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Toronto has reverted to being a one-team town

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Saturday, July 7, 2018 – Page S1

TORONTO -- After the Toronto Blue Jays lost another one on Canada Day, reporters informed manager John Gibbons that the hockey team down the way had made a small roster addition.

"So [John Tavares] did sign here?

Wow. I guess that's a big deal," Gibbons said, to general mirth among the media. "Why are you guys here?" Good question. I imagine a few of them were wondering the same thing.

Nobody was going to care about anything that got written that day. Or a lot of days after it. The Tavares signing has two immediate effects: the Leafs are championship contenders; and, once again, Toronto is a hockey town first, second and third.

The city is coming out of a five-year window when it seemed possible that there was enough room at the sports buffet for everyone to get fat.

Baseball was back. Basketball was getting genuinely big. Even soccer seemed like it might come to the fore and stay somewhere near there.

It was a nice idea while it lasted. It lasted until six days ago.

We can now write the obituary of the most broadly successful period in Toronto sports history: Local Franchise Parity (b. 2014 - d. 2018) - "Fun for a change."

This was a rising-tide-floatingall-boats situation unlikely to be repeated. Almost by accident, the Raptors got good. The Jays were compelled to follow, mortgaging their future for the present. The Leafs receded for a period of convalescence and fortunate drafting.

The moves were so complementary one might suspect the three clubs shared a common investor. That someone had decided that the Raptors and Jays were finally going to get good so that the Leafs finally had the freedom to be constructively bad.

Of course, it didn't happen that way. No one plans very much of this, and most of it is blind luck, one way or the other. If Amazon's long-range business plan is threedimensional chess, a sports franchise's is checkers. Sometimes you're one botched trade from being a contender.

However, it does suggest something about the way to go forward for all involved. There is no point in trying to fight the influence of the Big Blue-andWhite Machine for the next seven years, at least. The smart thing to do is to putter in its media wake.

The Blue Jays have already missed this moment, one they should have seen coming a long ways off.

The time to begin the tank was last year. Instead, they've wasted another season bobbing around at the surface while the Yankees and Red Sox repeatedly rammed them. In a period of general malaise, their attendance decline leads the major leagues. Well, at least they lead at something.

That this year would be a failure was a given. But it is also an embarrassment and a tactical disaster. That seems careless.

All the Jays' tradeable assets have devalued. The most important of them may now be close to worthless in the short term (the only term the Jays can draw anything from him). Their overfetishized minor-league saviour is injured.

If this team were a stock, you wouldn't be selling. You'd be using the certificates to start a campfire.

The only good news is the now-certain knowledge that none of this matters for a while.

The Jays can tank, pretend not to tank, tell people little white lies about modified rebuilds, what have you. Nobody's listening any more.

They'll perk up for a few hours whenever Josh Donaldson is traded, or when Vlad Guerrero Jr. is called up. Then they'll go back to sleep again.

All future moves should be made with that apathy in mind.

The goal now should be creativity over cleverness. Enough with the 'It's true because I said so' approach to public relations. The Jays need to take a cue from the Leafs by vacating their premises and then burning it down.

The Raptors have a more difficult decision to make.

Tavares's arrival is bad for them. A move made on the same day - LeBron James leaving the NBA's Eastern Conference for Los Angeles - is, on its face, good. Deceptively so.

James was the one thing separating Toronto from an NBA final. That's the company line. It's been trotted out so often that it has dampened all interest in the team outside the week or so it faces James every spring.

So now the Raptors have to win. And they have to win at precisely the same time the Leafs are taking Tavares into the playoffs on what we can expect will be an extended run. Even if it isn't, the hockey post-mortem will absorb all attention.

The Raptors might actually do it this year. Gargantuan "might."

But until they are in a final (getting annihilated by Golden State), like the Jays, no one will care.

There is also the very good chance the Raptors won't get that far. Boston is better than them already. Philadelphia will be in nine months time. Once the Raptors' shrinking fig leaf has been pulled off, they have an awful long time to stand there, being naked.

The brave thing would be getting ahead of that by doing something radical. The most radical would be cashing in their assets to rent wantaway San Antonio star Kawhi Leonard for a single year.

Gutting the organization for one guy who in all likelihood will not re-sign with you wouldn't be wise. But it would be fun. Competence has been great and all, but shouldn't the goal now be to dream bigger?

It's not like they fold the team if it doesn't work out. You'll have a hundred more chances, and still get rich doing it.

What's the other option? Waiting to be swamped by your arena roommate? Because once that happens, it's not going to stop for a very long time.

In some ways, the arrival of Tavares is the end of Toronto sports.

It's Toronto Maple Leafs' sports now.

Everyone else can take what small advantage they can from it, or pretend it isn't happening and vanish for most of a decade.

Associated Graphic

John Tavares is flanked by Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas, right, and team president Brendan Shanahan, left, after a July 1 news conference announcing he had signed with Toronto.


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