Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Master of Puppets
A round table on how to fix the Maple Leafs

Regular readers will know I don’t do this very often, but given the current status of the Toronto Maple Leafs, I’ve taken to the blogosphere to solicit the opinion of another for a bit of a round-table discussion.

Pension Plan Puppets is, quite simply, a brilliant name for a blog about Toronto’s woebegone NHL franchise. Those three words somehow convey exactly how goofy the ownership situation is here at the moment, and when it came time to pick someone for a Q&A on the team, I went straight to the head Puppet himself.

In my opinion, the fact that an enormous pension plan is the majority owner of the Maple Leafs is precisely the reason they’re in the mess they’re in. (And the team is at the point that its worth so much that no one person could ever possibly hope to own them.)

Here are our thoughts on what’s happening in Toronto on the day that Cliff Fletcher replaces John Ferguson as general manager:


Mirtle: Number one, I love the name of your blog. I’m curious on your general take on what’s going on with the Leafs, how you came up with the name for your site, and how it applies to the mess they're in now.


PPP: This season has actually been a revelation in terms of unmasking just how much of an effect the MLSE board — and Larry Tanenbaum and [MLSE president] Richard Peddie especially — have on the running of the Maple Leafs. First, there was the whole senior adviser ridiculousness in the summer, which culminated in last weekend's revelation that the deal was basically in place to bring in Scotty Bowman but Peddie decided three weeks before the season he wanted to see where the team would go.

Then during the Leafs' first tough stretch, there was Peddie again, this time making ill-advised (read: stupid) comments that hiring JFJ [Ferguson] was a mistake.

More recently, there was Peddie's trip to the West Coast and the accompanying meetings that could have been quietly moved to this week when the Leafs had returned to Toronto. Instead, we were treated to daily interviews by Peddie, who clearly aspires to be the most quoted president in the league.

Finally, there is now the entire “Fire JFJ” saga which has gone from a seeming no-brainer move last summer to a daily drama that has made Ferguson a figure of sympathy and MLSE into a classless monolith that can't even fire a GM properly. Throw in the fact that the Leafs had just asked the Coyotes for permission to speak to Fletcher, and it's clear that the belief that MLSE just signed the cheques (which most fans and myself had shared) has been completely exploded.

As for the site name, I came up with the idea for the site during the Oilers' cup run when I found the Oilogosphere. Aside from being my inspiration for starting my own site, the stories and pictures of Whyte Avenue, coming on the heels of The Red Mile, led to a friend and I joking about how a Leafs’ Cup win could possibly lead to the biggest rioting and looting of a downtown in history. A quick scan of the OTPP's major investments showed some pretty serious holdings in downtown real estate.

The joke became that the pension plan was keeping fans happy by doing just well enough to tease at a possible ultimate victory without achieving it out of fear of the huge losses that would be incurred in the inevitable pillaging of Toronto. In effect, the fans were pension plan puppets.

At first the name was just a bit of a joke, but I wouldn't have guessed that how prescient it would turn out to be. This season's revelations about MLSE, Tanenbaum, and Peddie have shown that they really were focused on doing just well enough to make the playoffs as opposed to developing a plan to win the Stanley Cup. I outlined my personal "cutting the strings" moment here when I realized that the sum of the team was not equal to the parts and that major changes needed to be made. As I said before, this entire year has been a revelation in terms of the board involvement, but I get the sense that a lot more fans, even those that would rather focus on the positive side of things, have reached the same point. MF37 at Bitter Leaf Fan was one that was on the players before Ninja and myself, and he has a great few posts talking about firing JFJ, but this year was the point for MLSE and Peddie to start taking heat for their decisions.


Mirtle: This season has been a revelation, even for someone working in the media. But in this city, I don't know that people realize how much of an effect poor ownership is having — it seems, more and more, decisions are made entirely based on the bottom line given a risk-averse pension plan owns the team.

What that means is that they don't want to do things like firing Ferguson before his contract is up (that would cost money to bring in a replacement) and that any high profile candidates for the GM job aren't considered due to financial concerns.


It's becoming pretty obvious the team needs to really rebuild; how much hope do you have that this ownership group can see the light and do it?


PPP: You know, before this year and all of the issues that have arisen, I would have guessed that MLSE would be willing to make changes because despite what the legion of anti-Leafs fans think, you do make much more money with a winning team. Each home playoff date for the Leafs racks up about $1.5-million (not to mention the increase in merchandise sales during a playoff run). That's before you even think of the future benefits of price increases, advertising increases, etc., for the next couple of years after any Stanley Cup.

As much as those other fans like to believe that MLSE has maxed its profits, it is far from the truth. What does seem to be the truth is that MLSE is happy with the level of profits it has achieved.

The salary cap has obviously put a maximum on what they could spend on player salaries, but they haven't used their huge financial resources to put pay top dollar for management and scouting. They clearly didn't pay top dollar for a new GM, choosing to hire a rookie and let him 'grow' into the position. And as you mentioned, they didn't extend him before the season because they weren't sure about whether JFJ would last, but they didn't fire him either because they would have had to pay him almost $900,000 in severance.

The bottom line financially is the only thing that will motivate MLSE to make changes, and it won't ever be hit hard enough for them to see the danger of continued failure. As much as some Leaf fans clamour for change and stop going to games (I'm trying to sell my tickets to the remaining games that I have), the fan base is so large that there is always someone willing to step in and fill a void. Not to mention that such a large portion of Leafs season tickets are corporate tickets.

What incentive do they have to get rid of them? They'll still get their tax write-off and they'll still have clients that want to go to the games.

As much as opposition fans like to say it, Leafs fans aren't sheep. They love their team and want to see it succeed, but at the same time they are dedicated and loyal. Some might stop going to games and we might want them to lose, but we'll keep watching them on TV. And if they put together a run and push for the playoffs, we'll be there cheering them on and figuring out different scenarios that will get them in because we're true fans and that's what we do (but we'll hate ourselves for doing it).


Mirtle: You know, I'm actually shocked at the level of dedication of the fans here in Toronto, even through all of the nonsense the past few years. It seemed as though at the beginning of the year that things were going to turn ugly, what with the booing of Toskala, etc., but that seems to have lessened and they're once again living and dying with every win (and loss).

So I guess if the fans aren't going to stop going, and the profits aren't going to stop coming in, is the real hope then that the Teachers' Pension Plan thinks they can get top dollar in a sale and pull the chute?

It's a group that really doesn't seem overly concerned with poor PR or mismanagement, so is this a mess that stays put until someone new can come in? (Or as Tom Benjamin called it, a never-ending soap opera.)



PPP: A lot of people do have the hope that the OTPP will eventually get a deal so outrageously good that they can ignore (a) the massive profits (b)the yearly growth or (c) the potential risk from any other investment. Then, perhaps, they will sell, ideally to a single owner. (Before Ken Thomson's death, there were rumours he was interested.)

Even that wouldn't be a straightforward process. Each current owner has a right of first refusal option on the shares of the others. Not to mention that the last time the Leafs had a single owner, things didn't really go that well.

In the short-term, the status quo management and ownership remains the same, which is depressing. While a new owner could come in and be worse, there is still the hope MLSE will see the light and hire the best GM candidate possible and support any move he makes (more scouting, emphasis on player development) with the financial resources available to the company.

It never hurts to dream.


Mirtle: Speaking of dreaming, let's say MLSE loses their minds and after Peddie's long, arduous search, appoints me team president and Pension Plan Puppet as GM. What moves do we make? What's priority No. 1 and who are your untouchables? (And who do you dump for an eighth-round pick?)


PPP: Whew, that's a tough one.

Goalies: Raycroft - I'd dump him for anything, literally anything that another team would give us. If no one gives a sniff, waive him and call him back up and swallow the 50% of his contract. I wouldn't waste a buyout on him.

Toskala - I'd keep him for the duration because, as The Hat mentioned, no one learns in a blowout and too much losing can ruin players.

Defence: Wozniewski - He is basically Raycroft except he is allowed to screw up all around the rink instead of just in net. Same deal there.

McCabe - trade him in a heartbeat. The new defencemen don't need to learn his bad habits and a non-playoff team doesn't need a power-play specialist. MLSE would never allow three more years at his salary and his contract is structured so that he is paid less over the last three years, so if I couldn't move him then he'd be bought out.

Hal Gill - I love him and I'd want him to help mentor youngsters that have the tools to be good penalty killers — but he's no untouchable.

Ian White - I'd keep him since he's shown to be a pretty good third pairing defenceman and he would be good on the power play, but if a good enough deal came in, then I'd let him go.

Kubina - His contract would be hard to move and I am saving the other buyout for one of the forwards. People expect more offence for his price tag, which is fair enough, but he's the team's best full-time defenceman 5-on-5 according to Behind The Net's stats (35GF/29GA - 3.37 GFON/60, 2.79 GAON/60). If he could be moved I would move him though.

Kaberle - His contract is great, he moves the puck very well, he always gives 110%, and is ridiculously smart. He would bring a tonne on the trade market.

Colaiacovo - I wouldn't/couldn't trade because of injuries. Give him until the end of this contract to pan out.

Forwards: The youth is what I would keep. Steen, Stajan, Wellwood, Antropov, Ponikarovsky, Tlusty. The rest of the forwards are fair game. If we couldn't get anything for Tucker or Blake then I would use a buyout on them.

The only untouchables overall would be: Toskala, Stralman, Colaiacovo, Steen, Wellwood, Stajan, Antro, Tlusty, and Pony.

In terms of priority, the moves would be:

1. Get rid of Raycroft

2. Fire Maurice and his assistants. I liked him when he came in, but the fact that the penalty kill has been terrible, and that the team is the only one that plays man-to-man defence when it has shown a complete inability to is too much

3. Trade Sundin and Kaberle. Those two would have to bring in at least one younger guy that can play and a first rounder.

4. Trade/Buyout McCabe, Kubina, Blake, Tucker. Work the trade route for these four as hard as possible and if nothing is working then try to convince MLSE to swallow their contracts like Lou Lamoriello did with Alex Mogilny. Then, either buyout or put through recall waivers — depending on which option is the cheapest.

In my opinion Blake would be the easiest to move followed by Kubina. McCabe and Tucker would likely be buyouts, but the former is a luxury item and the latter is either playing hurt or has forgotten what got him his contract. Either way, time to move on.


Mirtle: Blake is going to be impossible to trade. He's ill, hasn't played well, and has a ridiculous contract ($20-million over five years) that takes him almost to age 40. Teams are more likely to take Kubina, and that's not very likely.

Tucker may find a home, but McCabe's staying put — especially given his injuries. And stashing any of them in the minors is a lot different than putting a 36-year-old Mogilny down for 20 games — they are still NHL calibre skaters, and it's actually only the size of their NHL deals which is out of whack.

The league would frown heavily on it, and I can’t see the weak-kneed ownership willing to take a stand on something like that.

Buy them out. If you're going with kids, who needs the cap space anyway?


The one thing I think you've picked up on is who the most valuable asset is here, and it's not Sundin. For all the “Trade Mats” talk, Kaberle is this team's most valuable asset, and he has a reasonable deal. He’d be would be worth a small ransom from some team that needs a top defencemen (re: many of them).


Here's another idea for you: Is building through the draft actually the way to go for the Leafs? Aren't the kids getting a little, ah, expensive right around the age they're useful?



PPP: Blake has suffered from being put in an untenable position — and not just with the cancer. He was brought in to be Sundin's winger, but he is not the kind of winger that has ever played well with Mats. His contract is definitely an anchor that would sink any potential deal.

The reason I didn't say buy them all out is because I thought that there was a cap on how many times you could buy out a player as a team. Not sure if that is right, but I was under the impression that you could only do it something like three times. Anyway, you're right, who needs the cap space — plus the max is going up.

The league would definitely frown on the Leafs trying to put NHL players in the minors, but what are they going to do to their richest franchise?

You've written enough about the salary cap and the increasing cost of youth to show that, despite what most people would have you believe, you can't just tank five years in a row, get five top picks, let them mature, and then win a Cup. Pittsburgh is already facing decisions with Staal, Fleury and Malkin. Chicago is getting into that territory in a couple of years as well.

The Leafs right now have a core of young players that I think — if they are flanked with the right kind of cheap veterans and supplemented with a couple of impact young stars (Stamkos/Doughty/Tavares) plus the guys they have (Kulemin, Vorobiev) — could in a couple of years be set to contend with the addition of one or two UFAs. The turnaround for going from bottom feeders to contenders could be a matter of three to five years depending on how results play out, how patient the Leafs are, and how player development comes along — which is why the next head coaching decision is so important along with whoever takes over the Marlies.

Basically, what I am trying to say is that it'll take more than just good draft position and a plethora of picks to get this team contending. The next GM will have to be a great talent evaluator in order to make decisions on the current group of youth and to use future picks wisely.

Kaberle is definitely the team's top asset. I think the reason that most people don't want to trade him is because he is currently in his prime and he seems like a defenceman like Leetch that can be effective late into his career. If this plan to clean house were to work, then I would keep Kaberle because in three years, he'll be 31 and he'll still be among the best puck-moving defencemen in the league. Realistically, with his current contract, he could fetch the Leafs the most on the open market.

As you said, most teams could use him. Hell, San Jose (15th PP) would probably be more interested in him than Sundin. Same with Vancouver (18th), Calgary (20th), New York Rangers (23rd) or the New Jersey Devils (28th). Even Ottawa (15th) might take a look at adding him — especially since they would be replacing Redden at the same time.


Mirtle: My mistake — you're right, there is a limit on buyouts. Three over the life of the CBA. Chicago reached theirs already after a few awful signings.


PPP: Okay, I thought I was making it up. So basically, you have to give away at least one of those four guys and maybe two — but at least you get rid of them.



Mirtle: Finally, what's the worst part about cheering for the Leafs? How long have you endured this agony?


PPP: I remember being about 6 years old one night when the Flames beat the Leafs 12-1 around Christmas. My dad was upset and called the Leafs clowns. I was already so True Blue that I turned around and called him a clown.

It was the end of my night and it was confirmation that I was doomed.

The worst part is every other hockey fan on the planet. We get hammered and blamed for every decision that management makes. We get harassed at every away game when I know that opposition fans don't get treated the same way at the ACC. Regardless of facts, the Leafs always suck, their players all suck, they've all sucked, they'll always suck, and people rejoice in their failures. MF37 at Bitter Leaf Fan had a posting about all of the teams that had not won a cup in the last 15 years plus the ones that had gone 35-plus and yet the fans of those teams still chant 1967 every game. We get the hatred normally reserved for the Yankees and none of the rewards.

It would be easy to take the path that basically every fan base in the NHL has taken at one point or another and stop cheering on the team or cheer for a new one but part of being a Leafs fan (like being a Red Sox fan) was knowing that you were going through the bad and that maybe, if things break the right way, there could be a ray of light at the end of the tunnel.

And if that day comes, God help every anti-Leafs fan because if you hated us before you're going to want to kill us.



My thanks to PPP for the round table. Hopefully we managed to solve something there — although that might run along the lines of bringing about world peace at this point.

Personally, I doubt we see much relief for 'Leafs Nation' in the near future.

related
Cliff Fletcher Named Interim GM [team release]
Leafs turn to Fletcher [Globesports.com]
Numbers Game: Ferguson by the numbers [Illegal Curve]
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36 Comments:

At 12:48 PM, January 22, 2008, Blogger Don said...

WTF - no shout out to your peeps at the BoO?

PPP - Real No. 1: Get Basille to offer $1 Billion for the Leafs.

 
At 12:54 PM, January 22, 2008, Blogger Chemmy said...

BoO representing. Nice work PPP.

 
At 1:22 PM, January 22, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just want to remind everyone that McCabe has a no movement clause in his contract. I think that means no trade, demotion, being put on waiver or buyout. He is a Leaf for 3 more years.

Love your comments PPP.

 
At 1:35 PM, January 22, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

That is not right anonymous.

From section 11.8 (b) of the CBA:
A no-move clause may prevent the involuntary relocation of a Player, whether by Trade, Loan or Waiver claim. A no-move clause, however, may not restrict the Club's buy-out and termination rights as set forth in this Agreement.

 
At 1:36 PM, January 22, 2008, Anonymous PPP said...

Thanks chemmy. Don, my bad, and yeah Balsillie would be a nice option ;)

anonymous: Yeah, McCabe has a no-movement clause so in his case he'd have to be traded or bought out.

 
At 1:40 PM, January 22, 2008, Blogger MF37 said...

For all the talk of how much of a future JFJ still has in the game, that roundtable with PPP just confirms what a mess the Leafs are in.

Happy that the Leafs have finally made a move, but given the salaries, contracts, NTCs/NMCs I'm not holding my breath on any dramatic changes...

 
At 1:47 PM, January 22, 2008, Blogger Adam C said...

The joke became that the pension plan was keeping fans happy by doing just well enough to tease at a possible ultimate victory without achieving it out of fear of the huge losses that would be incurred in the inevitable pillaging of Toronto.

I like it.

I also like most of PPP's suggestions. It would hurt to let Kaberle go, but I'm not convinced he's the same player that he was last year. Assuming it was a generous offer I would take it.

I'm reluctant to admit that McCabe is untradeable. I'm suspicious that you could get Brad Richards for him, even up - but right now that wouldn't be the right deal for the Leafs. You still might be able to find a contract that someone who needs a scoring threat from the blueline might want to shed. Mike Rathje? Patrick Marleau? As long as they expire by 2010 (when you're scheduled to hunt down some big UFAs) it helps your plan. If you buy McCabe out, he's still going to hit your salary cap for a couple of million up until 2014.

On that score, I disagree that getting rid of Kubina needs to be a priority. Obviously, if you can get something positive for him, then take it. Otherwise, he has been their best D this year, and would presumably have some things to teach younger defencemen - AND his contract is up in 2010. Under your plan, you don't need cap space until then. As Mirtle says, it's his pay and not his play that's the problem; if you can't trade him you might as well keep him.


I honestly think you could find a home for Tucker fairly easily as as long as you didn't look for much in exchange. Recall waivers would guarantee it, at a lower cost than a buyout.

Add using up the buyout options to the list of JFJ's sins. I never understood why he couldn't at least get Domi's contract thrown into the Raycroft deal. Nevertheless, Blake may need to be bought out; even at half the salary he may not have any takers.

 
At 1:49 PM, January 22, 2008, Blogger Chemmy said...

Tucker is almost certainly playing with a torn tendon in his knee right now.

 
At 1:58 PM, January 22, 2008, Anonymous PPP said...

Adam C - Buyouts would definitely be a final option that hopefully wouldn't have to be used because as you mentioned, those penalties would drag on far into the future.

Kubina would depend on what other moves were made. If you can clear out Blake, Tucker, and McCabe then you keep him. If you move Kaberle then you keep Kubina.

Tucker is definitely playing hurt but even then, he's a luxury item in a rebuilding team.

p.s. thanks to James for letting me participate. Thankfully we finished this before the firing!

 
At 2:05 PM, January 22, 2008, Anonymous David Johnson said...

I know I am in a minority but I don't believe the Leafs to be near as bad a team as everyone portrays them to be. And if you watched the Cliff Fletcher he eluded to that when he inferred that this current team is substantially better than the Leaf team he took over in 1991 even though the questioner inferred they were similar situations.

What needs to change is the culture in and around the club. It needs to get an identity back. Pre-lockout it was a tough, gritty, hard nosed team that was real tough to play against (just ask the Ottawa Senators). Now they have no image. They are neither a gritty team or a defensive minded team or an offensive minded team. They have no identity and seemingly have no game plan. Part of that blame goes on the shoulders of JFJ but a huge part of it goes on the shoulders of Paul Maurice. There are gritty players on this team. Tucker is gritty, but doesn't play that way. Blake is gritty, but isn't playing that way. Kilger is gritty but seemingly is non-existant in most games. The only two guys that seem to go in the corners and really battle now are Sundin and Antropov. That needs to change.

The other failure of this team is special teams. Paul Maurice has taken a team that was good on special teams and weak 5 on 5 to one that is horrific on special teams and barely OK 5 on 5.

Paul Maurice took a team that achieved 92 points last year and with the addition of Jason Blake and much better goaltending with Toskala and turned it into a team on pace for 77 points.

How Maurice escapes ample blame is far beyond me.

Kubina gets a lot of criticism but he is actually having a pretty good year this year. He is on pace for a career high in points and is tied for the second best +/- on the team at +4. It is sad that the Toronto media wrote Kubina off as an over paid incompetent defenseman when he had a mixed year last year that can be partially blamed on injuries and are too self-consumed to be willing to admit they were wrong on this guy.

Hal Gill has had two very good seasons for the Leafs and is also on pace for a career high in points and I have yet to see him being given much credit for it either.

And JFJ doesn't get any credit for bringing in either but he should.

Again, I am probably in the minority but I believe with better coaching and a better team culture and a few key moves this team can turn itself around very quickly. I can only hope that the hiring of Cliff Fletcher will stave off the media attack dogs long enough for this team to change its culture and identity, gain some confidence and for Fletcher to work some of his magic.

 
At 2:40 PM, January 22, 2008, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

That line about calling your dad a clown made my day.

 
At 3:07 PM, January 22, 2008, Blogger Adam C said...

No offense, but you can put me down as someone who believes that successful teams have an 'identity' because they are successful, and not the other way around. All four of your forward lines can play a different style, but if they play better than the other team, you will win.

Consider the Ducks last year. You could say that their identity was that of a "physically punishing" team, but that's not how Selanne, MacDonald, Pahlsson or Neidermeyer played, and they logged an awful lot of ice time. Really they were an our-defenceman-are-ridiculously-better-than-your-forwards kind of team, but that's just silly.

You can say that "hard working team" is an identity that will win games, but is "hard working" really an identity, or just a simple recipe for success?

 
At 3:14 PM, January 22, 2008, Blogger Chemmy said...

PPP: I just think that keeping a guy like Tucker around helps you develop younger talent. He's a guy that never gives up.

DJ: Spot on about Maurice. How many times do we need to see the wrong line give up a game winning goal with seconds left in the third?

 
At 3:18 PM, January 22, 2008, Anonymous David Johnson said...

Pahlsson led the Ducks in hits last year and was among the league leaders so I would consider him a physical player. But yes, not all players on the team have to play the same way, but the Ducks had an identity. They were a physical team who are hard to play against and aside from Selanne and McDonald (the pure skill on the team) most of their forwards played that way and were expected to play that way.

The Leafs on the other hand don't have that identity. They don't have a style of play. As such they suffer from huge inconsistencies. For stretches they look like a top level team and in other stretches they look like the worst team in the league. The last 4 games they looked real good. The dozen previous games they looked horrific. The half dozen before they they looked really good. That inconsistency is a sign of either a lack of a team plan or a lack of adherence to that plan.

 
At 3:26 PM, January 22, 2008, Anonymous ken said...

That Leafs-Calgary game was Feb. 22, 1990. The final score was 12-2.

I remember because I was on a school trip to Quebec, surrounded by Montreal fans. Not fun.

Frickin' Leafs.

 
At 3:39 PM, January 22, 2008, Anonymous PPP said...

Thanks Ken! I guess I get points for being close ;) Stupid unreliable childhood memory.

 
At 3:41 PM, January 22, 2008, Blogger Adam C said...

Pahlsson led the Ducks in hits last year and was among the league leaders so I would consider him a physical player.

I stand corrected. And I agree with most of your statements about the Leafs' inconsistencies, and evident coaching deficiencies.

But I still think the "team identity" construct is a cop-out. The Leafs don't need to decide to be a "defensive" team or an "offensive" team or a "gritty" team. When they win, it's because they play hard, and each player plays to his strengths.

 
At 4:24 PM, January 22, 2008, Blogger Baroque said...

Good discussion.

It makes me feel even more sorry for the Toronto fans (but it makes the Detroit Lions look at least a little better in comparison - just because they fire scapegoats more rapidly and avoid turning them into media pinatas).

 
At 8:47 PM, January 22, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good discussion, but holy smokes, guy - you have to cut down the length of the responses.

No offense, but did the first question require a 568-word answer? Most newspaper columns have to clock in under 600, and you nearly blew the budget on the first question!

 
At 9:13 PM, January 22, 2008, Anonymous PPP said...

Thankfully James didn't give me a word limit ;) although I wouldn't be surprised if he wished he had.

 
At 9:34 PM, January 22, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Heh, since when is this a newspaper column? Length is never an issue as far as I'm concerned.

 
At 10:14 PM, January 22, 2008, Anonymous Gerald said...

PPP - Real No. 1: Get Basille to offer $1 Billion for the Leafs.

1. Not enough.

2. Balsillie does not have anywhere near that much to spend on a sports team.

 
At 11:02 PM, January 22, 2008, Blogger chuckles100 said...

Richard Peddie being a moron and the Ontario Teacher's Pension Plan being a millstone around the neck of the Leafs are two different things. Peddie is dysfunctional and not a hockey man. However... it's not like the Leafs don't spend money. IMHO they spend too much too stupidly.

They also hired one of the up and coming GMs in JFJ - although he may be cooked for a few years now. Considering the contracts handed out today, the ones he gave to some Leaf players are no longer insane. The problem is they needed to fish or cut bait two or three years ago. What new GM, young or old, will carve up a team immediately upon taking the position? Not many. Leafs fans wanted to win now without realizing you need to bleed losses for years to do it. Toronto isn't patient as a market. JFJ tried the middle road but his team doesn't have the horses. The man isn't stupid. He was screwed from the start.

 
At 9:35 AM, January 23, 2008, Anonymous PPP said...

Peddie represents the OTPP on the board of MLSE. They could replace him in a second.

As for the spending, they do spend to the max on players' salaries but they have skimped on player development, drafting, and scouting which was the reason behind Craig Button leaving the organization.

 
At 11:34 AM, January 23, 2008, Anonymous Gerald said...

As for the spending, they do spend to the max on players' salaries but they have skimped on player development, drafting, and scouting which was the reason behind Craig Button leaving the organization.

To be honest, this sounds like another myth that has grown up around the Leafs, much like the broader and even more enduring myth that the Leafs' woes are due to anything related to the fact that they are owned by the OTPP - which is a giant pile of rubbish, to be frank about it. The media has made its mind up that such is the case, that's for sure, but it is simply not the case.

PPP, do you have any evidence that such is the reason why Button left, and not because he and Ferguson did not see eye to eye? And when I mean evidence, I am not referring to idle speculation of the media, but rather a statement form the guy himself?

There is a problem in that you have a minority owner running around like an idiot babbling to his chum Steve Simmons and select other media outlets, who are more than happy to assist him in fomenting media hysteria about the team's management. Were I advising the board, I would have told them to call a press conference and expose that minority owner for the lack of professionalism that he is showing, but that is just me.

In any event, that media hysteria that Mr. Tanenbaum foments is not the cause of the Leafs playing poorly. The Leafs have played poorly because they have deficiencies in the areas of talent assembly, coaching and player performance. That would be the same no matter who owned the team. It causes fan angst, but anyone who thinks that talent assembly, coaching and player performance are affected by fan angst is vastly overestimating the effects of fan angst. Every GM and coach in the league (heck, in pro sports) believes to the core of their being that they know huge amounts more than the fanbase. Hockey players do not in their heart believe that criticism is valid unless you have strapped on a set of blades and skated in an NHL game (again, no different from any other pro athlete, with the comment as adjusted for their respective sports). All of those guys will manage/coach/play without regard to that stuff.

This idea that the Leafs GM (whoever he is from time to time) is hamstrung in a manner that is any different than every GM in every sport in the world is more than a little silly. There is no GM that answers to nobody. There is no GM that does not run the most major decisions past his boss. Not one - even the vaunted Mr. Colangelo on the basketball side.

 
At 12:07 PM, January 23, 2008, Anonymous PPP said...

Gerald, I completely agree with your point about Larry Tanenbaum running around and leaking stories to the media. It's no surprise that even yesterday there were reports of how Tanenbaum didn't agree with the move forward.

The Leafs have played poorly because they have deficiencies in the areas of talent assembly, coaching and player performance. That would be the same no matter who owned the team.

How would that be the same no matter who owned the team?

I'll look for a published report about why Button left. From my understanding, and yes it was a media report so it probably was false (is that what you are saying?), one of the breaking points was that Button presented JFJ with a plan about how to create a network of scouts, specifically in Russia, with more than just scouting in mind and JFJ shot that down.

Now I guess you could argue that it was a case of JFJ and Button not seeing eye-to-eye but at the same time you are arguing that any GM has to run things past his boss so ultimately if the plan didn't pass muster it would have been because the board didn't approve it. So a plan to improve the deficiencies in talent assembly, coaching and player performance was shot down by the board whose majority stakeholder is the OTPP.

But any owner would have shot that plan down.

GMs may have to run their ideas past their bosses but they do not generally have to run them past a CEO of the team and a board of directors made up of business people. They tend to have to run them past Presidents (or whatever title the head of hockey operations has) that have NHL experience whether that's playing or managing.

And I completely agree with your fan angst/media hysteria point.

 
At 1:09 PM, January 23, 2008, Blogger Adam C said...

I can't say that I know the extent to which Bryan Colangelo reports his decisions to the board, but I am 100% confident that if he decides to fire Sam Mitchell, he will not need to ask permission.

I disagree with PPP that new ownership is a requirement here, but a new executive structure seems to be imperative. Somewhere along the line, repeated determinations have been made to sacrifice this team's future for pointless runs at the playoffs. It's been plain for anyone to see that this is not and has not been a team "one or two players away" from Cup contention. Either JFJ is a complete idiot or someone above him without hockey expertise has been pulling the strings. The publicly acknowledged refusal to agree to a long range plan (which would involve extending the GM's contract) is very strong evidence of the latter.

Either the board is purely interested in profit at the expense of team success (and I agree here with Gerald that this seems unlikely; the two interests are convergent), or board members are Leaf fans who think they know what's best for the team.

Either way, the interference has got to stop and a long term president/GM needs to be brought in with some autonomy to make hockey decisions.

 
At 1:14 PM, January 23, 2008, Anonymous PPP said...

Adam C - I don't necessarily think that the OTPP needs to sell just that I believe what you outlined: A new management structure needs to be put in place.

Yesterday's press conference and announcement that the would be hiring a President AND GM for the team seems to be a ray of hope that they have seen the light.

I would however disagree that the team was not a player or two away from winning the Cup. In 2002 they made it to the ECF and in 2004 they were also close. What they have never been able to do is get the right player. Over the last two deadlines they were definitely not good candidates to be buyers, of that there is no doubt, and yet they still sacrificed the future to try to squeak in.

As for the interests of MLSE, they are definitely interested in making money and winning is a part of that but what I argued was that it seems that the marginal expense to get from playoff team to champion and the resulting increase in profitability does not seem to be as pressing as they would have fans believe.

 
At 5:26 PM, January 23, 2008, Anonymous Dan said...

PPP. I'm sure I heard Bob MacKenzie, or one of the big "insiders" on one of TSN, SN or Headline Sports say the Leafs blocked an opportunity for him to leave and pick up an a job somewhere else, no word on where.

Although your scenario makes sense as well, a little of column a and b perhaps?

Or I was hearing things while vomiting in my mouth watching Tenanbaum struggle mightily to answer questions in the media scrum after yesterday's Fergie Fiesta.

33 years leaf strong and counting, will I ever learn? Will they?

 
At 11:06 PM, January 23, 2008, Anonymous Gerald said...

I can't say that I know the extent to which Bryan Colangelo reports his decisions to the board, but I am 100% confident that if he decides to fire Sam Mitchell, he will not need to ask permission.

Adam, I will guarantee you 100% that he cannot. There is no sports team out there whose ownership will allow even their most senior management to throw away $15 million by firing another senior executive in the company without clearing it with ownership.

Where do people get this idea?

Ken Holland could not do it.

Lou Lamoriello could not do it.

Brian Burke could not do it.

Quite frankly, it would arguably constitute a breach of th eBoard's fiduciary duties to not require board approval for major items, such as eatign a 15 million dollar contract, or trading a player who is the face of a franchise, or other such major decisions.

 
At 11:12 PM, January 23, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Ferguson had a $15-million contract?

 
At 11:14 PM, January 23, 2008, Anonymous Gerald said...

It's been plain for anyone to see that this is not and has not been a team "one or two players away" from Cup contention. Either JFJ is a complete idiot or someone above him without hockey expertise has been pulling the strings

Why is it that, among hockey fans, everything is so completely black and white? Plain for anyone? I put it to you that as a whole hockey fans, notwithstanding their firmly held views on everything, don't know too much about whether a team is one or two players away from contention. What they are good at, though, is in assuming that their views are held by everyone.

Is it possible that perhaps there is a middle ground between JFJ being a "complete idiot" and perhaps having made some errors in evaluating talent? Is that possible?

 
At 11:15 PM, January 23, 2008, Anonymous Gerald said...

Ferguson had a $15-million contract?

No, Mitchell does. Adam referenced him as an example of Colangelo's supposed power.

 
At 12:28 AM, January 24, 2008, Anonymous Gerald said...

GMs may have to run their ideas past their bosses but they do not generally have to run them past a CEO of the team and a board of directors made up of business people. They tend to have to run them past Presidents (or whatever title the head of hockey operations has) that have NHL experience whether that's playing or managing.

Are you quite sure of that, PPP?

Idid a little research, and it might surprise you to know that, out of the thirty NHL teams, there are precisely THREE teams who follow the structure that you suggest is the norm - COLO (Pierre Lacroix), DET (Jim Devellano) and STL (John Davidson). In every other circumstance, the GM reports either to the owner or to a pure business executive. Your assertion is completely wrong.

Now I guess you could argue that it was a case of JFJ and Button not seeing eye-to-eye but at the same time you are arguing that any GM has to run things past his boss so ultimately if the plan didn't pass muster it would have been because the board didn't approve it. So a plan to improve the deficiencies in talent assembly, coaching and player performance was shot down by the board whose majority stakeholder is the OTPP.

Firstly, the logic of your statement eludes me. Secondly, as I clearly stated, GM's thoughout the sports world need to have MAJOR decisions approved. I did not say ALL decisions. That being said, even though I did not reference all decisions and your point is therefore moot, I really would like you to explain what you were saying, as the logical progression went off the rails somewhere. I am still scratching my head.

 
At 4:24 PM, January 24, 2008, Anonymous PPP said...

Gerald, thanks for the leg-work on the GM-owner relationships. I should have written that they don't usually have to present ideas to a non-hockey President/CEO and then a non-hockey board of directors. I am surprised to see that so many teams

In those three cases, after they speak to COLO (Pierre Lacroix), DET (Jim Devellano) and STL (John Davidson do they then have to go through to the full board of directors?

Firstly, the logic of your statement eludes me. Secondly, as I clearly stated, GM's thoughout the sports world need to have MAJOR decisions approved. I did not say ALL decisions. That being said, even though I did not reference all decisions and your point is therefore moot, I really would like you to explain what you were saying, as the logical progression went off the rails somewhere. I am still scratching my head.

You did say major decisions and I would classify the development of a scouting network to be major. In that case the board did not sanction a move that would have improved the three areas in which you correctly noted that the Leafs are deficient. But you also try to say that Ferguson is not hamstrung in any special way by the board or that the OTPP has no blame whatsoever in the outcome of events when Ferguson was indeed hamstrung by the board's unwillingness to spend the money needed to create the only kind of competitive advantage available to it in a cap system. Does that train of thought make sense now?

No, Mitchell does. Adam referenced him as an example of Colangelo's supposed power.

So you're suggesting that when Mitchell had no contract that Colangelo couldn't have fired him? What if there was room in the budget to cover the cost of paying him severance? At what point does the board let the GM/President present a budget and then handle their business.

Interestingly enough, despite your assertions that the board interferes so little into team affairs that Darren Dreger, who is a pretty reputable guy in my opinion, stated last night that he spoke with an NHL source that said that for them to take the President's job they would need written assertion that the only board participation in things would be to approve a budget at the beginning of the year and a meeting to review the season at its conclusion. Does that mean that the Leafs would be the only team in the NHL with that set-up?

 
At 4:27 PM, January 24, 2008, Blogger PPP said...

Why is it that, among hockey fans, everything is so completely black and white? Plain for anyone? I put it to you that as a whole hockey fans, notwithstanding their firmly held views on everything, don't know too much about whether a team is one or two players away from contention. What they are good at, though, is in assuming that their views are held by everyone.

Is it possible that perhaps there is a middle ground between JFJ being a "complete idiot" and perhaps having made some errors in evaluating talent? Is that possible?


It is possible.

Is it possible that your first paragraph could be applied to fans of any sports with all of them obivously have no knowledge of things since they are just fans?

Is it possible that if reading fan's opinions bothers you so much that you shouldn't put yourself through the pain of reading them?

I generally enjoy reading your contributions over at Tom Benjamin's site but why bother spending so much time reading things that seem to bother you so much.

 

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