Within the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, there’s a common phrase used to describe the makeup of the team. It’s humorously called “studs and duds.”

Fans know what that means. The team is constructed with a small group of highly-paid superstars like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares. However, at the same time on the same team, many players are earning closer to the NHL’s league minimum salary. That creates a significant salary discrepancy.

These lower-paid players provide depth and support to the star players, but they are not considered nearly as important to the team. Instead, they are considered moveable assets – replaceable parts. Hence, the concept of “Studs and Duds.”

Related: Maple Leafs’ 4 Worst Seasons in Team History

The Phrase Represents a Problem in Professional Sports

The phrase “Studs and Duds” reflects a common phenomenon in professional sports. That’s especially true in the NHL, where teams operate under the constraints of a salary cap. The phrase refers to the stark contrast in player salaries. Some players, known as “studs,” earn huge contracts. Others, known as “duds,” receive much lower salaries.

On one hand, earning close to the NHL league minimum means that – in Canada – a player is an instant millionaire. But on the other hand, there are some deep issues with the system. In this post, I want to share what I see as some of these.

Issue One: The Irony and Paradox We Live with as Fans

There’s a stark difference in compensation between the “studs” and the “duds.” While the high-paid “studs” might be idolized for their talents, the “duds” are equally essential to the team. However, they often go unnoticed and receive significantly less recognition (as well as income).

This irony highlights how player value is disproportionately determined by financial compensation. The roles that depth players engage, which are hugely important to the team’s overall success, are often ignored.

Issue Two: The Personal Devaluation of Players

I can’t even imagine what players labelled as “duds” might personally experience in terms of self-worth. Sure they make a good salary compared with the rest of us “regular” people; however, their value to the team is minimized. The self-worth of such players who play in the shadow of the “greats” is less.

Many fans think that’s OK. Still, there the personal devaluation must weigh on one’s self-esteem. These players (the duds) work hard, sacrifice their time and bodies to compete at the highest level of the sport. They realize that their efforts are not equally rewarded. They also realize that, for all their professional life, they will remain underappreciated.

Related: Does Arbitration Mean Maple Leafs Don’t Want Samsonov?

    Issue Three: Acceptance of an Unjust System

    In a broader sense, the “studs and duds” metaphor reflects our acceptance as fans of a system that’s prevalent throughout professional sports. Whether it’s unjust or not is another question. However, while the salary cap is implemented to promote competitive balance and financial sustainability, it also perpetuates income disparities among players.

    This acceptance of an unequal system reveals the complexities and contradictions within the sports industry. Some players receive extravagant salaries while others carry the issue of both lower salaries and an unsettled life (a dud is often moved from city to city without a say in the matter). That can bring chaos to a family.

    As well, “duds” can never lose focus or motivation. If they do, they are clearly expendable.

    Issue Four: Fan Perception and Media Coverage

    Fans and media often gravitate towards covering the high-profile “studs.” That leaves the stories and contributions of the supporting players in the background. This disparity in coverage perpetuates the perception that the “duds” are less important. It also further contributes to the unequal treatment they receive within the game.

    Mitch Marner is an elite “stud” with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    The Bottom Line

    The phrase “studs and duds” within the Maple Leafs organization is symptomatic of the complexities and challenges present in professional sports. On one hand, at least in the NHL, we all accept that’s the way the system has been created.

    On the other hand, it might cause us to reflect on the way we treat all these young guys who play hard and earn a living at the NHL level.

    For me, the “studs and duds” metaphor just seems wrong. It invites us to forget how hard ALL these players are working. The bottom line for me is to spend more time appreciating the contributions of all those who play professional hockey.

    All players on a team contribute to that team’s success.

    Related: Remembering Vincent Damphousse’s Time with the Maple Leafs

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