Leafs at a loss

John Ferguson, Maple Leafs GM, is grim-faced at the news that the NHL had cancelled the hockey...

John Ferguson, Maple Leafs GM, is grim-faced at the news that the NHL had cancelled the hockey season, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2005. (Toronto Sun/David Lucas)

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

If the walls inside the Maple Leafs offices could talk, you very well might have heard a few choice words that rhyme with puck yesterday.

Of course, the suits in charge of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment never would express such bitterness in public. They're too busy preaching the usual company line.

But there are whispers that behind closed doors management cannot understand how the league ever reached the point of cancelling the season.

Perhaps the most telling sign came during an afternoon news conference at the Air Canada Centre involving MLSEL president Richard Peddie and Leafs general manager John Ferguson.

When asked if commissioner Gary Bettman had done a good job throughout this process, Peddie paused for about five seconds. His silence spoke volumes.

"I don't know if anyone did a good job in (this process)," Peddie finally said, struggling to find the proper words. "We want to play hockey and we're not doing that right now, so we all get a failing grade, players and owners."

DETERMINED

How determined was Leafs ownership to help broker a new collective bargaining agreement? Consider that MLSEL chairman Larry Tanenbaum recently held a get-together with Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux and Toronto forward Tie Domi in search of possible solutions.

"Larry did have that meeting," Peddie said. "It was a couple of influential people trying to get the sides back playing the game."

The Leafs are sincere in their belief that a new market system is needed. Revenue growth has not kept up with expenditures the past several seasons, even though the cash-cow franchise keeps hauling in the big bucks.

But did it require wiping out an entire season? If you read between the lines, it's apparent those at MLSEL figure there must have been some other way.

"We have been championing the Maple Leafs cause throughout all of this," Peddie said. "We are very familiar with labour negotiations (at MLSEL) and we were on the phone daily with the league. We will continue to work behind the scenes."

Because the Leafs gross an estimated $1.3 million per home date, they are suffering a significant financial hit with every game that is wiped out by the lockout. Little wonder they would love to find a way to get their players back on the ice.

Peddie, by the way, would not confirm those figures.

"With all due respect to the players, they don't know how to read the numbers," Peddie said when asked why the Leafs had not made their financial records public. "That's not a criticism; it's just not their expertise. It's the same way that my expertise is not slap shots or wrist shots."

Peddie said no layoffs are planned at MLSEL, at least for the time being. Pay cuts scheduled for last month have been pushed back until September.

Season-ticket refunds continue to be sent out, with subscribers receiving an additional 4.75% interest on their initial investment.

Those looking to renew for 2005-06 likely would need to forward a minimal deposit but "such issues still need to be discussed," Peddie said.


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