It's been a tough run for the Toronto faithful. After a three year playoff drought, fans of the city's three major sports teams, The Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL), Toronto Raptors (NBA), and Toronto Blue Jays (MLB), have to be wondering if their beloved city has been cursed by the sports Gods.
Can you really blame them? Never mind Championships, the last time either of the three franchises had a whiff of the playoffs was back in 2008, when the Toronto Raptors lost 4-1 in a first round series to the Orlando Magic.
Things have been decidedly worse for the Maple Leafs and Blue Jays. After failing to make the playoffs once again this season, the Leafs are now mired in a six year playoff drought. The Blue Jays haven't played in the post season since winning their last World Series, back in 1993.
Needless to say, fans drowning their playoff sorrows, instead of raising their glasses in playoff celebration, has become the norm in "The Big Smoke." So, which of these franchises, in their current states, has the best chance of ending the curse?
The Toronto Maple Leafs:
Last Playoff Appearance: 2003-2004
In the second half of the 2010-2011 season, Brian Burke and the boys offered fans a glimpse of what the future might look like. Since his arrival in 2008, Brian Burke has stated over and over again that he likes to build his team from the net out. With the perennially shaky goaltending situation seemingly solidified with the emergence of James Reimer (20-10, 2.88 GAA), things seem to looking up in "Leafs Land."
Who will be the first to break Toronto's playoff curse?
The Leafs' defense, headlined by budding superstar Luke Schenn, finally seems to be showing signs of becoming the unit everyone expected them to be at the start of last season. Defensively speaking, the Leafs were able to shake off a rough start and played quite well during the second half of the season. The loss of Thomas Kaberle at last years trade deadline doesn't seem to have hurt the team as much as many thought it would.
Although it should be clear by now that team Captain, Dion Phaneuf, isn't going to be the offensive threat on the blue line he once was, he proved after the All Star break that his grit and big shot on the power play are still big assets to the team.
His defensive partner, Keith Aulie, more of a stay at home defenseman, proved this season that he can hang with the big club. His size, grit and growing defensive skills will serve the Leafs well moving forward.
Despite the emergence of Clarke MacArthur (21 goals, 41 assists) and Mikhail Grabovski (29 goals, 29 assists) last year, The Leafs most glaring deficiency remains a lack of top six forwards. Despite his streaky goal production, Phil Kessel is the real deal. As long as Brian Burke can add to the top two lines this offseason, things are looking pretty good for next year.
The Maple Leafs really came on strong in the second half of the 2010-2011 season. If Burke can add one or two more pieces to fill in the gaps, this team should have no problem competing for a playoff spot and ending the Toronto curse next year. The Stanley Cup curse, on the other hand, well that's a different story altogether!
The Toronto Raptors:
Last Playoff Appearance: 2007-2008
Where to begin? Of all the Toronto sports franchises, the Raptors seem to find themselves in the worst position.
They are a team stocked with role players. Especially now, teams without a star player, or "go-to" guy are always going to struggle in this league. The Raptors are no exception. The team struggled horribly in 2010-2011 after the loss of their franchise player, Chris Bosh, to the Miami Heat last offseason.
Andrea Bargnani (21.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.2 APG) had a decent year, but it's hard to argue that he will never be a star player in this league. He wasn't able to lead this team anywhere this year, and after five seasons in the league, there is no reason to believe that he will become anything more than a number two player.
The Raptors are full of unknowns moving forward. From the Ownership situation down to the last guy on the bench, no one knows what's going to happen with this team.
GM Brian Colangelo's contract is up in June, and as yet, the team hasn't offered him an extension. Due to a lack of an obvious replacement, It's likely that Colangelo will be back, but until a contract is signed, anything is possible.
Coach Jay Triano has an option year left on his deal for 2012-2013, but it's anyone's guess whether the club will exercise it before it expires in June.
Until the Colangelo situation is sorted out, Any questions regarding the coach or the roster will remain very much up int he air.
The future isn't entirely bleak though. The Raptors currently sit with the third best odds of winning the draft lottery, which probably means a top three pick. This year, there are some fairly promising players at the top of the draft. Once again though, only time will tell what the Raptors will do with their pick.
The Raptors are a mess at the moment, and with the balance of power shifting to the Eastern Conference, it could be a long time before Toronto has any chance of ending the Toronto curse.
The Toronto Blue Jays:
Last Playoff Appearance: 1993
The Jays are a young team that is full of promise. It has been a longtime since the Jays have had any kind of buzz surrounding them, but with recent moves made by Young GM Alex Anthopoulos, the future looks bright and fans are taking notice.
The emergence of Ricky Romero, and the additions of Kyle Drabek and Brandon Morrow have given the Jays new life in their pitching rotation. After trading Roy Halladay before the start of the 2010 season, no one could have expected that the rotation would find it's feet so quickly.
Anthopoulos has managed to overhaul the roster in his short time as GM, rejuvenating an anemic farm system by adding lots of young, high ceiling talent, while shedding financially crippling contracts. No one in baseball would have predicted that he would have been able to unshackle the franchise of Vernon Wells' bloated contract and actually get something in return.
The Blue Jays aren't expected to compete for a playoff spot this season, but the future is bright, and many observers have them penciled in as serious contenders starting in 2012.
In terms of the Jays' chances of ending the Toronto curse, the odds are stacked against them for the simple reason that so few teams make the playoffs in Major league baseball. This isn't helped by the fact that Blue Jays are forced to compete year in and year out against the big spending juggernaut New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in the A.L. East.
The Blue Jays are a young, developing team in the middle of a long overdue rebuild. The future looks bright, but it could very well be another two or three years before Jays fans have a realistic hope of watching baseball in October.
Had the Jays been playing in a different division over the last eighteen years, with the records they have posted, odds are they would have made the postseason a few times over that stretch.
But, such are the realities of the sports landscape in Canada's largest city. Until either the Maple Leafs, Raptors or Blue Jays, take things to the next level, Toronto sports fans will continue to wonder if their beloved teams are in fact, cursed.