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Leafs win; Peddie loves Burke; and why it’s still so easy to dislike MLSE

Giguerre making big stops in the dying seconds to preserve a win is the kind of thing Leaf fans have thought about all summer.  He made two huge saves late in the opener to do just that.  It was good to see Versteeg, Sjostrom and Kulemin on the ice in the dying seconds.  That demonstrates how important those three are as all-around contributors in Wilson's plans. 

After fifty+ years following the Leafs, I've learned, like many of you, that one game doesn't make a season.  But it's a start.

I'll write more about the opening-game victory later.

I had already been planning to post an item on Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, then Richard Peddie spoke earlier this week.  His comments were hard to ignore and they actually lead perfectly into some broader thoughts on MLSE.


Surely many Leaf fans found Richard Peddie’s comments this week (I cite a Canadian Press story) about Brian Burke humorous.

He gives Burke credit for building a deep, talented management team.  No argument there.

But Peddie, the man who largely set this organization into its current tailspin back in 2004 by instituting a peculiar process that resulted in the hiring of an inexperienced GM for the Leafs (and is the man who trumpeted the hiring of Bryan Colangelo as the answer on the basketball side), said the following:

"Then he (Burke) set about changing the culture of the team. I've never seen a GM that had a really clear vision of what kind of team he wanted. I've worked with seven of them, which might say something about the longevity of GMs at our place, but he's got this clear, clear vision -- goalies, defence, four lines, all that. I've never heard it, basketball, soccer, hockey, as clear as him. ...

C’mon, that’s funny.  Peddie’s definition of a GM with a “clear vision” is, you know… “goalies, defense, four lines, all that…”.  It just shows that, despite his acknowledged business savvy (and money-making ability on behalf of MLSE), Peddie doesn’t get out of Toronto much, it would seem, to see just how capable other management teams are in other markets.

I mean, Burke is a very good hockey guy and all, but let’s not go overboard.  Yes, he won that Cup in Anaheim, but that was a team that had very much been built by his predecessor, Bryan Murray.  “Building from the back end”, as we have heard Burke say often, is not a novel concept for building a successful hockey team.  Nor is building a team around the concept of “team toughness”.

For the sake of accuracy, if building from the back end was his “philosophy” in Vancouver (the one team he truly “built” and stayed with over a period of time), his goaltending still let him down every year in the playoffs and the Canucks lost early in the playoffs every spring.   And he did nothing to rectify the situation, perhaps out of loyalty to his goalie.

This is not a slam of Burke.  As I said, he’s obviously a very good hockey man.  But the NHL is filled with them.  Detroit has a bunch.  So does Chicago, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and a number of other organizations. Dale Tallon is a proven hockey guy down in Florida.  Yzerman is now in Tampa.  Dean Lombardi has built the LA Kings on the west coast.  There are lots of top hockey guys out there.  Based on his record, Burke is good.  But he doesn’t stand above the pack.

It’s just amazing that Richard Peddie manages to keep a straight face (or that anyone even listens anymore) when he speaks.  This is the man who has helped run the Leafs, Raptors and now Toronto FC into the ground.  Yet he still speaks with apparent authority on behalf of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment.

Does any Leaf fan, anywhere, care about his opinion of Brian Burke? Or anything relating to the hockey, basketball or soccer teams?

I certainly don’t. 

It’s too easy to poke fun at organizations that always do poorly, and the Maple Leafs, in the hockey world, are often looked at in those terms.

While it is not true that they have always been doormats, history shows it’s been a while since the team has had ultimate success.

Indeed, the team’s overall struggles since 1967 make it hard to win the argument that they have been well-managed in terms of on-ice success.  Financially, the Leafs have always been a money-maker, dating back to the 1930s and the days of Conn Smythe, then his son Stafford, and of course, Harold Ballard through the 1970s and '80s.  And they still are today.

Since ’67, the Leafs have had fleeting moments where they looked almost good enough to play with the big boys.  General Manager Jim Gregory built a good team, a mix of veterans and kids in the very early 1970s, but the WHA abruptly ended that.

With Darryl Sittler as captain and Roger Neilson as coach in the late 1970s, they won only one best-of-seven playoff series but they were seemingly on the way to becoming a legitimate contender.  Then Punch Imlach returned and dismantled the core group.

The ‘80s were, for the most part, desperate times.  Some good young players, including Wendel Clark, provided moments here and there but there was never any danger they would run the table and win a championship.

That all changed, however momentarily, when Pat Burns arrived just after Doug Gilmour did in the early 1990s.  Two final-four appearances created hope that the organization, after the Ballard years, was maybe, finally, getting it right.

But they slipped again, and team architect Cliff Fletcher was let go.

Ken Dryden, he of the five Montreal Cups as a player, ushered in a new, more fan-responsive era.  Under coach Pat Quinn, the Leafs were good every year, just never quite good enough.  But they were highly competitive every year, and twice made it to the final four.  In 2002, they should have (easy to say, I realize) played for the Cup, but were upset by the Hurricanes, somehow, in the semi-finals.

But early in the Quinn era, the MLSE ownership structure shifted, and Richard Peddie became a key player in the piece.

The move to relieve Quinn of the GM duties in 2004 and replace him with a young GM set the organization back for years.  That was on Peddie— and ownership.  They still haven’t recovered.

Now we have Brian Burke, entering his (almost) third season with the club.

The real issue with the Leafs is not simply who is the GM (and Burke is a top hockey man, as I’ve acknowledged above)  but who owns the team. 

It can’t be a coincidence that the Raptors have never achieved anything in their 15 years, owned as they are by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, and also presided over by MLSE “President” Richard Peddie.  From day one they have chosen oddly when it comes to leadership positions.  Young franchise players eventually become disgruntled ex-Raptors.  Even the hiring of  Bryan Colangelo, trumpeted initially as a stroke of genius, has gone anything but well.  The Raptors are almost as far away from being competitive now, in a poor conference, as they were as an expansion team fifteen years ago.

The soccer Toronto FC, also owned by the same folks, have been embraced by a loving fan base, but even that love affair is wearing thin as mismanagement and cobbled-together decisions have thrown the team into a tailspin that won’t easily be turned around.

For many years, Peddie had his fingerprints on too many hockey and basketball decisions, and was far too often the “face” of the organization.  He does not inspire “like” when he speaks, and while that in and of itself is not necessarily crucial, coupled with awful decision-making, his presence has been, well, not conducive to success—except on the balance sheet.

As for the Leafs, Burke has often said he is not interested in a “five-year plan”.  He came on board in the fall of 2008.   But the reality is, it will be at least five years from the time he took over by the time his hockey club will be in a position to fight for anything more than a playoff spot. 

They have one nice forward line, one defenseman who was once an All-Star but no one, at this moment, who commands the game the way a Sittler, Salming, Clark, Gilmour or Sundin did.  And they were all, at different times, surrounded by a pretty strong supporting cast—and it still wasn’t enough.

So we can hope this time, under Burke’s organizational “philosophy”, things will be different.

But when the foundation (MLSE) is what it is, fans can’t help but wonder if the change doesn’t have to come even higher up the food chain.

And owners never fire themselves.


  1. Mike-
    My brother just thinks of Peddie as a very stupid, very rich fanboy who probably gets a little pants-rise every time he gets to hob-nob with professional athletes. We're certain he was the sports version of Chester when he was a teen-

  2. Spike!! That is GOLD!!!