At the end of every year, the Toronto Sun puts out a reader poll with a long list of questions pertaining to the Toronto Maple Leafs. This is a poll that fascinates me, perhaps more than any other local outlet’s equivalent.
After all, the Sun is considered by many to be an encapsulation of the “casual” or “old school” fan in town. I’m not sure that perfectly squares, but as a tabloid-like paper that leans conservative and is catered mostly to the middle-aged male, it’s probably about as close as we’re going to get. What may surprise some is that I myself grew up in a Sun household – my dad in particular was a loyal reader, though he mostly stayed away from the political columns and just liked the format.
What I’m getting at here is that the results of a poll like this are to be expected to be significantly different to the results you would get in a younger, more data-heavy contingent that might spend their time on “Leafs Twitter”, or even the group that would read this very website. At the same time, I wonder how many in those communities could correctly guess the pulse of this demographic – the echo chamber effect means that many who haven’t been exposed to the other side believe that all fans think like them, and that a similar share believe that those who don’t think like them must feel the opposite on every topic. That there can be no mutual ground, just one smart person (always you) and one dumb person (always the opponent).
Like with most subjects, I don’t believe that “all opinions are equal”, but I also think it’s important to actually check in on what the “other” opinion is before filling in the blank. After all, you just might be surprised at where you have common ground – particularly when it comes to a low-stakes topic like the sports team that both of you like. So, let’s dive into the most interesting parts of this poll.
- There seems to be some degree of confidence in Kyle Dubas’ work, more so than most assume based off of the old-school contingent of social media; who, like us on the data side, are the most worked up and invested people within their view point, something we should probably be cognizant of. “Love it” was the most popular rating of the offseason he had at 37% of the vote, 70% of voters acknowledged an improvement, and only 6% felt the Leafs got worse. More people have high confidence in his efforts to make the team tougher than they do low confidence (just 20%), and 59% of people believe that he improved the team defensively (just 24% believe the corps are still bad). Even the question about whether he should be fired if the Leafs don’t win a playoff round this year sits at 50/50, which is much more than some would lead you to think this crowd would go for.
- Confidence in Sheldon Keefe is a little more tempered, interestingly. More people are in the “fire him if the team doesn’t succeed” bucket than in the high confidence bucket, though the vast majority still believe it’s too early to say one way or another. Most do seem to believe the assistant coach moves (Manny Malholtra and Paul MacLean in for Paul McFarland and Andrew Brewer) are an improvement, with only 1% believing it to be a downgrade – which makes sense, because almost no one actually cares about assistant coaches and will shrug on questions like this.
- The evaluations on the defensive corps are pretty interesting. 17% of people believe that Zach Bogosian was the biggest add for the team outside of TJ Brodie, which is a good chunk given that Joe Thornton (29%) and Wayne Simmonds (39%) exist. Over half of the voters have him in their preferred top six. It’s easy to chalk that up to “dur-hur, grit”, but Justin Holl is in over 90% of people’s top-sixes, which is a much higher number than you would’ve assumed from the same crowd, which might be a sign that this is about trust and pedigree.
- William Nylander remains the most needlessly polarizing Leafs player since.. okay, not too long ago, Phil Kessel has only been gone for five years. But he’s up there, and this poll accomplishes two separate, almost opposite points. It confirms to the “no one actually wants to get rid of him except a few media people” crowd that there are plenty of fans like this, but it also shows that not everyone outside of the echo chamber hates him. A question about whether the Leafs should’ve moved him to make space to sign Alex Pietrangelo has a “yes” result of 45%, a number that’s too high but still isn’t a majority. Most also believe that Mitch Marner is a better fit on Auston Matthews’ wing than Nylander is, despite the results over the years never matching the intuition save for a few short spurts. The funniest result involving Nylander, by far, is that three people believe that he will be the player that the Leafs lose to Seattle in the 2021/22 Expansion Draft. Needless to say, I wouldn’t bet on that.
- Most do not see the Leafs winning the Canadian division, though first place is the most popular individual answer. 40% of voters believe they will take the crown and 10% even believe that they’ll be fourth or lower! This one is a tough one to gauge as far as whether it’s too pessimistic – I believe that they are the clear front-runners in the division, but in a league of chaos and randomness, the field remains tempting.
- A nice share of readers (69%) believe in giving Frederik Andersen another chance this year, and are happy that the team didn’t move him. That’s probably the right call given his history and the insecurity of acquiring goaltending talent. When asked who the team should try to sign in free agency next year should Andersen depart, the majority voted for Jordan Binnington (53%), which says to me that most in Toronto have not watched the Blues since Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.
- The last point I’ll touch on, because I don’t want to spoil their entire poll, is the overall confidence people have in the plan and the team’s window. Just 12% of people believe that a Stanley Cup is going to happen in the “Big Four” window, expected to be 4-5 more years based on everyone’s contract status. This sounds like pessimism, but I’m actually really thrilled with these results, because the far and away top answer is “It’s possible, but so much has to go right in the playoffs”. I would love to think this is a sign that even the more traditional fans are realizing that the playoffs are often not in the team’s control.
Once again, you can check out the responses to all 24 questions by clicking here. Overall, I rather enjoyed the results of this survey – I think they’re a pretty good reflection of the pulse of the invested, but not extremely online fan, with some weird biases but a lot of well-rounded results as well. It’s a good thing to know that while we’re not all on the same page while evaluating this team, even the people who are looking at them from a different perspective are at least on the same chapter, give or take. One can argue that this reflects the writers of their sports column themselves. Yes, the flagship guy who won’t be named remains way out of touch, but their full-time Leafs columnists (Lance Hornby and Terry Koshan, the latter being the publisher of this poll) are by the book and reasonable; so maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that their readers align with them more than we give them credit for.