There are a lot of weak, weak writers out there. You expect that in the age of the interwebs because now any twit with a modem and a working knowledge of a language (like the average Bruins fan) can set himself up with a blog and write nonsense. The problem is compounded when the "mainstream media" features its own cabal of weak writers; put all the not-very goods in too close a proximity and you get all sorts of stupidity, made-up arguments, convenient twisting of facts, and (usually from us) some childish name-calling that leads to a very uncomfortable awkwardness at the Blueshirt Bulletin summer cotillion.
Wait, it gets longer.
Last year, one of the weakest of the weak mainstream media, (Howard Berger - no links because he don't deserve it) wrote an item about a (probably mythical) conversation he had with a Montreal cabbie. Said cabbie claimed Torontonians were stupid for supporting the Leafs through thick and thin, and that if they all started to stay away from games like they did in Montreal when the team was struggling, Leafs management would be forced to improve the team. Leafs nation went batshit. Over at the CoxBloc (an excellent site that keeps a very critical eye on the weaker links of the mainstream, with a special emphasis on the above mentioned Berger, as well as the Star's Damien Cox and the Sun's Steve Simmons, among others) they wrote a reply. The reply is well thought out. The comments section is where things get a little iffy, as Toronto fans bend over backwards trying to prove a) that Montrealers didn't voice their opinion on the state of the Habs by staying away from games and b) the same strategy would never, ever work in Toronto. Why is this an issue? Because, based on absolutely nothing, Pension Plan Puppets has dragged this argument back into the light, and the same stupid, misinformed, mind-numbingly wrong facts are being thrown out there again.
Damien Cox wrote this piece. Read it. Read it again. Tell me where he even mentions the "stay away until management gets the hint" argument. He doesn't. He does say this:
"5,000 to 6,000 seats were unsold most nights and the team was in the midst of missing the playoffs four times in five years."
Now, from that line, PPP seems to glean that Cox is advocating staying away until Leafs management gets the message and builds a winner. Wait, what? Let's see ... nope, just read the Cox article again. Doesn't seem to be the gist of the piece at all. Nevertheless, PPP uses that as the jumping off point for a rehashing of the misguided arguments and misconstrued facts he and other Leaf bloggers have to prove that a) no fan revolt ever happened, and b) if there was any fan revolt, it certainly wasn't noticed by Montreal management and had no bearing on management's willingness to change things to get better.
Now, the house of cards basis of proof PPP and the rest of the Barilkosphere (their awesome word, not mine) use to prove that Habs fans didn't vote with their wallets is based on a comparison of average attendance figures and percentage of capacity totals from 1993 to 2007. On first glance, these totals might seem to support the theory, as the Habs average attendance figures are higher than those of the Leafs each year. Now, this conveniently neglects one very important fact. As I wrote in the comments section of the CoxBloc article:
"citing "average attendance" figures to show more Montrealers were showing up versus Torontonians is a little misleading since the Forum had 17,959 seats to MLG's 16,307 and the Bell Centre fits 21,273 to the ACC's 18,819. Going back to 1993-94 on PPP's chart, Toronto's percentage of capacity is higher almost every year, even factoring in the curiosity factor a new building would bring to Montreal's totals."
(Kind of a convenient piece of info to ignore, since it pretty well ruins your argument. Lawyers do that and get disbarred. Bloggers do it and get lauded by anyone who doesn't actually pay attention.)
While PPP and his brethren might claim that 97.5 or 94% capacity doesn't sound like Montreal turned its back on the Habs, but that still translates into over a thousand empty seats each night in a hockey-mad city. It also doesn't tell the story on the streets of Montreal: I lived there from 1997 to 2001, and I remember the Habs being raked over the coals every day. I remember a brand-new arena with hundreds of seats for $15.00 that wasn't selling out. I remember fans booing the Habs off the ice on a regular basis. Maybe to PPP, 1000 empty seats a night doesn't sound like much, but in hockey-crazed places it should never happen. You can bet George Gillett and Pierre Boivin noticed. Was it a full-scale revolt? Were the Habs playing to Atlanta sized crowds? No, but in 2000 I was able to walk to the box office and purchase 4 tickets for Mario Lemieux's first game back in Montreal in almost 4 years a week before it happened. That wouldn't happen now. (Before PPP points out that the Habs were still in the top two for average attendance most of those years, I'll repeat: 21,273 seats. Bigger than any other rink in the league. Almost 1000 seats bigger than the next biggest, in fact. Oh, hey, that's the same amount of seats that were going empty every night!)
Now, PPP makes the point that the real turnaround for the Habs happened when Boivin and Gillett went and hired Bob Gainey, and he gets no argument here on that point. But one wonders, if the rink was packed to capacity every night despite the ineptitude of the front office, despite the putrid performance of team trotting out the Trent McCleary's and Karl Dykhuis' of the world, despite the lack of playoff births, let alone playoff successes, would the impetus to go out and get one of the best in the game have existed? It sure didn't when the Molson's had essentially given up and left Ronald Corey to his devices. It sure wasn't an issue for Harold Ballard to hold onto Floyd Smith or Gerry McNamara. It never seems to bother the owners of the Cubs in baseball or Detroit Lions in football (up until two weeks ago), but it sure seems to have been at least one catalyst for the change in Montreal. To shrug off the idea that 95% capacity is good enough in any of hockey's leading cities, and that 1000's of empty seats and a backseat to the Alouettes as the city's darlings was acceptable to George Gillett is disingenuous, naive, or just being blind to the fact that fans can sway opinion through their actions.
Would it work in Toronto? As PPP points out, the sheer amount of corporate dollars in Toronto and truly massive fanbase (yes, I can admit it ... the Leaf fanbase dwarfs EVERYONE else, and there is no sense denying it) suggests that it won't. That's not the crux of the issue here. The issue is a misinformed pointless retelling of a situation that you weren't in on the ground level for. "The Montreal Myth" isn't the version Pierre Boivin tells you ... it's the one the Leaf Nation tells itself.