Monday, November 8, 2021

All or Nothing Toronto Maple Leafs: An Embarrassment of Riches

When the most intriguing scene of the teaser for All or Nothing: Toronto Maple Leafs doesn't appear in the actual series, you know you're in for a monumental disappointment.

Leafs All or Nothing
At least All or Nothing didn't disappoint in the disappointment category. That scene you might have noticed in the promotional lead-up to the release of the Amazon series? The scene where Kyle Dubas says his patience is wearing thin? Nowhere to be seen in any of the five episodes. 

The makers of All or Nothing were granted behind-the-scenes access to the Toronto Maple Leafs for the entire 2021/21 NHL season and the playoffs. Hundreds of hours of footage, they said. And this is what they came up with?

For the most part, we get maudlin set-pieces featuring a half dozen or so players. And many viewers may go for that kind of thing. Interviews with the families of Auston Matthews and Jason Spezza. Nick Foligno saying goodbye to his family as he departs for Toronto after being traded to the Leafs. Zach Bogosian with a nice story about his grandmother. And a couple other similar bits involving players and coaches.

What about the everyday goings-on at the rink? Some players clearly like the camera more than others. Joe Thornton seems at ease and rather likable though he veers into buffoon territory a few times. Matthews makes numerous bland, post-game comments. Others, including Morgan Rielly, are rarely seen or heard.

Sheldon Keefe, head coach of the Leafs, is probably on camera more than any other single member of the organization. At practice, in meetings, talking with Kyle Dubas, Leafs GM, and behind the bench during games, Keefe is generally heard yelling and cursing. Other interviews with Keefe were obviously spliced in after the season to make him seem more prescient and less of a loud-mouth.

And the oft-criticized Mitch Marner? He seems to shrink in behind-the-scenes footage. He's oddly silent in locker-room intermissions. Or perhaps he and his entourage demanded his utterances be sliced out of the final cut. Judging by his cringe-worthy commercials, it was probably a good idea.

Speaking of endorsements, Marner sure likes wearing hats featuring a sponsor's name and logo. Throughout the series, does he show up outside of the rink more often in Leafs gear or sponsors gear? Not sure. Maybe worth another look.

Marner Height Weight
And here's one for the conspiracy theorists. In a few scenes in Kyle Dubas's office, we see shots of magnets with all players names and info on a whiteboard. But only Marner's magnet is absent height and weight information. Why might that be? Probably nothing more than a simple oversight. Or perhaps his stats changed recently and hadn't been updated (though certainly he's finished growing height-wise).

But that won't stop people from speculating. Marner has developed a reputation as being obsessed with managing his image. And his entourage has a reputation for meddling. So a demand to keep his official height and weight secret wouldn't be surprising.  

The narration is on par with everything else in the series. The narrator, Will Arnett, has a good voice. But the script is lacking. Using 'we' 'our' and 'us' just doesn't work. Sure, plenty of fans have the habit of speaking of their team in that way. But here, it comes off as contrived. Be sympathetic and biased in the team's favour? Sure. But with some separation and a more impersonal tone, the tension could have been increased, the suspense ratcheted up, the official party line challenged to some degree. But here you get a sycophant for a narrator. It's overwrought attempts at inspiration, simplistic observations, an occasional cringe-worthy try at humour and a few instances in which he inserts himself into the narrative with personal anecdotes.

Even game footage in the show disappoints and often fails to capture the essence of what transpired. Remember Game 6 against Montreal? And that disastrous sequence that included William Nylander's goalie interference penalty, Keefe’s ill-advised challenge on the Habs resulting power-play goal and then Marner's puck over glass penalty to put the Leafs down two men? Never appears in the game action. Not even a mention.

To be fair, aside from the games, there is some drama. After a regular season loss, Auston Matthews says in a post-game interview that the Leafs played "too safe." This sparks a discussion between Keefe and Dubas. Later, Keefe addresses the comments in an off-ice meeting with the team. If that off-hand comment resulted in real concern and urgency, then you know the best stuff never made the final cut.

A handful of players—Jimmy Vesey, Frederik Andersen and Ilya Mikheyev—receive some criticism in face-to-face discussions with Keefe and are the subject of some conversations when they're not around. Andersen and Vesey were no longer with the team when the series was released, and Mikheyev is not part of the team's core. That's basically all you need to know about whose egos have to be managed with the greatest care and who can be called out in public.

I can't really blame the players and the team for the content of the series. They want to protect their reputations. So they no doubt demanded the right to have final say on what scenes were left on the cutting-room floor. That’s too bad. Because with a subtle hand, the results could have been iconic and memorable.

People being interviewed tend to respond with clichés. Professional athletes even more so. And so you push back. Ask the same question. Re-phrase it and ask again. Seize on hesitation, doubt, the merest hint of an original thought. Gain the trust of the interviewee and slowly you draw something worthwhile out of him.

Most documentary film-makers will tell you they start out with an idea and begin filming. But reality inevitably takes things in a different direction. And so they go with it. But this documentary has the feel of setting out to, above all, soothe egos and avoid embarrassment. No unscripted insight from the stars of the team. Nothing that might make them seem more human. No indications of fears, worries or doubts. Mostly stock answers given in press conferences after games or carefully worded Hallmark card sentiments in the fluff pieces.

Surely there were some compelling storylines that emerged. Some tensions that came to the surface. Anyone who thinks otherwise is delusional. When rich young athletes get together, one thing is certain. Arrogance, entitlement, jealousy, resentment and self-doubt are in abundance.

Game 7 Loss to Montréal
Ultimately, the mediocre final result falls on the film makers. Sure, they may have been limited by what the organization was willing to share. But they were also too desperate not to offend or sorely lacking in creative instincts, or both. Nothing authentic emerges here. A better title would have been An Embarrassment of Riches, for the overpaid star players who consistently under-perform when it matters the most and the film-makers, who had a glorious opportunity to make something memorable but failed. 

The final clichéd scene shows Matthews and Marner alone in the dressing room after the Game 7 loss to Montréal, towels over heads. They either knew what was expected of them or it was completely staged. Either way, together with the closing voice-over—one last cringey attempt at earnest, moving commentary that falls flat—it perfectly sums up the series. Just not in the way the film-makers hoped it would, 

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Montreal Canadiens: Shameful and Destructive 2021 Draft Pick

The first-round selection of Logan Mailloux by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2021 NHL draft is so shameless, short-sighted and harmful to the organization, that you have to wonder if something is seriously wrong with Canadiens’ general manager Marc Bergevin. 

Is he on the verge of a nervous breakdown? Is he harbouring deep resentments about a real or perceived slight from the NHL, other GMS, or even someone within the Canadiens’ organization? Has he become immersed in a bizarre corner of the online world like so many other people these days? A warped alternate reality of grievances and rage that have roid-charged his world-view and led to an irrational thought process? Is he consciously or otherwise trying to self-destruct?

Whatever the reasons, he has done severe damage to his and the team’s reputation, alienated many fans, and likely increased the suffering of a young woman in Sweden. He will undoubtedly reap real consequences for this ill-advised selection. And scrutiny on his past and future actions will surely increase. 

Why did  Bergevin and the Canadiens slither out from under a rock to make such an unwise choice?


First, some background. On loan to Swedish hockey club SK Lejon last season, Mailloux committed  a sex-related crime. He took a non-consensual photo while engaged in an intimate act with an 18 year-old woman, then distributed the photo online, without her consent, in a group chat with team-mates. He also attached one of her social media profiles to the photo in the chat, revealing her personal details. The woman learned of the incident and contacted the police. Mailloux, seventeen at the time, admitted his crime, was found guilty, received a summary conviction and was fined. The unnamed victim has stated she does not feel Mailloux is remorseful. 

But some of the facts still seem a bit murky. For example, the status of the posted photo is unknown. Any of the individuals in the group chat could have disseminated the photo more widely or saved it to distribute at a later date. Regardless, the psychological effects will be immense and long-lasting for the young female victim. Her reputation has undoubtedly been damaged. 

The news was known by many, or perhaps all, thirty-two NHL teams shortly thereafter. He was interviewed by some of those teams, ignored by others and put on no-draft lists by at least eleven teams. The news didn’t break publicly until a few weeks ago. Mailloux made a public announcement only days before the 2021 NHL draft claiming that he didn’t want to be selected. It was all scripted PR boilerplate, of course. An expedient, self-serving decision no doubt, but the effect of losing a year would have at least been something. Especially considering the long-term effects the crime will have on his victim. 

And then, inexplicably, Marc Bergevin selected Mailloux in the first round, thirty-first overall. Since that moment, it has been a surreal psychodrama starring the po-faced Mailloux and the shameless Bergevin. 

This pick was wrong on so many levels.

The biggest problem is the crime was committed less than a year ago. If you commit a crime like this and suffer no consequences aside from the fine and negative publicity, it sends a very bad message. If you are rewarded so soon after the crime, it sends an even worse message to fans, other young hockey players and anyone who has been victimized in a similar way. But the complete lack of sound judgement didn't end after the selection.  

The actions of the Montreal Canadiens since the controversial pick have been cringe-worthy at best. Shortly after Bergevin announced the pick, an emotionless Mailloux starred in a freakish press conference, during which he read from a head-up-the-ass, cack-handed script, surely prepared by one of the most incompetent PR hacks in history. An intoxicated ape with a Ouija board could have produced something with more empathy. Instead, the focus was on Mailloux and his 'journey.' He didn’t utter the word ‘crime’ once, and repeatedly referred only to a ‘mistake.’ I imagine those close to the victim, and perhaps the woman herself, would like to perform some ‘mistakes’ on a few people’s skulls with blunt objects. 

Mailloux has not faced any real consequences for his crime. And the Montreal Canadiens endorsed that reality when they went against his published wishes not to be selected. When the doppelganger for a young Frankenstein’s monster (but lacking a similar level of emotional development) deflected questions about the Canadiens ignoring his request not to be drafted this year, he removed any doubts about the sincerity of that initial request. Then he was asked if he knew the pick was coming and dodged that question, too, instead offering a weasel-word response. 

The fallout from this decision will be greater than having been pressured to wait a year to be drafted. All it would have taken for that minor inconvenience to become a reality was for all thirty-two teams to honour that request. Now the rightful criticism will ramp up a thousand fold and the scrutiny on the person who did the crime and the people involved in the draft selection will increase. 

Just as important, the Canadiens and specifically Marc Bergevin, have aligned themselves with some invincibly ignorant people. The people supporting the first-round selection don’t have much to say aside from empty clichés. They don’t provide a shred of nuance or even reference the specific details of the crime. The irony is that the loudest, most shamelessly dismissive will do more harm  than good to their young hero. And yet Bergevin and the Canadiens have seemingly embraced this kind of idiocy. They spoke of a ‘plan’ for Mailloux, but when pressed they gave no details. They referred to ‘his journey’ as if all that matters is how Mailloux can turn this into a positive experience for himself. In choosing equivocating, dismissive words, they have elevated this colossal blunder to a whole other level. 

Let’s do away with all this nonsense about character, shall we? All sports teams pay tribute to past victories and legendary players. But everything is about degrees. The Canadiens really play up that angle. As the oldest NHL franchise, they do have a lot to be rightfully proud of. And they are very quick to reference their standards of character and conduct. But for the current iteration of this team, it’s no longer going to mean a whole helluva lot. Stop coasting on the reputation of the past and show that all this self-congratulatory nonsense is more than just words. 

The current owners and management seem to think having legions of loyal Canadiens fans means the team is immune from backlash. But you should never take that kind of loyalty for granted. The pick and accompanying behaviour adds up to a very repellent degree of arrogance. This may have more tangible consequences than Bergevin or any of his flunkies thought possible. And that’s what it’s really all about. When something doesn’t touch you directly, it’s easy to be dismissive. 

If the crime had hit closer to home, the Canadiens would not be so cavalier. A case occurred last year that may serve as a good analogy. A veteran reporter for the New Yorker magazine was caught ‘pleasuring himself’ on a Zoom call with colleagues. Apparently he’d been flashing back and forth to another screen where he was engaged in some kind of seedy interaction with a sex worker. He was promptly fired when the story leaked. His conduct wasn’t even criminal. So why this analogy? After all, he’s over 50 and should know better. Besides, the worlds of sports and journalism are far different.

Here’s the point: if a young NHL prospect did the same thing, he would rightfully be released outright by the team that had drafted him. Why? Because the fallout and shame would be immediate and in close proximity to the team. It’s easy to dismiss the seriousness of the crime committed by Mailloux because it occurred half-way around the world. But most importantly, it didn’t directly affect Bergevin and other Canadiens executives who signed off on the selection. When you don’t have the capacity to feel empathy, you’re a poor choice for GM of such a high profile team.

Look at it from a more self-serving angle: even if you’re a mule unable to empathize and show respect towards the victim and instead announce ‘proudly’ that her victimizer is worthy of joining your team eight months after the crime, how much damage are you going to cause the organization? How about the current roster of the Canadiens? How do players like Carey Price feel? This bizarre move by Bergevin stole the spotlight away from important comments Price made about residential schools just a few days before the draft. 

Everyone now knows about one of the most horrific episodes—which lasted longer than a century—in Canadian history: residential schools. The devastating treatment, including sexual abuse, suffered by generations of Indigenous children in those schools is made far worse by an unpleasant truth: very few, if any, individual people have ever been held to account for those crimes. Obviously more severe and horrible by many degrees of magnitude than what I’m discussing here. But it’s in the same sick wheelhouse of destruction and avoiding consequences.  

It's hard to fathom that the clowns who made this selection can't comprehend what all the fuss is about. Marc Bergevin has been derided for many years as one of the worst GMs in the NHL. That was before the Canadiens' amazing playoff performance that ended a few weeks ago. But the goodwill the team and Bergevin earned during the run to the Cup Final has been wiped out for many fans. 

Simply declaring that something is not a serious matter does not make it so. An interesting thing about pressure is that it can never be fully resisted. The selection of Logan Mailloux is a destructive move that will haunt Marc Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens for many years to come.