Backlash over Maple Leafs’ off-day fishing trip simply ridiculous


TAMPA — The last time we checked, the charter boat that a handful of Maple Leafs players took out for a fun-filled afternoon of team bonding the other day was not named the Titanic.

Of course, given the silly backlash that the trip is receiving by critics right now, you would think that this was a heinous irresponsible act that will subsequently sink the Maple Leafs playoff hopes with the cruel efficiency of ship crunching into an iceberg.

Enough already.

Yes, the team stunk out the BB&T Center Tuesday night in a 7-2 drubbing at the hands of the Florida Panthers, a crushing defeat that dropped the Leafs out of a playoff spot and into 10th in the Eastern Conference standings.

And yes, there is no denying the fact that the five players who went on the angling expedition — Morgan Rielly, Tyler Bozak, Mitch Marner, Josh Leivo and Leo Komarov — collectively had their issues against the Panthers, combining to go minus-13 while collecting just one point.

But here’s a revelation for those wagging an accusing finger at The Fishing Five for allegedly being irresponsible: They weren’t the only ones wearing Leafs white who left a foul odour inside the arena.

In arguably his worst game as a Leaf, rookie defenceman Nikita Zaitsev finished minus-3 and was featured in blooper clips stumbling over his own feet as he plopped onto the ice in the first period, allowing Panthers forward Colton Sceviour to blow past him en route to a shorthanded goal.

Veteran Nazem Kadri, who noted after the game that the Nikita Soshnikov-Brian Boyle-Matt Martin trio was the only Leafs line that played welI, ended up a team-worst minus-5.

Neither of these players was on the fishing trip. What’s their excuse?

Prior to the puck being dropped Tuesday, there had been absolutely no media or public outcry concerning the Instagram photos of the excursion out on the sparkling blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean released on the accounts of Komarov (Komarovleo47) and Marner (marner_93).

In fact, the aspect of these pics that jumps out at you is the raw joy and wide grins that each one of these players is sporting, a symbol of team camaraderie if ever there was one.

Whether you believe it or not, Komarov and Bozak are veteran leaders within the dressing room. Many feel Rielly is destined to wear the captain’s “C” one day, a notion yours truly certainly agrees with. And Marner, well, whether he ever reaches his ceiling or not, this kid has the raw talent to be a superstar in this league.

This type of kinsmanship between players of different ages and generations should be commended, not criticized, as the Leafs rebuild moves forward.

Yes, this still is a REBUILD, people. With the Leafs having overachieved to the point where a post-season berth is a realistic goal, did you forget that?

This is a young team that on most nights features six rookies in its lineup. No one expected these guys to be in the midst of a playoff race like they are right now. To see a group of them coming together like this offers encouragement for the future.

Had these players gone golfing like so many do during off days here in the Sunshine State, would they have been blamed for a humiliating loss like this in the same way? If so, such logic would dictate that pretty much every defeat to the Lightning or Panthers could be tracked to a local tee box near you.

And if a fishing trip in Florida is the reason for a team getting drubbed, imagine how the sinful options of Las Vegas will effect visiting squads coming in to play the Golden Knights?

In the end, perhaps the most ridiculous suggestion made by some detractors in this overblown incident were the comparisons being made to the group of New York Giants wide receivers led by Odell Beckham who flew down to Miami to hang out on a boat leading up to their playoff game against the Green Bay Packers in January.

For those who feel that way, here’s a reality check.

Fact: The distance between New York and Miami is 2,055 kilometres. The distance between the Leafs oceanside hotel in Fort Lauderdale and the fishing charter docks is 2 kms.

Fact: The Giants were preparing for a one-and-done playoff contest. The Leafs still have 14 regular-season games left.

Fact: The Giants flew three hours to get to their game in Green Bay, where the temperature was 30 C colder than in Miami. The Leafs took a bus for 45 minutes to Sunrise where the temperature inside the arena was, well, the same as it is in most rinks.

When Beckham and Co. posted their photos, Giants quarterback Eli Manning was mildly irked because he was back in New Jersey studying game film. In the case of the Leafs, they get mandatory days off via the CBA. And if you think that coach Mike Babcock and management didn’t know how the players might spend their free time like this, you’re naive.

As the Leafs practised at the Amalie Arena Wednesday in preparation for the huge showdown with the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday, Babcock showed no signs of being pissed at his players. Had he thought they’d gone overboard in their angling adventure, he would have been.

“Get your joy level up and let’s get ready,” an upbeat Babcock said after the mid-day workout.

Dating back to the Pat Quinn era, fishing trips for players during off days in Florida were commonplace. Didn’t hear anyone whining when those teams reached the playoffs in six of the seven seasons he was running the Leafs.

Nor should anyone be doing it now.

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What a day #?

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