Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Auston Matthew, seen here at Scotiabank Arena on Sept. 28, 2019 in Toronto, felt as though preseason lasted longer than summer.

Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

One day ahead of the biggest campaign in their recent history, a few of the key Toronto Maple Leafs couldn’t help but sound a little bored.

“Preseason feels like it was longer than summer,” Auston Matthews said.

I’ll bet it did. For you.

Story continues below advertisement

Is this the best Toronto team you’ve been on?

“Probably,” Mitch Marner said, shrugging.

What are you hoping to achieve?

“Same as last season – high expectations.”

I’m not sure those two ideas belong in the same sentence.

It’s almost as if having a dozen cameras stuck in your face is not conducive to forming coherent thoughts.

Or maybe it’s the idea of playing the Ottawa Senators in Wednesday’s season opener. Maybe that drains you of your wit.

Story continues below advertisement

They’re still advertising Toronto-Ottawa as the Battle of Ontario. For a long time now, it’s been more of a skirmish. These two teams now represent the polarities of the National Hockey League.

One is fancy in a gaudy and overpriced way, its reputation based more on heat than results. The other is hopeless and, if the NHL did such things, would fail a hockey inspection.

Something this lopsided isn’t a battle of anything anymore. Calling it one is an insult to actual battles – the Battle of Alberta; the Battle of Hastings; the Battle of Every Costco Parking Lot Everywhere on a Saturday morning.

Even at its hottest, the Leafs-Senators rivalry felt contrived. When it started off, Toronto was a bit of basket case, which meant the team couldn’t be choosy about its enemies. The Leafs wanted a fun, old-timey team, such as the Montreal Canadiens, but it had to take Ottawa instead.

At the height of strong feeling in the early 2000s, Leafs fans rallied around their hatred of Daniel Alfredsson. That was silly. You can’t hate a Swede. They’re too agreeable.

Sens fans agreed to channel all their animus at Darcy Tucker, which made a lot more sense.

Story continues below advertisement

But once the two teams stopped meeting in the postseason, everyone stopped caring.

For the past decade and a half, this strictly regular-season affair has become a dysfunctional Canadian Christmas. Everybody dislikes one another, but they still show up for dinner and try to be polite. No one enjoys themselves, but they do it again anyway. For the sake of nostalgia, if nothing else.

The illusion of hostility collapsed entirely over the summer. The two teams traded a half-dozen players in what was more of an art film than a blockbuster.

The Yankees don’t do trades with the Red Sox. Because that’s an honest-to-God rivalry that carries on regardless of how good either team is at a given moment.

When you do trades with someone, that means they are an opponent rather than a rival. These are now just two teams headed in opposite directions who happen to be within driving distance of each other.

If that’s what a rivalry looks like, the Panthers are rivals with the Lightning. And that is not the case. Even Floridians would give you that, right after you explained to them that you were talking about hockey. The thing with the puck. You’ve seen Slapshot, haven’t you? Oh, forget it.

Story continues below advertisement

Canadians cling to a Battle of Ontario out of parochialism. We want to believe our hockey matters more than American hockey (as if their hockey was any different).

There is a strong urge to fence the game and protect it from foreign elements. As Canadian franchises declined from the top of the food chain, that urge intensified. When the north-of-49 Stanley Cup drought became a measurable phenomenon, people began losing their minds.

That’s how an original-six franchise gets fooled into thinking it has proven something when it beats the newbies from up the highway in the first round of the playoffs (and then loses in the next round). It was a mark of Toronto’s limited aspiration that it thought that counted as an achievement.

Nobody talks much about the fact that Ottawa, for all its current failures, is having a much better century than Toronto. Given the way the club carries itself, it seems to have forgotten it, too.

In the end, this low-grade, no-stakes antagonism probably wasn’t good for Ottawa. It led it to believe that being better than Toronto – not exactly a high bar – amounted to something.

That is the rot at the heart of all Canadian teams in the modern era. An American team is judged by championships. A Canadian team is judged by the Canadian hockey championship, which is not a real thing.

Story continues below advertisement

The people who run the Rangers can’t storm into their season-ending presser and start shouting, “We beat the Islanders! We’re No. 1 (in local, geographic terms)!”

In Canada, you can do that. Your team is awful? Sure, but I’ll bet it’s better than the Edmonton Oilers. And they were once really good. So that means your awful team is punching above its weight, Canada-wise.

For both their sakes, the Leafs and Senators need to let go of the Battle of Ontario. It was fun (not really, but let’s pretend). Now it’s in the way.

The Leafs need to begin thinking of the Stanley Cup curse as their only rival. That’s what they need to beat. We’re a long way past “high expectations.” There’s only one expectation.

The Senators need to figure out a way to be worth watching, while also being pretty terrible. That may be the hardest thing in sports to do. But that’s their only option for a little while.

Aside from the times they play, neither should be concerned in the least about what the other is doing. Every Canadian team should start thinking this way. The question isn’t ‘Can I beat Team X?’ It’s ‘How do I become the St. Louis Blues of this season?’

Story continues below advertisement

In fact, let’s forget about the battles of this or that for a while. Maybe they can pick it up again once somebody’s won something that includes a trophy.

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 If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

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 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 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