehanded, and preferably in the next couple of weeks.

Story continues below advertisement

The main qualification for the saviour role is that the player be new. New is untainted. New means boundless potential.

It doesn’t matter if the new guy’s been mediocre elsewhere (generally speaking, a prerequisite for ending up in Toronto). This city’s gentle care and attention (e.g. shattered nerves and stalker-level surveillance) will turn him into the player he was meant to be.

Every year, there are two or three of these guys who are going to push the Leafs over the line. Remember Tyson Barrie? Because he’d prefer you didn’t. Try to forget that the defensive end of things was secured for the foreseeable future (until it wasn’t).

It’s hard to say what’s worse in this situation – being great to begin with, or falling flat on your face.

If the player is great, he is built up into the next Gordie Howe by the local press. If he is terrible, then he somehow scammed his way into town.

The best way to make a debut in Toronto is in such a manner that no one notices you. Let yourself blend in for a year or four, and then people can begin to hate you for being here so long with nothing to show for it.

Story continues below advertisement

Any way you figure it, it wrings guys out.

Auston Matthews is having a hell of a year – one of the best individual seasons in Leafs history. His talent level is close to best in league. He is everything the club hoped would happen when it began its tank six years ago.

But nobody talks about Matthews saving the Leafs. Not in the same way they might talk about Connor McDavid saving the Oilers or, better still, the way Sidney Crosby used to save the Penguins.

Because Matthews was anointed saviour ages ago and – here’s a surprise – couldn’t live up to that billing as a 21- or 22-year-old.

Now he shares the taint of Leafsness with all the others. He lost a couple of times, so he can’t be counted on to win. Someone else has to provide that magic. Someone new.

The person needn’t even be a player. If the Leafs win this year, coach Sheldon Keefe might get the saviour tag. He still has enough of that new-car smell.

Story continues below advertisement

That’s an “if” and a “might.” But I will guarantee you that if the Leafs lose, every good thing they ever do in the future will be despite Keefe. That’s the cost of coaching where people care.

Eventually, someone will be lucky in their timing and end up being given all the credit for something he had next to nothing to do with.

Maybe that guy is Foligno. All he has to do is score a goal everyone remembers in the playoffs, beat someone up at a critical moment or give a notable mid-game speech ahead of a famous come-from-behind victory.

Then it won’t be Matthews, or Mitch Marner, or Kyle Dubas or any one of a dozen other guys who built this team back up from the studs who get the credit. It’ll be the cool, new guy who changed the temperature in the dressing room. He’s the lucky charm. Give him all the Canadian Tire ads.

They don’t do this sort of thing in, say, Boston or Tampa. They don’t fall in love with a shiny penny every five minutes. Everyone has their role, but their stars are their stars, as opposed to the last guy who scored four games in a row or said something really funny after the morning skate.

Those – and this may be a coincidence – are places where they win at hockey. Could be something to that.

Story continues below advertisement

Expecting much less from any one player, and much more from the entire franchise, might be a better way of going at it.

But it wouldn’t be very Toronto. Nor, historically speaking, is winning.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies