Toronto Maple Leafs are a professional ice hockey team based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. They are members of the Northeast Division of the Eastern Conference of the National Hockey League (NHL). The organization, one of the "Original Six" members of the NHL, is officially known as the Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club and is the leading subsidiary of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd. (MLSE). They have played at the Air Canada Centre (ACC) since 1999, after 68 years at Maple Leaf Gardens. At $470 million (2009), the Leafs are the most valuable team in the NHL, followed by the New York Rangers and the Montreal Canadiens.
About Toronto Maple Leafs fans
Maple Leafs fans are known by the collective nickname “Leafs Nation,” which the club uses on its website. Maple Leafs home games have long been one of the toughest tickets to acquire in Canada, even during lean periods. The Leafs, along with the Minnesota Wild, currently have the longest sellout streaks in the NHL. As of 2008, there is a waiting list of about 2,500 names for season tickets. Earlier, they sold out every game at Maple Leaf Gardens from 1946 until the building closed in 1999. The Leafs have also sold out every game at the Air Canada Centre since October 2002. With an average of US$1.9 million per game, the Leafs had the highest average ticket revenue per game in the 2007–08 season; the previous season they earned about $1.5 million per game.
Conversely, there is an equally passionate dislike of the team by fans of several other NHL teams. In November 2002, the Leafs were named by Sports Illustrated hockey writer Michael Farber as the “Most Hated Team in Hockey.” Leafs fans are also known for being loyal despite being treated poorly — in a 2008 survey by ESPN The Magazine on rewarding fans, the Leafs were ranked 121st out of the 122 professional teams in the Big Four leagues. Teams were graded by stadium experience, ownership, player quality, ticket affordability, championships won and “bang for the buck”; in particular, the Leafs came last in ticket affordability.
In the United States, several cities in the Sun Belt have sizable numbers of Leaf fans, since many Snowbirds tend to flock to locales such as Atlanta, Phoenix, Tampa Bay, and Miami during the winter, resulting in a boost in turnout and ticket sales when these franchises play the Maple Leafs.
As one of the oldest teams in the league, the Leafs have developed numerous rivalries. The deepest of these is with the Montreal Canadiens, which is acknowledged as one of the richest rivalries in ice hockey. The Canadiens have won 24 Stanley Cups, while the Leafs have won 13, putting them at first and second place in NHL history, respectively. The Canadiens’ fan point of view is perhaps most famously captured in the popular Canadian short story “The Hockey Sweater”, by Roch Carrier, originally published in French as “Une abominable feuille d’érable sur la glace” (“An abominable maple leaf on the ice”) referring to the Maple Leafs sweater his mother forces him to wear. This rivalry is also evident in College subway station.
The rivalry between the Leafs and the Ottawa Senators, known as the Battle of Ontario, has heated up since the late 1990s, owing in no small part to the Canadiens’ struggles during that period. While Ottawa has dominated during most of the teams’ regular season matchups in recent years, the Leafs have won all four postseason series between the two teams, including a four-game sweep. However, the rivalry has somewhat diminished since the lockout, owing largely to the Leafs’ failure to make the postseason since that time.
The Leafs’ biggest U.S.-based rivals of late have been the Philadelphia Flyers, who defeated the Leafs in the 2003 and 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The rivalry goes back to the 1970s when the Flyers and Leafs had the reputation as being two of the toughest (and often most penalized) teams in the league. Games between the two teams are still often very physical.
The Buffalo Sabres have also been cited as notable American rivals of the Leafs. Buffalo is the NHL team which is closest to Toronto, only a short drive along the Queen Elizabeth Way highway. A large number of Leaf fans typically travel to Buffalo for games there, creating a somewhat more neutral environment.
The Leafs also maintain a traditional Original Six rivalry with the Detroit Red Wings. The teams’ close proximity to each other – the two cities are just 380 kilometres (240 mi) apart – and a number of shared fans (particularly in markets such as Windsor, Ontario) means the rivalry is found more in the crowd than on the ice. However, since the Maple Leafs moved to the Eastern Conference in 1998, the two teams have faced each other less often each season.