USATSI_8472843_154158418_lowresToronto Maple Leafs fans had tried almost everything to send a message to their team. They tried booing. They tried hissing. They tried throwing sweaters on the ice. And on Monday night, they finally found the right way to show displeasure: they didn’t show up.

As the Leafs took to the ice and eventually lost to the Minnesota Wild, something strange happened at the Air Canada Centre. The announced attendance was a “mere” 18,366, not only a season-low but the lowest attendance in the Air Canada Centre’s 16-year history. It was the first non-sellout since October, when 18,754 piled in to watch the Leafs take on the Colorado Avalanche.

Less than an hour before puck drop on Monday, there were hundreds of tickets still for sale on the website. Many were deeply discounted. In the upper reaches of the ACC, there were entire rows available and large chunks of single seats were ready to buy with significant discounts.

Prior to this season, the previous non-sellout for a Maple Leafs game in Toronto came in 2002. That was when the Atlanta Thrashers were in town.

This throwing in of the proverbial towel seems to match the product on the ice, with even Don Cherry suggesting that the team has quit on the year.

“You think they’d go out and bash and smash, or do something,” Cherry told Sportsnet 590 The Fan. “Why not bring up Colton Orr and (Frazer) McLaren? I’ve said this before, on Hockey Night in Canada a long time ago: At least they wouldn’t be laughing at them. They’d be laughing on the other side of their face.”

Add to this the National Post report from an anonymous Leaf that stated, plainly, that “It’s pretty screwed up in here [the locker room].”

And, as if more evidence is required, the Maple Leafs were bumped – bumped – by the CBC on a Saturday night. Their contest against the Ottawa Senators was moved over to Sportsnet, where their eventual loss was seen by fewer people. Thank heavens for small mercies.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” Cherry said of the CBC demotion. “And I don’t ever remember that happening before.”

Now one can obviously grouse about how the Leafs shouldn’t always be front and centre on the CBC. One can point out how plenty of other teams haven’t had the luxury of constant sellouts. And one can point out that locker room trouble can plague even the best teams. But only the most illogical would suggest that Toronto’s storied hockey team is in a tailspin like no other. These are dark, dark days.

Toronto is out of the playoffs (duh) and sits currently at 28th overall. They are 27-41-6 on the season and an abysmal 1-8-1 in their last 10. Fans have been looking to blame anyone and everyone for what’s going wrong and now they seem content to just not show up.

The answer is systemic change, but few people know exactly what that looks like. The word “overhaul” is tossed around with relative ease among fans, but things like “rebuilds” have to have starting points. Where can the Maple Leafs go from here? Is success in the modern era even a possibility for this team? Surely we’d like to believe that success is possible for all teams, right?

Or are Leafs fans simply destined to repeat recent history, all the while clinging to scraps of antiquity and those better days of hockey lore? And if that is truly the destiny of this modern incarnation, how much longer will fans hold out until they throw in the towel completely and give up on the fading legend once and for all?

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