Who do the Toronto Maple Leafs think they are? The New York Giants?
When a group of Giants players took a brief New Year’s vacation to Miami less than one week prior to an NFC wild-card game against the Green Bay Packers it led to some questions. When the team proceeded to get blown out 38-13, it led to the team getting lambasted.
Whether or not the boating trip truly affected their performance isn’t quantifiable and ultimately it’s irrelevant because it’s all anyone talked about after the fact.
Several members of the Maple Leafs took a page out of the Giants’ playbook prior to Tuesday’s game against the Florida Panthers, spending a day basking in the sun and doing some fishing, and the initial response from fans and pundits has been negative.
There’s nothing wrong with camaraderie and relaxation—it’s essential to keep one's sanity during an arduous season—except a couple players posted photos on Instagram and then the team ended up playing one of its worst games of the season.
The optics are bad.
When you’re battling tooth and nail to squeak into the playoffs, there’s no time for shenanigans or distractions. No one is saying a few Leafs fishing qualifies as shenanigans but when you lose like the Leafs did to the Panthers it's going to be a talking point.
“We’re in a world where on every phone there’s a camera, as everybody knows. It’s all about perception all the time,” TVA Sports NHL insider Renaud Lavoie told Jeff Blair on Sportsnet 590 The Fan Wednesday. “Even if you want to fight it and say, ‘It’s not about perception and [players] did that 30 years ago and blah, blah, blah’…When I watched [game highlights] this morning the first thing I saw was those pictures of those guys fishing.”
Among those on the trip were Morgan Rielly, Tyler Bozak, Mitchell Marner, Josh Leivo and Leo Komarov. It was a terrible outing from the Maple Leafs collectively but those five players in particular combined for one point, nine shots and a minus-13 rating. Did it have anything to do with their boating excursion? It's silly to think so, but regardless it's not a good look.
“We were in a game that you think you should be good, you think you should be rested, you think you should be jumping and skate good,” head coach Mike Babcock told reporters after the game. "We didn't do anything right. When you're not prepared and you don't compete at a high enough level, you get fed your lunch."
The Maple Leafs now sit one point out of the final Eastern Conference wild-card spot but hold a game in hand on the New York Islanders with 14 games remaining.
“It’s a little sad because I’m pretty sure the guys deserve a day off,” Lavoie said. “They’re working hard to be on top game after game but like I said, sadly for them, it’s all about perception. They didn’t lose last night 3-2. They didn’t lose in overtime. They got beaten [7-2] by one of the worst teams in the league.
“Nothing against those guys that they went fishing but it’s all about perception. Why do you have to show the world that you went fishing? That’s my question.”
Giants receiver Victor Cruz admitted regret over the photo of his team’s boating adventure during an appearance on SNY’s Timeout podcast.
"Looking back on it, it definitely wasn't worth it," Cruz said in late January. “At the end of the day, you want to put your mind in a place where you want to succeed…granted it's New Year's Day and you're an adult and you pay your own bills and it's an off-day, so you want to just go out and enjoy yourself. I think the photo is what made it because a picture is worth a thousand words.”
The Maple Leafs are still in Florida as they look to collect themselves ahead of a pivotal Thursday matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team with a dearth of healthy centres at the moment and a one-point lead on Toronto in the standings.
“Disappointing’s the word obviously,” Babcock added. “We’ve got to get out of here and get regrouped. We’ve got a huge game again here [against Tampa]. So we’ve got to get ourselves back on track because this was no good.”