Behind the Blog: Pension Plan Puppets

This week's Behind the Blog features the great duo of PPP & Chemmy, who are the brains behind Pension Plan Puppets, the Toronto Maple Leafs blog here at SB Nation.

Q.1a - You started PPP back in August of last year. Before that, you blogged at the Battle of Ontario and PPP on Blogger. Why did you decide to start blogging? And how did you pick the blog name Pension Plan Puppets?
PPP: I started blogging shortly as the Oilers' miracle run to the Stanley Cup Final after being introduced to the world of blogs by the Oilogosphere. Reading The Battle of Alberta, Covered in Oil, Black Dog Hates Skunks and Mc79Hockey (among others) opened my eyes to another way of following your team. My buddies and I always tossed e-mails around after Leafs games and I love to write so I figured it was a good creative outlet.
 
As for the name, the short version is that the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan has, amongst its vast, vast, vast holdings, a few billion dollars worth of property in the city's centre. So the joke between a friend and I developed, as word of the Edmonton fan crushes grew, that they kept the Leafs good enough to make the playoffs and win a round of two to keep the fans happy but not so good that they win the Cup because the city would be razed to the ground in a celebration. Surprisingly when I explained that to Pat Quinn he didn't hang up the phone and thought it was kind of funny.
 
Also, I am a huge fan of alliteration.
Q.1b - When did you come aboard PPP and what made you do so?
Chemmy: I first wrote for Pension Plan Puppets as a guest editor during the 2008 Entry draft, while PPP (the person) was off gallivanting across Europe. A combination of the enormous boost in traffic to his site from all of my adoring fans, combined with the buyout of the namesake of my old blog (The Darcy Tucker Fan Club) resulted in PPP asking if I wanted to come on board. Obviously, I accepted.

Q.2 - When and why did you become a Toronto Maple Leafs fan?
PPP: I became a Leafs fan when my family started moving to Canada from Colombia in the 1970s. Team affiliations in the football loving world tend to get passed down from father to son if the son wishes to be fed, housed, and clother so it was pre-ordained that I'd be a fan of the buds more than a decade before I was born. Not that I would change it for anything in the world. 

When did I realize that I was indeed a Leafs fan? Tough to say. It might have been when I was seven and spent an entire morning in Florida trying to figure out if the Leafs had beaten the Blues in their playoff game (they had not, thanks Bester). It probably coalesced during the Spring of 1993 during that magical run that ended one Kerry Fraser rip-off job away from the Final (that they would have won with no doubt).
Chemmy: I grew up in Hartford, as a Whalers fan. My coach was a huge Leafs fan and nick named me "Felix" after Felix Potvin. The Leafs were my second favorite team from about 1992 until the Whalers left Connecticut. I wasn't going to root for a team that deserted me, so I bumped the Leafs up a spot to #1.
Q.3 - Everyone knows that Toronto is a rumor-crazy place where fans/media speculate that any one player is coming their way at any time. What's the best rumor you've heard in the last couple of years?
PPP: Some, always unnamed, website makes a living off of selling rumours to gullible visitors. However, the usual path that these stories take involves the media making baseless speculation, fans chatting about whether it would be a good idea if it were true, the media then reporting that Leaf fans are exchanging wild rumours (without mentioning that they initiated them) and then opposition fans jumping in - completely clueless of the chain of events mind you - and projecting their shortcomings and insecurities on Leafs fans.
 
The best rumours I have actually heard from semi-reputable sources are completely unprintable because they usually involve a player's wife or overzealous female fans. On the hockey side, the craziest one my friends and I believed (because dammit, things were desperate) was that the Leafs would actually be able to follow through on JFJ's plan to poach a big-ticket UFA like Luongo during the summer of 2006. Of course they were all locked up long before July first.
Chemmy: I don't follow rumors much, I liked the Mathieu Schneider and Bobby Ryan to Toronto for peanuts rumor recently though.
Q.4 - What do you hope to achieve with your blog over the next year?

PPP: The main goal is to continue the growth of the site. Visits and page views have grown each of the last five months, we have a great core of commenters and contributors, and I got to interview Pat Quinn. Chemmy and I have some great ideas to keep the momentum. Basically, we want to keep the site growing in every sense while maintaining the sports bar vibe and feel that had made the site as popular as it is now. The community makes running the site a tonne of fun so making sure that any growth keeps an eye on that truth.

Chemmy: This is going to sound canned, but I'm hoping to grow the community. The first thing I did as a guest editor on the site was to start doing things to increase our rank on Google. In the future I'd like to start getting the word out in Toronto to people who may not be incredibly internet savvy.

I think our site is a great place for Leafs information that isn't as obnoxious as the mainstream media's take, but without an overwhelming air of homerism. PPP and I are huge Leafs fans, and I think that comes through on the site, but I think we do a decent job of admitting that there are things the team does well and things it doesn't. Unlike Cox, Berger, et al., we present those things without being insulting to our readers.

Q.5 - The Maple Leafs made some changes this summer including a new coach in Ron Wilson. Do you think Toronto is a better team now and what are your thoughts on the new coach?

PPP: For the last two and a half seasons (the LA game in January prompted a harsh realization) I had been able, as it wont of most fans that seek to put a positive thing on developments, to convince myself that the Leafs had in fact made the necessary moves to first stay in the playoffs and then overcome the two point gap and then end the heartbreak of missing the playoffs by a solitary point. However, last year the wheels fell off and the Leafs are much stronger for it having happened.
 
Ron Wilson, while not necessarily the coach that will get a team over the hump, is the one that will build a team up from scratch until they are the kind of team that the Leafs have shown that they can be. He makes them outwork, outhustle, and outskate the opposition. There are some bright spots that will develop in the next two or three seasons like Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Luke Schenn that go along with guys like Nik Antropov, Niklas Hagman, and Tomas Kaberle to give the Leafs a good core going forward.
 
The Leafs might not improve in the standings come April but given a full year of learning Wilson's style of play and his systems I don't think anyone will be able to say that they have not improved in a long-term sense.
Chemmy: Toronto is definitely a more exciting team, and a younger team. I think this year's Leafs will finish about where they did last year, but the team got considerably younger and has some bright young stars in Schenn, and Grabovski. The Leafs need to keep stocking the cupboard, but as long as the Leafs continue to ice a team as exciting to watch as the 08-09 Leafs, I don't think anyone will mind.

Ron Wilson has done a good job so far in my eyes, though it's a bit perplexing that MLSE hired him as a defensive minded coach and the Leafs have the second worst PK in the league.
Q.6 - When you're not obsessing over the Maple Leafs, what do you like to do in your free time?
PPP: I am an obsessive reader. I tend to use a book as a launching pad to others whether they are by the same author or a related one or based on the same topic or event.
 
I also obsess over Liverpool. They are my second love. I meet up with almost complete strangers on Saturday to watch the Reds play.

And I play soccer twice a week with some cousins and friends. Mondays is pickup fun and Thursday nights we play in a men's league which means that it's serious business. Or at least the psychos we beat each week think so.
Chemmy: I play men's league hockey on a bunch of teams which eats up a lot of my time. When I'm not reading, writing, watching, or playing hockey I like to cook, read, play video games, drink, travel, and make my own beer.
Q.7 - In your profile, you said that you spent your entire paycheck to go to Game 3 against the Hurricanes in 2002. Was it worth it after the Leafs lost in OT? What other crazy things have you done to support your team?
PPP: When Bryan McCabe's shot got past Arturs Irbe to knot the score at 1 in that game the roar was deafening. I almost landed in the row in front of me and I couldn't hear my uncle speaking beside me. The loss was crippling but I wouldn't have changed it for the world.
 
As for other crazy things, I haven't really had the chance to do anything too insane mostly because the Leafs' haven't won. In 2004 if they had of made it to the Final I would have grabbed the next flight home from Copenhagen but JR ruined that plan. I guess I'd have to go with driving to Montreal last December during a massive snowstorm against the advice of everyone and then getting stranded when the highway was closed. The Leafs lost but we got a free day off to play in the snow and eat St. Hubert's so it was a worthwhile layover.
Chemmy: In the playoffs in 2003-2004, a guy I'd never met before said he had an extra ticket to game seven, Senators at Leafs. The puck dropped in ten hours and I was in Boston. I called Air Canada, credit card in hand, and found out that they wouldn't sell me a ticket to fly to Canada the day of the flight. 

Aside from that, I drive up to Toronto once a year at least to catch a Leafs game, and I go see them whenever they're in Philly, New Jersey, New York City, Long Island, or Boston.
Q.8 - Do you think there will ever be another NHL team in southern Ontario closer to Toronto? If so, how would you feel about that as a Leafs fan?
PPP: I don't think so for a couple of reasons. The first is the obvious one that MLSE likely wouldn't allow a team to locate in the city. While it could end up making a good profit from a team in its territorial area I don't think that they would allow it in the city proper.

The other reason is the Sabres. They have a large base of fans in Southern Ontario plus a number of Leaf fans as season ticketholders. A new team in the area would definitely hurt what is already a financially weak team.
 
Would it be a financially viable team? Absolutely. There is no doubt that there would be enough corporate and fan support in the area. As a Leafs, another team would constitute one more fanbase of jumped up fans thinking that they have any standing to rip on Leaf fans. It would simultaneously free the bandwagon of the worst fans that the team has and give me three or four close road games for me to travel to where I can see the Leafs play without having to fork over a kidney.
Chemmy: It would make a lot of sense to put another team in the golden horseshoe. As a Leafs fan, I really hope it happens, and I hope the other team is really good. It would light a fire under MLSE's chairs to really build and ice a contender, and hopefully a second team would reduce demand for tickets just a little bit so that Leafs fans could see more than one game a decade.
Q.9 - Who is your favorite hockey player (current or retired)? Why?
PPP: This was easily the toughest question. When I was little my dad loved Wendel Clark so he was my favourite and to a large extent I think a lot of Leafs Nation longs for a player that was such a complete specimen of awesome. Down Goes Brown has done a great job of chronicling why Wendel Clark is basically a deity for Leafs fans. Obviously Dougie was riding shotgun with Wendel from 92-94 when the Leafs were threatening to shut anti-Leafs fans up forever. 
 
On the current team Nik Antropov is my favourite player just because I've waited so long for his potential to finally be met. I'll probably get a jersey of his over Christmas.
 
But my all-time favourite is Mats Sundin. He has always been one of the classiest players in the league, an ironman, and a consistent offensive threat. Even during the last few years when it would have been easier for him to leave or to give up he hit the ice every night knowing that he was the only offensive threat for the team and would spend the entire night targeted by the opposition.
 
He never backed down even though refs never gave him the protection it gave other stars which allowed opposition defence's to climb all over him and hack him to bits. Throughout that he not only showed up every night but in the most crucial moments. I'll never forget game one of the 2001 playoffs sweep against the senators when Sundin scored the OT winner in game 1 and my friends and father joined the partisan Leafs crowd in the Corel Centre in delirium. And of course, his 500th goal could not have been scripted any better.
 
This drawn out off-season has hurt me and a lot of fans mostly because we loved him so much. Even as the knuckle draggers in Leafs Nation and the anti-Leafs crowd (read: every other fan in the league) slammed him for not being a leader or other dog-whistle slams for being European my admiration for Sundin grew. If he leaves I'll hate him for a while but only because I loved him so much.
Chemmy: Felix Potvin is probably my favorite, he's the reason I'm a Leafs fan, but I also love Wendel Clark and Dougie Gilmour. I love Mats Sundin and Alexander Mogilny. I love Mahovlich and Salming and Sittler. Belfour and CuJo. The Leafs have a ton of history, and a ton of really inspiring players, it's hard to pick one or two or ten.
Q.10 - Is there any hockey blog or website that you look to for inspiration?

PPP: I would say that the Battle of Alberta, as I've mentioned before, is an example I try to follow. They are informative, passionate, and funny in turn when needed or all three at once. They've also been the gateway site for a lot of the great work that other Oilers fans and Gabriel Desjardins have been doing in terms of advanced statistics so what little I am able to figure out and apply to the Leafs I owe to them.

Obviously, the larger SBN sites are also a bit of an inspiration but another site is The DailyKos run by one of the co-founders of SBN (not to be a brownnose). The community that they have developed is both enormous and passionate and for the most part intelligent. They have managed to maintain the overall quality of the site despite ridiculous growth so they serve as a template for me going forward (hopefully).

I wouldn't mind Puck Daddy's traffic either.

Chemmy: Down Goes Brown, He Score, He Shoot, and Bitter Leaf Fan are the three that come to mind. They're all incredibly well written, and I love working with all of them. I would also say Pension Plan Puppets, which in combination with the Battle of Ontario is the reason I started blogging.

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