Leaf bashing has always been a popular sport, especially in these parts. “All Habs” had some good natured fun last week at the Leafs expense when they were eliminated from the playoffs. Good riddance, we said. But truth be told, many of us are of two minds on the Leafs. While we are happy to see them fail, we really miss the intensely fought games of a true, strong rival.
So what happened? The story of the Ballard years has been well chronicled. More recently, it has been a series of power struggles at the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) Board level that has muted the effectiveness of some good hockey people including Ken Dryden. About 10 years ago, MLSE Board squabbles and meddling blocked Dryden from hiring his choice for GM: Bob Gainey. We are grateful that Gainey ended up in Montreal, where he belongs!
These days the power struggle is between Larry Tannenbaum and Richard Peddie. Tannenbaum is chairman of MLSE and successful businessman of a construction empire. Tannenbaum is a part-owner who has taken an active interest in the leafs and the Toronto Raptors. Last summer Tannenbaum negotiated a deal that would have brought Scotty Bowman to the Leafs. That move was blocked by Peddie to protect ‘his boy’ John Ferguson Jr.
JFJr. was the choice of Richard Peddie and a way of reining in Pat Quinn. All of JFJr’s decisions required Peddie’s approval. A more experienced GM would have balked at such a structure but not so for JFJr. He was a guy without any GM experience so he gladly accepted the conditions. I have a lot of respect and appreciation for Fergie Sr.; his hockey knowledge and his ability to evaluate talent. But JFJr didnt have a fraction of his father’s ability. There isn’t much debate that JFJr was a disaster with the Leafs. Towards the end of this season, Peddie-the-weasal, publicly tossed JFJr under the bus with statements to the media prior to his firing.
Richard Peddie is the MLSE President and CEO, but has one and only one master: the Ontario teacher’s union. He perceives his role as maximizing the holdings of their pension plan (the majority shareholder of MLSE). Peddie has no hockey knowledge, demands absolute control, and is in love with the sound of his voice. His inappropriate media appearances are numerous.
Elliot Friedman of HNIC conducted an excellent interview with Richard Peddie on Saturday night. Peddie said the Leaf’s performance was “very disappointing”. What was he expecting with a roster like that? Even worse than that Peddie conceded that he couldn’t “see that we are making any progress towards the Stanley Cup”. And who’s fault is that Mr Peddie? Friedman pointed out that the value of the Leafs franchise has tripled without winning anything on the ice. Peddie said that “fans just don’t understand economics”. Maybe, maybe not; but it’s clear that Peddie doesn’t understand hockey or what is required to win. Peddie said that he never meddled in hockey decisions. Friedman deserves credit for not bursting into laughter. Peddie added that “our new General Manager will have the same autonomy as John” (which is none). That has to be bad news for Leaf fans.
Pierre McGuire said that Peddie should not be part of a selection committee for the next Leafs GM. He said that Peddie had his chance and blew it when he selected JFJr. However, the majority shareholder, the teacher’s union will undoubtedly insist that their man lead the search, not for the good of the hockey club, but for the good of the business, and to maintain an iron-fisted grip on all decision-making.
For those of us looking for the return to a strong rivalry between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs, we may have to wait a little longer. A change in the management and reporting structure is required at MLSE, and that change won’t come without a fight.