The last decade of Toronto Maple Leafs hockey has been marred by failure. The last time this team made the playoffs in an 82 game season, I was in high school. My 10-year reunion takes place this upcoming winter.
As an organization, there have been poor decisions the team has not been able to recover from:
- They traded Tuukka Rask for Andrew Raycroft before Rask had played a single NHL game. There is even a possibility that the Leafs could have had Raycroft off waivers had they waited, but they traded what turned out to be the best goalie on the planet today. Since then, it’s been a revolving door of goaltenders from Justin Pogge, to Vesa Toskala, to James Reimer, and now to Jonathan Bernier.
- The team bought out Mikhail Grabovski – who has a points/60 at 5-on-5 over the last four years of 1.84 while Tyler Bozak is at 1.60. That same summer, they also let Clarke MacArthur walk, and he went to tally 24 goals and 55 points for the Senators.
- One year apart, they signed Mike Komisarek to a 5-year contract and Jeff Finger to a 4-year contract. Komisarek was bought out while Finger was buried in the AHL.
- At a time when they were one of the worst teams in the league, they traded away two first round picks and a second round pick. Sure, Kessel has turned out to be one of the top players in the league. At the same time, so has Tyler Seguin, and Dougie Hamilton is on his way to becoming a star.
The list goes on and on, but I think the point here is made. Over the last decade, this team has been a mess.
That was supposed to be corrected with the hiring of Tim Leiweke, the man brought over from AEG (a conglomerate that owns teams like the LA Kings, LA Galaxy, Manchester Monarchs, among others) to serve as president and CEO of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, the parent company for the Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC, and yes, the Toronto Maple Leafs. With the success that AEG had it was hoped that he could do the same with MLSE.
As a whole, it’s been a financial success: The Raptors had their best season in years, finally getting back to the NBA playoffs; FC signed major foreign talent to get fans to the park (which happened early on); the Leafs continued to make money hand over fist.
The news came today, though, that less than 14 months after taking over as president and CEO of MLSE, Leiweke would be stepping down:
Leiweke would come out immediately and deny the reports, but Friedman’s credibility is sky-high, and he would never report something like this if there wasn’t something to it.
The reasoning? New challenges:
I can’t think of a bigger challenge than turning any of the Toronto franchises into perennial contenders. That hasn’t been the case for a major sports team in Toronto since the early 90s.
Should Leiweke be stepping down, and I’m operating under the assumption that he is, it is truly the end of an era. Not a particularly successful era, but an era nonetheless. Here are some highlights from Leiweke’s tenure:
In the National Post “And I will say it, front and centre with the cameras rolling: Could not be more excited about the parade route … and we’re going to throw you one, I promise.”
Leiweke signed Dave Nonis to a 5-year contract extension less than a month after taking his position in MLSE. From the CBC: “This extension will allow David (Nonis) to build the time to build his kind of team to produce steady results year after year. Everyone is excited about his ability and grasp of the NHL landscape and today’s new contract agreement will offer the Leafs consistency and a long-term vision.” Less than one year after this quote, Leiweke hired Brendan Shanahan to be Nonis’s babysitter.
Leiweke talked to George Stroumboulopoulos in April and delivered an extremely prescient quote: “Shoot at us all you want, but we will come out of this and be better for it.” The Leafs were outshot this year by the same margin as the Buffalo Sabres, who were one of the worst teams this millennium.
Whatever your feelings are on Leiweke – I don’t have any particular inclination – he has left the Leafs in a better place than they were a year ago. With the hiring of Shanahan and analytically-inclined Kyle Dubas, the Leafs are finally putting the building blocks in place at the top of the organization that could eventually lead to sustained success down the road.
Maybe even a parade.