Another early off-season for the Toronto Maple Leafs
March 30, 2012
For the seventh straight season and eighth consecutive year, there will be no NHL post-season for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The team now has the longest playoff drought in the 30-team NHL.
The missed post-season is bad news for bars, restaurants and hotels in Toronto, particularly those located in the vicinity of the Air Canada Centre which will be dark and without either NHL or NBA playoff games for yet another year. It also means that Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment will miss out on playoff revenue for the eighth straight year.
“The Maple Leafs are still the box office champions in the National Hockey League and are the highest-valued franchise at north of $500 million, but leaving playoff revenues on the table is a tough proposition for such an otherwise polished money-maker,” said Tom Mayenknecht, host of The Sport Market on TSN Radio in Toronto and TEAM 1040 in Vancouver. “Everything is intensified come playoff time in terms of television ratings, ticket revenues, merchandise sales and ancillary economic spinoffs. Yet again, the Leafs and their fans are on the outside looking in.”
Maple Leafs fans have not seen their team in the Stanley Cup tournament since 2003-’04, the season before the 2004-’05 lockout that cost the NHL an entire season in the contentious negotiations that led to the current CBA (which expires this September 15th). That year, the Leafs enjoyed a regular season record of 45-24-10 and earned 103 points to finish in fourth-place in the eastern conference. Toronto defeated the Ottawa Senators in a seven-game first round series before being eliminated in the second round by the Philadelphia Flyers, 4-2.
The year before that, Toronto went 44-28-7 and finished in fifth-place in the eastern conference with 98 points. Philadelphia eliminated Toronto in a seven-game first-round series.
The 2003-’04 season was not only the last playoff qualification for the Leafs, it represented the high-water mark of the decade with five of six Canadian teams reaching the post-season and the Calgary Flames making it all the way to game 7 of the Stanley Cup final before bowing out to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
If the Ottawa Senators hang on and qualify, this season will mark the second in a row in which only two Canadian teams make the playoffs.
“The Leafs are not alone among Canadian teams that are not matching their off-ice financial success with on-ice hockey success as measured by playoff berths,” noted Mayenknecht. “For the first time since 2007, both of Canada’s two-largest markets (Toronto and Montreal) will be sidelined and that means reduced economic generation in those two cities and it means less showcase playoff game options for Hockey Night in Canada on CBC and for TSN.”
Although it appears as if only two of Canada’s seven NHL clubs will qualify for the post-season among the top-16 teams in the league, all seven are among the top half in almost every major business indicator off the ice.
“There’s a real disconnect,” said Mayenknecht. “The teams are all having bullish financial results across the board but they have not been able to translate that into on-ice success. Only Vancouver has been a playoff performer for four straight seasons now.”
Toronto’s box office is north of $2.2 million per regular season game. Even a first-round playoff home date would drive a minimum of $2.75 to $3 million in box office receipts for MLSE.
“The key seems to be in the art of spending outside of the salary cap to better the product or make the most of the talent that you have on your payroll by backing it up with comprehensive athlete services and first-class amenities and travel for the team,” said Mayenknecht. “That’s why Detroit has done over 21 straight years of making the playoffs and it’s a model that’s been adopted by the Canucks as well. You can only spend so much on player salaries, but there aren’t the same limits on investing in your product in other ways. If more Canadian teams take that route, I’d expect more of them would translate their financial results into better hockey results.”