As former Denverite who's been a Leafs fan since the days of Clark, Gilmour, and Potvin when I heard of Tim Leiweke coming to the Leafs there was one thing I immediately thought of: His time related with the Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets.
Upon first glance, Leiweke's track record is one that shows success. But how you define success depends on a few things:
1) Taking the initiative to implement certain policies that ultimately lead to success
or as most of us in the real world know it:
2)Being in the right place, at the right time.
Leiweke for better or for worse, seems to be more of the guy who falls under definition #2.
When the Denver Nuggets shocked Gary Payton, Detlef Schrempf in Round One of the NBA playoffs(the first time a #8 seed defeated a #1 seed in NBA history) we Denverites were very excited about the future, and the direction of the franchise in 1994.
It was a huge story in the area at the time. It was the first thing that appeared on ESPN, and was mentioned by all the major networks. The local radio networks were buzzing for days. The team was young. It was promising. It's marquee player was Dikembe Mutombo.
Just two years later, Dikembo Mutombo bolted out of town. The Nuggets received nothing in compensation from him. He was a free-agent who simply walked, because the franchise didn't want to pay him.
He went onto have an illustrious NBA career. He might be worthy of NBA HOF consideration. He was an all-star. He had quite a resume. He was widely regarded as one of the league's best up and coming Centers. He's a tremendous image. He speaks 7 different languages. On top of that, he's a tremendous humanitarian.
So why in the world would an organization let a guy like Mutombo walk away for nothing? Wouldn't anyone in their right mind want to keep a player like that and build around him?
Maybe Leiweke isn't the right guy to blame. Perhaps, he's not ultimately responsible for personnel decisions.
Parallel that with what he said of Mutombo in 1991, when he was associated with the direction of the Denver Nuggets:
"O.K., you look at Denver," says Leiweke, the young marketing wizard who came to the Nuggets in 1991 from the Timberwolves. "It's the 18th-largest TV market in the league. Then you look at Dikembe, and you say, 'How do we lock him up long term?' " Currently Mutombo is in the fourth year of a five-year, $13.7 million contract. "You have to use the synergy of sports, entertainment and communications," Leiweke continues. "What the arena and entertainment park means is an opportunity to remain competitive. The fiber optics gives us a chance for pay-per-view. Without the added revenue streams, it all comes back to ticket prices, and we'd just price ourselves out of the market."
This is not turf the Nuggets would like to revisit. General manager Bernie Bickerstaff, who had taken a flier on the raw Mutombo with the fourth pick of the 1991 draft, hired Issel in 1992, and things have headed upward ever since. But coaches come and go—not agile big dudes. "Look," says Mutombo's agent, David Falk. "If you take Gheorghe Muresan half seriously, what do you think of Mutombo, who can change games? Where are you going to find another Mutombo? Where?"
Falk continues with his analysis. "The identity of a team is a critical thing. When you get into concepts like theme parks, you need a clearly identifiable person to build around. And what is that worth? Just look at the Lakers. Who are they? The Celtics. Who are they? You used to know, but not anymore."
The scary point here is that if Mutombo is the Nuggets, he might break the Denver mint getting what Falk thinks he deserves. So, is Leiweke just going to shove all the new money straight to the tall man?
"I didn't say that," he says laughing. At this moment Mutombo himself walks into the president's office, bending at the waist to duck under the door frame, and sits in Leiweke's chair.
"As I was saying," continues the president, "he's a jerk and a rotten apple."
Mutombo nods and rocks in the chair. "I like this chair," he says.
(the rest of that article can be read here: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1005916/6/index.htm)
There are a number of things in that story that are quite troublesome. Considering the immediate future of the Leafs it could be a window into the future in the direction of a young Leafs team, with players in transition. With the many franchise names (Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, James Reimer) being available as UFA's in 2014, Leafs fans could be forced re-visit the Harold Ballard curse.
History just doesn't line up with Leiweke. But he seems to be a guy who typically finds himself in the right places, at the right times, and does a wonderous job in taking all the credit. When the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in 1996, it was a HOF studded lineup that included Forsberg, Sakic, Foote, and Roy. Not a bad place for an organization to build around.
But let's look at the rest of his track record: He went to help run the LA Lakers organization. Again, another franchise led by a brilliant GM, Jerry West, and possibly the NBA's best Coach ever in Phil Jackson. Which, again, included NBA stars like Vlade Divac, Shaquille O'Neal, and Kobe Bryant.
He also happened to be around the LA Kings when things went their way in their 2012 Stanley Cup run.
Yesterday's 590 interview was a bit disturbing. He couldn't get one of the club's major stars: Joffrey Lupul's first name correct, consistently referring to him as Jeffrey. There were other rumblings earlier about how he already 'planned the parade route.' The truth is the Leafs haven't even sniffed at a Cup since the late 90's, early 2000's. He also went about wanting to remove various pictures of club icons, which was also quite a questionable move. As a fist-pumping executive wouldn't you at least want to know who your key players are? What your franchise history is? What the expectations of the fans are? What's considered acceptable, and what's looked as bumbling?
What Leiweke does with the Leafs(other than he recent track record of questionable stuff) will remain to be seen. I look at him with great skepticism. As a Nuggets fan, I'll never forget him allowing Mutombo to walk. It took several years for the club to become competitive again after Mutombo left. Coupled with a number of questionable Leafs off-season moves, and numerous Leafs brass quotes that leave one shaking their head, the direction for the TML franchise is only going to be up, or down. Hopefully, not the latter.
Moreover, Leiweke seems be a glorified bean-counter. Not that the Leafs haven't seen enough, or any of those in recent years.