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Tim Leiweke’s pending departure: good or bad for the Maple Leafs?

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.


  1. Maybe Tim Leiweke was exactly what 'newer' franchises (like the Raptors and Toronto FC) may need to establish an identity, but he did seriously misread the longsuffering fan base amongst long-time Leafers as you said, Michael. There was no need to 'throw out the past' in order to have a bright future!

    And, even though Tim tried to repair the breach to some extent, I doubt the Leafs were the primary reason for his time with MLSE. It seems clear that bringing the NFL to hogtown was his priority and primary raison d'etre. Now that such a prospect seems more than 'unlikely' in this present window, it seems the way is being prepared for his departure. It may be that behind the scenes he has provided some mentorship to Brendan Shanahan, but we may never know the extent of his impact upon the Leafs.

    I actually wonder if something of a 'plan B' developed for Tim, whereby he could identify areas of weakness in the organization (and train Brendan in the process) leading to the changes we are witnessing this summer (not to mention multiple possible paths laid out for the future). It seems to me that he would be staying for longer if the NFL were on it's way to town, but that an 'out' was always built into the plan should the NFL stay south of the line.

    I'm certainly not 'disturbed' or concerned by the likely soon departure of Tim Leiweke and wish him the best moving forward (hoping he's learned a little something from his experience in the city and that we will reap some benefit from his time here too).

    1. It's interesting that you raise the NFL aspect of MLSE having brought Leiweke on board, InTimeFor62. I had not thought about that lately. Long ago, I tended to believe the NFL was definitely coming to Toronto. In recent years, I feel less sure.

      From a Leaf perspective, Shanahan is the guy we will look to to see where he takes the origination. If it works out well, Leiweke will receive credit, too, because he brought in Shanahan as part of a new guard.

  2. I'm sympathetic to your general thoughts on Leiweke, although while you are completely correct that the Raptors and TFC are still works in progress I have noticed signs of improvement that simply have not been there in the past.

    That said, I'm not too worried about Leiweke as a person. What does trouble me is the talk that his departure was caused by the conflict between Bell and Rogers. I'm not sure how much disagreement between the two would impact spending at ice level, since the Leafs will probably spend to the cap every year. But it makes me wonder whether keeping Nonis around was an actual decision or simply a function of paralysis. The Leafs do not have a history in my lifetime of consistently filling the front office with people who inspire confidence. If the board is unable to make decisions about who should be working in upper management I would find it difficult to believe there is a coherent long term plan.

    1. The Bell-Rogers partnership must be a challenging one, for sure, Oliver. Two companies competing in a lot of the same areas, with different cultures, etc. I guess we will see in the months ahead how much Leiweke's departure had to do with the Board, or issues involving the ownership group.

      Stability matters, but from a Leaf perspective, Shanahan should be in a position to provide that.

  3. I was ok with Tim Leiweke’s time here.

    He was brash and overconfident and made some mistakes, but that describes many executives.

    He talked culture change and I think he may have accomplished it.

    Under his regime many good people changes were made and the team's actions finally made sense. He hired Brendan Shanahan who seems to be the key. Shanahan hired the brightest young talent in Kyle Dubas. They have gone 180 degrees on analytics and have become one of the leaders in this area by hiring Darryl Metcalf who ran probably the best site out there. Imagine that? the Leafs are ahead in a trend rather than behind.

    They promoted from within on merit in Steve Spott and Gord Dineen. They made a high skill first round draft choice in William Nylander rather than a lower skilled truculent guy like Tyler Biggs. They also brought in some decent cheap veterans so they have a real quality 4th line and they don't have to rush the kids.

    Because theing finally seemed to be working, I would have been fine with Leiweke staying. I am now more worried about somebody worse coming in and screwing things up.

  4. I for one will not miss Leiweke. Too many things about him rubbed me the wrong way. I will be up front and say that I really could care less about basketball or soccer, and therefore whatever he's done to bolster those franchises is moot to me. As it pertains to the Leafs, Leiweke came across as a know-it-all in a sport in which he is simply not qualified. He was the same way with the Kings from what we have learned.

    Whatever way corporate structure works, I don't understand completely I suppose. Someone needs to be at the helm, and as long as they stay out of the way enough to allow qualified hockey people make hockey decisions, I could care less who is the president at MLSE. So whoever replaces him, that is my only qualification. That Leiweke may stay on through a full season as a lame duck is a bit worrisome now. If he's on his way out the door, please give your two weeks notice and move on.

    1. I sense that's how a lot of Leaf fans will feel, Pete. They mostly will want the new guy not to interfere in the hockey decisions.

    2. You're about the only one not lamenting Tim's departure...and you're the only one who hasn't said anything about what Leiweke *brought* to MLSE: Connections. Nobody in sports or anywhere else has this man's connections. Leiweke is the *only* reason Ujiri's here, which means he's the only reason Lowry's here. Lieiweke *created* the post of "global brand ambassador" and put Drake in it, when Drake had been chomping at the bit for years to do such a thing. Whatever you think of Drake, he brought the Raptors untold name recognition.
      MLS: Tim's the only reason those superstars are here. Nobody else would have done that.
      The Leafs: Tim's the only reason Shanahan's here, which means he's the only reason the Leafs have an analytics department. Without Leiweke, the 'culture change'--which to be fair, is only beginning and won't truly be reflected on ice for a couple of seasons--would have never got even this far.
      MLSE is doomed without him. Absolutely doomed. The worst thing is: they don't know it, and wouldn't care if they did.

  5. Thrilled to no end that Leiweke is leaving! Michael, you said it best when you wrote, "Leiweke was a guy who talked like he invented winning." Truer words about Tim Leiweke have yet to be written...

    Looking exclusively at the Leafs, I personally view his tenure in two phases. First, when he was involved on the hockey side -- all braggadocio after last offseason's changes, which later proved nothing but a colossal, cap-inhibiting failure. And the second phase, which began the day Leiweke hired Shanahan, effectively (unwittingly?) saving the Maple Leafs from him meddling. Even this summer, his misplaced ego was still in full, permanent bloom, as he took full credit for the Bernier trade but no responsibility for any other transaction. The guy's middle name must be "self-serving."

    Tim's primary legacy, to me, is that he used MLSE's deep pockets everywhere he could. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to take a shot on talented rising managerial types (Shanahan, Ujiri) or overpay for soccer stars to make a big splash. And no matter how dysfunctional the MLSE board might be, it's clear at this point that he failed at this critical part of his job.

    None of this even touches upon his chronic "foot-in-mouth" disease, which is a terrible trait for anyone who so compulsively seeks the spotlight.

    Of course, Tim's departure won't solve all of MLSE's problems, and the new ownership structure is clearly a challenge. But Leiweke is clearly not the answer. The sooner we put him on a plane, the better. He can't leave fast enough.

  6. I know many are happy with Leiweke and his work but I will only comment on what he has done for the Leafs. The only thing he said or did that I liked, or felt was positive for this team, was hiring Brendan Shanahan.

    The only thing I dislike about him leaving is wondering -a) what in the world is going on with MLSE ?and-b) how will it affect the future of Shanahan and the Leafs? Colleen

    1. An interesting range of views above, today, Colleen. Thanks for providing your perspective as well.

  7. I don't believe that we will ever know the entire story of what transpired between Leiweke and MLSE. Was Leiweke trolling for another job and thus was refusing to give MLSE a long term commitment or was Leiweke finding the two headed media monster that controls MLSE too difficult to work with? I'm afraid all we're going to hear on the situation from the parties involved will be doublespeak.

    The bottom line is that Leiweke is leaving but what is important to Leaf fans is that Brendan Shanahan seems to have things under control and that there are grounds for optimism. Shanahan and the statues will be Leiweke's Leaf legacy from his brief tour here. Leiweke can and will be replaced, hopefully with someone less abrasive. It would be wonderful to have a period of calm where the team is the sole focus.

    Note to Ken Breadner: Your comment to Michael that "You're about the only one not lamenting Tim's departure...and you're the only one who hasn't said anything about what Leiweke *brought* to MLSE" is patently absurd. He certainly discussed Leiweke's work with the Raptors and Toronto FC as well as the hiring of Shanahan. Also the comments have been mixed throughout the mainstream media and the numerous Leaf blogs and certainly not all were lamenting Leiweke's departure.

    Those of us who are regular readers and commenters greatly appreciate Michael's thoughtful and measured opinions.

    1. As you said, Pete Cam, we may well never know the full story about Leiweke's departure- at least not for a while.

      I saw something interesting recently, which sort of attempted to define the difference between ego and leadership. Ego speaks a lot about, "I" and "my" while real leaders (and this coincides with my own view and my life experience as well) don't have to talk about themselves and their successes- they just lead. My preference is that the Leafs hire someone as skilled as Leiweke but perhaps with a different approach.

      As to the divergent opinions, including those expressed here: hopefully any comments made in this forum are never personal. We all have our own points of view, and the central reason I have continued with VLM as long as I have is that, while the site doesn't generate hundreds of comments a day like many sites do, those that do post regularly here are indeed thoughtful and generally measured.

      Passion is good, too- that's part of the fun! Thanks Pete.

  8. My feathers were ruffled the wrong way by Leiweke at the start, but he recognized he'd made mistakes and changed his tune. In a very short time he made significant changes to the culture surrounding the Raptors, TFC and the Leafs. He brought an energy to the teams that we haven't seen in ages.
    His departure is no doubt tied, in some way, to the imminent failure of the NFL bid - some might say that was his prime reason to be here - but it's also apparently linked to the dysfunction that reigns in the MLSE boardroom. If true, that is really bad news for Leaf fans.
    I'm not sure any major league team, in any sport, has won a championship that doesn't have a passionate owner. The Leafs have a bunch of gray men who care more about profit, at the end of the day. They are not sports people. I'm more convinced than ever that the Leafs will never win a championship as long as the team is run by this tiresome cabal of old Bay Streeters.
    It was refreshing to feel the winds of change in Leafland for awhile - even though many fans seem to prefer we just continue on in what's become, for me, an increasingly frustrating and entirely predictable way. Heaven forbid anyone should dare shake the Maple Leaf tree! Frankly, I think that's one of the problems with the team and its management - and maybe even some fans - we're more worried about pictures in a hall than really embracing significant change.
    Leiweke reminds me of another brash owner who many loved to hate, and who was prone to making outrageous statements: Conn Smythe. I think he would have delivered a winner like Mr Smythe did, as well. I also think we'll come to regret his untimely departure.

    1. Hi Gerund- I always appreciate hearing your perspective. Your comments around ownership give pause. You look at successful owners in the NFL, and I think of Robert Kraft in New England, a successful, passionate guy. In the NHL, I think of Mike Illitch in Detroit. Even the Yankees with George Steinbrenner all those years. Mark Cuban in the NBA. MLSE will never be that kind of ownership, it seems.

  9. I agree that only time will tell if Leiweke's tenure will have any lasting effect on the Leafs. I have hopes we will once again start wondering if the Leafs have a team that will compete for the cup instead of having one that we hope will make the playoffs. Of course that will have to been done in a totally different way from how it was in the past. Gone are the days when you could overspend to fill the team with experienced, if not a little long in tooth, players that could easily perform well enough to make the show, and then hope the old adage of "you never know what can happen once your there" can this season come true.

    If you can't outspend your opposition then you have to out-think them. The use of advanced stats can be a useful tool in trying to get that edge on the competition. I do worry that if they try and rely too much on numbers that it might blind them to what is actually happening on the ice and strictly make decisions based on stats. When I start reading articles claiming "Bozak on his way out", just because of the hiring of Cam Charron and Darryl Metcalf, and "Leafs getting away from playing tough hockey" it worries me that this could be a step in the wrong direction.

    1. I would agree, Stan, that numbers will always only tell us part of the story. I don't know if they're "intangibles", but heart and desire do matter- especially at playoff time. Skill, of course, positioning, defensive awareness and accountability- it all adds up to individual and team success.

      Toughness is important, too. The LA Kings may use advanced stats, and the Bruins and Hawks as well, but they have players who work awfully hard as well, to go along with all that talent. I just want the Leafs to be hard to play against.

  10. Hi Michael,

    I agree with your comments about the numbers..

    I am so glad he is gone. He did not know who the Leafs are and what they mean. That is a real bad sign but he did not really care. I do not know if the Shanahan hire was completely on him. I doubt it.

    His nonsens started with naming Reimer "the guy we inherrited".
    He followed it up with the desire to remove pictures from the ACC.
    My favourite comment at all was in the middle of a bad stretch: October play was no fluke.
    Clearly he saw none of the Leafs games in October. And he even did not listen to what his Coach had to say in October and afterwards.
    Then there was the famous CULTURE CHANGE ( wich some genius reporter pins know on Shanahan).
    I was so upset when I read the monument will be build because of his initiative (again do not know if true). Feels like: Let's throw them fans a bone, perhaps they do not worry about my errors that much then.

    Good riddance!

    P.S.: I hope he will give Shanahan the Parade route.

  11. Although he could not sink any lower, I am very disapointed in how Leiweke behaved again.
    Every time he steps into the light he says something really bad. I don not understand how people so easily accept that. I would expect sport fans in Toronto to stand up and make a strong response. You could expect a certain amount of decency in a guy that has his position.
    I can only hope his successor has a charaycter.