Blowing It Up: Fire The Board

Ed.'s Note: I'll have a game recap up this afternoon but in the meantime I wanted to re-post an article that was originally written on November 27th, 2007 and deserves a second viewing mostly I wanted to get your reactions. It speaks to the ridiculous position in which the Leafs find themselves where they need significant changes that could carry massive repercussions (whether negative or positive) over the next decade but have a lame-duck GM in place and a micromanaging board with no vision.

My idea is to make this a series of posts but you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. In the meantime, here is the first which looks at the Board of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

A while ago, Damien Cox (I think) published an article in The Star with the pictures of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment's Board of Directors. He proceeded to detail why they and not JFJ or Maurice or the players were responsible for the shambles in which the team finds itself. While it is certainly not fair to isolate them and protect the other three constituents (any one who says the fans are responsible at all should be shot) from absorbing any of the blame it does seem like the problems start at the very top of the chain of command.

For the record, these are the members of the MLSE board:

Larry Tanenbaum (Chairman)- Kilmer Sports Inc., Robert Bertram - Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, Jim Leech - Teachers' Merchant Bank, Dean Metcalf - Teachers' Merchant Bank, Ivan Fecan - Bell Globemedia, John MacIntyre - TD Capital Group, Dale Lastman - Goodmans LLP, Richard Peddie - Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd.

For all intents and purposes it is Larry and Richard which control the board. Tanenbaum owns 14% while Peddie apparently speaks for the other 86% of MLSE's owners. Part of the reason that the previous article on the board left me shaking my head was that the call was for a single owner as if the writer had forgotten that little period known as the Lost Years when Harold Ballard owned the blue and white. Not to mention that what is in place now is essentially a single owner model in which Peddie acts as that owner.

His meddling was running the Raptors into the ground and he finally stepped back and admitted that he did not know a single thing about running a successful basketball team and handed Bryan Colangelo the keys to the team. All it took was for Rob Babcock to trade Vince Carter for pennies on the dollar and one dishonourable centre that was traded to the Heat. So you would think that Peddie might have learned that a similar move might not only benefit the right GM but would also make the position of Leafs President attractive to the kinds of hockey minds that the team needs to attract. Apparently not.

Many believe Peddie's credibility within MLSE is at issue. He has steadfastly defended Ferguson, and protected the GM when others at the organization wanted him fired. Peddie was also frozen out from the basketball side when Bryan Colangelo was hired to run the Raptors after Peddie's choice, Rob Babcock, was fired.

My colleague Don from The Battle of Ontario even goes as far as to remind the Leafs' brass how well things worked out the last time the Leafs had a team President that didn't have to run every little thing by the board:

Ya think being the president of MLSE is a little big of a job for one guy perhaps? Can you expect him to run Toronto Maple Leafs, the Toronto Raptors, the Toronto Marlies, Toronto F.C., Leafs TV, Raptors NBA TV and the Air Canada Centre? MLSE also operates BMO Field, Ricoh Coliseum and General Motors Centre in Oshawa, Ontario.

Actually, you had that structure when Dryden was in charge starting in '97 but you let internal politics ruin what became in the late 90s and early 00's the best run by the Leafs since the 60s.

Elbert Hubbard said that "Genius is the ability to act rightly without precedent - the power to do the right thing the first time." The Leafs do not need their owners to be geniuses since they have a blueprint in place. Not just with the Toronto Raptors either but with Toronto FC where Maurice Johnston has been given free rein to run the team and, while injuries derailed the team's season, he has built a very strong first choice eleven in just one season. Why does this simple truth escape the MLSE board? Because of egos. Specifically those of our two protagonists. The rest are just yes-men and apparently absolutely useless but Larry and Richard have big dreams. The Leafs' Cup drought has reached epic proportions. Forty years and counting for a team that had the name and financial clout of the Leafs is ridiculous. Fans are so starved for success that we latch on to our heroes even tighter. If they have done anything good they will forever have a soft spot in our hearts. Nikolai Borschevsky had one good year and scored on memorable goal and no one of my vintage has anything but great memories of the Russian. The man (or men or woman or women or alien) that brings the Cup back to Toronto will have written their own ticket in this city and much of Canada in much the same way as the 2004 Red Sox will likely never have to pay for a meal in Boston again. For two businessmen that sort of pull can be intoxicating. Thus the difficult acceptance of responsibility and the refusal to acknowledge mistakes:

To be honest, it was a mistake on my part for not fully understanding at the time what the job of being (the Leafs GM) in this market fully entailed. Let's face it. It probably was the wrong place for a rookie general manager to start. I mean, all GMs make mistakes, but they are not under the constant microscope and scrutiny that you have in Toronto, which is, in our opinion, the top hockey market there is. That is all hindsight now. John has had time to learn a lot since then.

Obviously, neither of these men is stupid. Their business success is well documented in just the growth in the value of the Leafs' (valued at $413M) and the ridiculous profits that MLSE makes. However, they are not sports men. The above quotation just emphasises the fact that Richard Peddie is completely clueless about the realities of operating an NHL team in the Toronto market. He fought for JFJ and that has been a failure but he refuses to acknowledge it as such. Combined with the fact that he has proof within the organization that the independent President model works should be reason enough for the Ontario Teacher's Pension Plan to remove him from the board. At this point, they would be better off replacing him with someone that is experienced in developing television products, real estate, or stadium/arena management and letting the teams run themselves.

Sadly, while Larry presented some hope for Leaf fans he is apparently just as bad as Peddie. Darren Dreger wrote that the plan that is being discussed (which Bill Watters intimated was Tanenbaum's response to Peddie's Bush-like Stay the Course plan of action) is to bring in a committee of ex-NHL stars such as Messier, Francis, and Yzerman to run things. Leaving aside the fact that the Leafs already suffer from too many cooks ruining the broth with Peddie and Tanenbaum, the board that has just seen how hard learning on the job can be wants to submit three new guppies to the feeding frenzy. While the trio might someday make great NHL executives now is not the time to have them cut their teeth at the highest level. Up until now they have been either a non-participant or been sheltered from the realities of being a GM.

The Leafs need to bring in an experienced GM and the wishlist mentioned by Bill Watters this morning will likely make the rounds until the next GM is in place: Jim Rutherford in Carolina, Ken Holland in Detroit, or Brian Burke in Anaheim. Those are the men that have the experience and the knowledge to do the job in Toronto as all three have done in their respective jobs.

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