Big Smoked: Unsettled and disappointing time across Toronto's pro sports scene
TORONTO — Hey Toronto sports fans: don't let the disappointment, underperformance and unsettling times with your city's professional teams get you down.
At least the Grey Cup champion Argonauts will soon be back in action. The CFL club appears to be the only bright light on the Toronto sporting landscape at the moment.
Dissatisfaction has extended across most franchises in the Ontario capital throughout the spring.
The Maple Leafs? Big expectations for the NHL team weren't met and now there's front-office drama.
The Raptors? Mediocrity was the norm throughout the NBA season for an organization that's looking for a head coach.
The Blue Jays? Boast one of the best young cores in Major League Baseball, but sit last in their division.
"I guess the most vexing part is no one really seems to have an answer for it," veteran Toronto-area sportswriter Michael Traikos said Tuesday. "The worst part is no one knows exactly which way it's going to go right now."
Toronto teams farther down the sporting pecking order are also dealing with challenges.
Toronto FC? It's a cellar-dwelling shadow of a team that was once a Major League Soccer powerhouse.
The Arrows? The Major League Rugby side is last in its conference with a single victory in 12 games.
The Rock? Made the National Lacrosse League playoffs, but are Toronto in name only as the team was based in Hamilton.
"It's bad timing, it's all happening at once," said longtime Toronto-based CBC broadcaster Scott Russell. "It's like the perfect storm. I think it's coincidence."
Coincidence or not, the heady days of yesteryear seem like a distant memory for many of Toronto's franchises. And things may get worse before they get better.
The Leafs, who last won the Stanley Cup in 1967, are on the clock after the recent departure of GM Kyle Dubas. The NHL draft is around the corner and free agency is just over a month away.
The buzz from a rare first-round series win has given away to existential questions about the team's core.
"I've been covering the Leafs for the better part of two decades," said Traikos, a managing editor at The Hockey News and host of the "HockeyVerse" podcast. "I have covered one playoff round victory.
"To say that I've covered one (series) victory in (almost) 20 years is embarrassing."
The Raptors, meanwhile, were riding high in 2019 when Kawhi Leonard led them to their first NBA title. They've won one playoff series since.
The Blue Jays haven't won a World Series since 1993 and last won a playoff game in 2016. It's early days this season, but the team had lost seven of eight heading into Tuesday night with games against division leaders on tap over the next week.
Toronto FC reached the MLS final in 2016 and won the title the following year. The club has tumbled down the standings this season and players are starting to voice frustration.
"These are the vagaries of professional sport," Russell said. "Does your team come together? Is it a team? Does it have the right chemistry to be a contender at all times?
"Sometimes things don't swing that way."
There are some positives of course.
Tabloid headline writers have had a field day with Toronto's doldrums. There has been no shortage of content for sports radio call-in shows. And non-Toronto fans across the country — the ones who can't stand the so-called "Centre of the Universe" and its teams — are no doubt enjoying every moment.
But for the city's many long-suffering supporters, it's simply more pain, despair and uncertainty.
"This is a sports city that is comparable to what Buffalo has gone through (with the NFL's Bills and NHL's Sabres) where you're just waiting for the next big loss or big catastrophe," Traikos said.
"Until that changes, I don't blame fans for feeling the way they do."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 23, 2023.
Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.
Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press