Those who check in regularly here at VLM know that I’ve not been a fan of Tim Leiweke. To be clear, I recognize many Leaf fans love the guy, and feel he brought in a new culture and winning mindset to the organization. Now, that’s not quite how I see the picture, but as fans we often see the same picture very differently, and that’s fine. In fact, it makes conversations more interesting, sometimes.
For me, Leiweke was a guy who talked like he invented winning, and that’s never a particularly appealing trait. But again, many fans thought he was exactly what the Leafs—and MLSE—needed.
It will take a while before anyone can really assess with any degree of accuracy whether he will have been successful in his short MLSE tenure. While the Raptors made the playoffs under his short watch, I’m not ready to build a monument to Leiweke just yet. Yes, he hired a seemingly capable and popular GM and the team showed some progress last season. But that’s the least I would expect for a franchise that had virtually no credibility left on or off the court—identifying and hiring one of the many capable basketball executives that were out there. Now, if the Raptors continue to emerge as a serious threat in the albeit weak NBA Eastern Conference, then maybe it can be fairly said that Leiweke was part of a turnaround. But we’re a long way off from that.
It’s the same with the soccer team, TFC. They/Leiweke spent a boatload of money to bring in superstars to play in a third-tier league. And the team has certainly performed better in 2014 than it has in previous woeful seasons. But as with the Raptors, fans should hardly be prepared to say that Leiweke has built a “winner”. That designation is a ways off, yet.
As for the Leafs, well, we all know the story from Leiweke’s early days here. We were going to get rid of the old player photos. We were planning a parade route. Lots of talking about (here we went again) culture change. For me, it became tiring, and there was (as there also was with the team’s previous General Manager) too much hubris for my liking in Leiweke’s grand pronouncements. I just believed, and still do, that the guy did not do his homework when he joined MLSE, and should have been more respectful of the team’s traditions—and fan base.
We all wanted change for the better, of course, with the goal of a championship for the hockey team, but how change is implemented matters, too—at least to me.
That all said, Leiweke certainly did more than talk. While he changed the GMs with the soccer and basketball teams (GMs who retained the coaches they inherited), he chose to keep Dave Nonis in his post with the Leafs. In turn, Nonis re-signed Head coach Randy Carlyle after the up and down 2013-’14 NHL season.
Importantly, Leiweke hired Brendan Shanahan, who really is making his presence felt with the Leafs, as the new Raptor and TFC GMs have. Leaf fans are well aware of the new ideology around the ACC, which includes embracing advanced stats and the role they play in assessing players and building a team.
But again I stress, it is far too early to be claiming all the changes the Leafs have made this summer will bear fruit. They may for a only a while. On the other hand, they may forever set the team on a successful course that say, the Devils and Red Wings have been on for two decades now.
But we’ve all seen this movie before under several previous regimes. Until consistent success becomes a reality, we can only hope that Leiweke’s influence has been a positive one.
Is he leaving because of a falling out with the two-headed corporate ownership group (Bell/TSN and Rogers/Sportsnet)? Has he got a better gig lined up?
To me, it doesn’t much matter. I’m always suspicious of individuals who come in with all the pat phrases about culture, winning and leadership and then are gone before you know it. That doesn’t mean, in this case, that Leiweke wasn’t committed to MLSE. But whatever the reason, he is leaving.
Leiweke is a very talented, sharp and capable business guy. But his departure doesn’t move me much. I’m not too concerned about who the new troubleshooting President will be at MLSE. I’d prefer less bravado, but whatever, that’s just me.
I’m much more interested in how Shanahan shapes this hockey team. I’d like to get back to the days (as recent as the Pat Quinn era) when we didn’t spend our summers (and winters) talking about some long term plan, prospects, what ifs, and an uncertain down-the-road promise of a brighter future. We actually had a team that, a decade or more ago (between 1999 and 2004) was pretty darn successful. Making the playoffs was a minimum expectation. While by no means perfect, those teams were actually a serious contender pretty much every season.
My view? I’m just interested in seeing real Leaf pride restored. Not the kind that has to be talked about like some corporate mantra. I mean the pride the players quietly feel about wearing the uniform, about representing the city of Toronto and Leaf supporters around the world. It's the same pride that comes from knowing that they are part of a franchise with a wonderful and rich historical legacy.
A Stanley Cup would be nice, too. But in the meantime, I’ll be happy if this team develops a genuine sense of togetherness and pride—whoever the coach is, the GM is or the team President is.
And regardless of who replaces Tim Leiweke.