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The ESPN poll that labels the Toronto Maple Leafs the “worst franchise”

Guest Irishjim

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I know I’m not supposed to do this. I’m not supposed to let some arbitrary list created by random fan opinions bug me enough to write about it, therefore getting said list more pageviews, and more credibility.

But this list is terrible, and according to ESPN, represents the views of hockey fans. Why it’s terrible, specifically, is that it doesn’t. At all.

The poll results show the Toronto Maple Leafs as the current worst franchise in sports. As in, fans of the Leafs are having the worst experience of any team in any major sport. Get lost with that. (We’re in the clear, Isles fans!)

The main problem from where I’m sitting is in defining the metrics of “what do fans want in return for their time, money, and emotional investment?” (Fans were asked to choose from 25 options – I blame ESPN for not creating the right ones if these are what they were left with). Here’s what they went with as the most important issues:


First problem: having both a “bang for buck,” category, and an “affordability” category puts an awful lot of weight on money, which allows the Phoenix Coyotes – still a cheap ticket on the most expensive of nights – to end up being the highest rated NHL team, and be labelled the 6th best franchise in sports.

How do you create an “Ultimate Franchise List,” see that result, and not go “okay, crap, we really need to redefine our parameters here?”

Next problem: Ownership. Yes, it matters, so cool, have that be a category. But who in god’s name was voting on what’s “good ownership?” The Phoenix Coyotes are ranked 100th out of 122 major sports teams, and the League is running their team while they flounder after yet another owner who’s emptying old change jars to get the sale done. They’re ahead of 22 teams. As in, 12 spots ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs. What?

What’s with the definition of what qualifies as good ownership? “Honesty and loyalty to the players and the core community?” The Leafs could have Voldemort as a team owner (they essentially do). Bell/Rogers shareholders could come down to the dressing room and beat the players after every practice, then cut a few players to the AHL. They could set fire to local small businesses, and they’d still deserve a higher grade than the Coyotes because they have owners. They have stability. They’re willing to spend to the salary cap. And that situation is somehow worse than bankruptcy and a three-years-in-the-works purchase process?

Hell, as an Islanders fan I consider my situation better than the Coyotes, and our owner is generally loathed by the fanbase (Isles were ranked 119 out of 122). I get that “the League owns the Coyotes” thing right now (and that’s stable!), but good lord – calling that a better situation than what the Leafs have is just nonsense.

Excuse me for picking on the Coyotes a bit here (I’m a bit baffled by it all), but even their fans know their not a “better” franchise than the Leafs. The Leafs have on-ice issues and do great off the ice; the Coyotes are hoping to stay in town. The Ultimate Franchise!

And speaking of Coyotes fans, most people are aware there aren’t a lot of them. That isn’t to say they don’t exist, but they’ve finished last in attendance repeatedly over the past decade, and their stadium experience is ranked 37th out of 122. Yet the Leafs, who sell out every game and could fill two buildings, are 104th out of 122…because the hot dogs are more expensive (that’s it isn’t it – this is a third category that focuses on price)?

Say what you want about the lower bowl at a Leafs game – it’s obviously not a raucous environment or anything, but the building is full. I didn’t think the crowd was bad at all during my couple visits this past season. If you go to a packed Coyotes game, it’s a 50/50 split between who the crowd is rooting for.

And while Jobing.com Arena is great (holy hell is it great, by the way), the ACC is freaking pristine too. People love the Real Sports bar just out the front door. Anything you want to get is offered at that game.

And while I’m railing on missed rankings, The Centre Bell is the 74th best stadium experience out of 122? There are 16 better NHL stadium experiences than being at a game in Montreal? Zero hockey fans were polled for this. That has to be it. I mean, they’re wedged on the list between Dallas and Buffalo – that’s not even trying.

What might be even more confusing is the “Players” ranking, not because there is one, but because of how they define it – “effort on the field and likability off it.” Really, so “talent” doesn’t factor into this? People would rather watch David Moss than Phil Kessel because the latter is shy? I’m getting mad now, ESPN. The Coyotes were ranked 11th in this category, ahead of teams with total loser players like the Rangers, Penguins and Red Wings.

I’m not saying the Leafs have alikeable team – for the most part, they do not – I’m saying I can’t believe “nice guy” is worth more than “exciting,” or even “good.”

Here’s another big reason that poll is worthless:

I’m a fan of the New York Islanders and I root for the Phoenix Coyotes. I like the Toronto Blue Jays, New York Mets and the Phoenix Suns. (I have terrible taste in teams.)

But it’s more fun being a fan of the New York Jets than any of those teams, because they’re trying to win. They’ll pull the trigger on big free agents (leave your Tebow jokes at home, thanks). They’ll spend money, they want to compete, they try to win.

It is no fun rooting for a team that’s not trying their hardest (from an ownership standpoint), and just trying to stay afloat (though Coyotes fans have been treated to some pretty special runs lately, it still sucks being that close and knowing “If they’d just pay for a couple other guys they could put this group over the top“). Why I have to deal with multiple disastrous ownerships (Wang, Wilpons and…Bettman?), I don’t know, but it doesn’t allow me to have one thing Leafs’ fans get: hope.

They know that if they can get a big player, they’ll do it. They know that if it ain’t working, they’ll change it. I think there’s great value in that, and that’s why calling the Coyotes ownership situation better than the Leafs is garbage. Fans in Toronto never know when things could suddenly turn around.

The most incredible thing about that list isn’t necessarily even the rankings, it’s what ESPN (or ESPN’s fans, apparently) think matters.

Below is the chart of how they weighted the fan experience. The players, coaching and “title track” your team is on is worth 24.2%. The affordability, bang for your buck, and fan relations is worth 59.2%. Somehow.


I realize this isn’t some in-depth doctoral thesis or anything, but if this is remotely close to what fans what, methinks some people need to attend more AHL games.

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This is laughable. The scores generated for so many categories are so subjective... I started laughing half way down the list. Looking at some of the scores given to franchises I have first hand knowledge of I can only assume the scores were tallied based upon internet blogs and random facebook postings. They're more mythical than Toronto's player development program.

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That is rediculoius of ESPN. I cant believe they voted for Toronto as the worst team in the league. Toronto is alot like Anaheim in my opinion, You dont look at them as a bad team no matter what the standings say. And thats because both Anaheim and Toronto have alot of talent on the team. Now IMO, I'd say for Toronto that they need a good goalie and help on defense but Anaheim, I just cant figure it out. They have so much talent on that team, so whats wrong?

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@Podein25 Leafs tv actually had a 2 hour segment last week where they were putting the new ice and Leaf logo in the ACC...it was titled "watch the ice dry"....and yes, people were actually watching it...loyal (and stupid) those mofo's....LOL! I actually called a buddy up, and he was watching it!! said it was kinda cool....wow....WOW!!!

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