Toronto fans love affair with their struggling sports teams, the role Winnipeg fans could play in the Jets performance, Brendan Morrison on the status of his injured knee, questions about Sam Gagner, Peter Budaj gets his number with the Canadiens, and an update on speculation Craig MacTavish could join Canucks farm team as head coach.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

TORONTO SUN: Steve Simmons examines the love affair Toronto fans have with their struggling sports franchises, including the Maple Leafs:

“The Leafs haven’t made the playoffs in the salary cap era, which has only made for more riches for MLSE. Before the lockout, when the Leafs could spend whatever they wanted, they actually made the post-season. Now, they spend less and make more and what they are known for is having the highest ticket prices in hockey — third highest in all of North American professional sports behind the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots.

In regular season ticket revenue alone, the Leafs do more than $90 million in sales and play to 102% capacity. In their pricing category they are surrounded by the perennial competitive Cowboys, the near-dynastic Patriots and ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers.”

Simmons also pointed out the Leafs led the NHL in revenue last season despite finishing 22nd overall. He wondered if Toronto fans were the most loyal and financially supportive, or merely the biggest suckers.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The knee jerk reaction would be “suckers!”, but I think it just has to do with the passion Toronto fans feel for their sports teams, especially the Maple Leafs. Toronto is a hockey town, always has been, always will be, and when the Leafs are playing well, there’s few hockey cities which can exceed the excitement of Toronto fans. 

WINNIPEG JETS.

WINNIPEG SUN: Paul Friesen reports an NHL executive believes playing in a passionate hockey market could have a positive impact upon the Jets roster, which spent the past few years playing in an indifferent market in Atlanta.

“Playing in a passionate, fervent hockey market is going to provide them with a level of home-ice advantage they did not possess in Atlanta,” our analyst, requesting anonymity, told the Winnipeg Sun. “I don’t know that you’re going to measure it. I do think you can feel it.”

What they’ll feel is the noise level of a packed house of 15,000-plus, every night, compared to announced crowds of 13,000 and change, which were actually much smaller most nights, in Atlanta last season.

“If the players are going to be honest with you, they’ll at least acknowledge there are some nights when the engine’s not going, and a little bit of external support can only help,” the executive said. “And sometimes a little additional pressure can help. Different people get motivated in different ways. Both those things can help. Because they’re not going to be able to hide, that’s for sure.”

Friesen also points out the downside too, if the team isn’t playing well, but expects the Jets will enjoy a honeymoon period from Winnipeg fans this season, who’ll be happy to have the NHL back in their city.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: No one’s doubting Jets fans will be loud and passionate. They’re also fortunate to be getting a team which could be on the cusp of becoming a playoff contender, which will no doubt make them even louder as the season progresses.

CALGARY FLAMES

CALGARY SUN: Randy Sportak reports newly-signed Flame Brendan Morrison, who suffered a season-ending knee injury, has been given clearance to skate but hasn’t done so yet, though he will be hitting the ice soon, where he’ll be able to fully test it against his other leg. Morrison claims he’s ahead of schedule in his recovery compared to his previous recovery from knee surgery.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Morrison however is also a little older now (36) and it could take longer for him to fully return to top shape. The Flames are gambling he’ll reach that form when the new season opens in October.

EDMONTON OILERS.

EDMONTON JOURNAL: David Staples examines the career thus far of Oilers center Sam Gagner, noting questions about over Gagner’s development and performance.

“Can he become a more competent defensive player?

Can he more consistently move the puck up the ice, by winning his battles in his own zone and in the neutral zone?

Can he muster the fierceness and determination to hold his own behind the Oilers net?”

Staples points out Gagner is only 22, but believes this coming season, which could be Gagner’s fifth, is the time to make the move toward becoming a highly-productive NHL center.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Because Gagner already has four NHL seasons under his belt, we forget how young he is, and that some players take longer than others to reach their full potential. I agree with Staples that this coming season could be a significant one in Gagner’s development, as it could be the indicator over the direction his career takes.

MONTREAL CANADIENS.

HOCKEY INSIDE/OUT (MONTREAL GAZETTE): Mike Boone reports new Canadiens backup goalie Peter Budaj has been given number 30, the same number worn by Habs greats Gump Worsley and Rogie Vachon, along with Tony Esposito (briefly), Phil Myre and Wayne Thomas, as well as non-goalies Turner Stevenson and Keith Acton.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Boone’s mention of Stevenson got me wondering where the former hulking Habs forward is today. He’s currently an assistant coach with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS.

VANCOUVER SUN: reports the Canucks and former NHL head coach Craig MacTavish have not reached an agreement which would see MacTavish become head coach of their AHL affiliate Chicago Wolves, but remains a strong candidate for the position.