Ganging up on Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs board chairman Larry Tanenbaum was shouted down at the NHL meetings earlier...

Toronto Maple Leafs board chairman Larry Tanenbaum was shouted down at the NHL meetings earlier this week by other board members, according to Sun sources. (Toronto Sun File Photo/Fred Thornhill)

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:40 AM ET

The gap between the Maple Leafs and the National Hockey League has grown wider, less trusting and more emotional.

At issue isn't just the philosophical conflict between commissioner Gary Bettman and Leafs board chairman Larry Tanenbaum, but the contentious relationship between a hockey club that wants a deal done yesterday and a league bent on protecting its weaker franchises.

The Toronto Sun has learned that Tanenbaum read from a prepared statement at the owners-only portion of Tuesday's board of governors meeting in New York, strongly stating the position of the Leafs and urging that a deal with the players must be accomplished. Immediately afterward, he became a target of verbal abuse from his fellow owners, numerous sources at the meeting have confirmed.

One source referred to the shouting down of Tanenbaum as "pretty ugly."

Another called it "nasty business."

When asked to confirm that he received significant backlash from fellow governors after reading his statement, Tanenbaum first said: "I did not receive any type of backlash. I deny that."

But he quickly went on to say: "The meeting was confidential from the point of view of 30 owners. We made comments and others made comments. Those comments will remain confidential. I'm not going to speak about what went on.

"That's the commissioner's job if he chooses to. The commissioner can characterize it any way he wants."

Tanenbaum did admit to leaving the meeting and returning to Toronto in an "emotional state."

"I hate this," he said yesterday in an interview. "This is awful, damned awful. I'm sorry we lost the season. We won't lose another one. We cannot.

"If we (the Leafs) were a power of one, we know we could do it. Unfortunately, that's not the way it works ...

"Not playing hockey is my No. 1 frustration. That's what we are here for. That's what our business is and that's what our fans expect.

"We should be playing and we are not and, yes, that is incredibly frustrating to me. I left the meeting frustrated by the fact we don't have a deal. And that level of frustration will continue.

"We as the ownership of the Toronto Maple Leafs want to be playing hockey. We don't want this."

Prior to the season being mothballed, Tanenbaum quietly had met with Mario Lemieux and Tie Domi in an attempt to bridge a gap between players and owners. But what has yet to be bridged is a gap between players and players, even at the negotiating level, and owners and owners, with the Leafs clearly representing the minority.

Surprisingly some of the Leafs' staunchest critics at the board of governors meeting were fellow large-market owners.

The Leafs, meanwhile, have been the most vigilant and inwardly outspoken team opposed to the cancellation of the 2004-05 season.

The club has made significant profits annually for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., in the very system that hockey is now fighting against.

And on the day the season was officially called off, CEO Richard Peddie was asked about the job Bettman has done in the negotiations.

He answered, first by pausing, then by saying: "I don't know if anyone did a good job ... We all get a failing grade, players and owners."

Other NHL franchises -- even those that wanted to play the season -- were more publicly supportive of Bettman's leadership.

While clearly the Leafs don't have support of their fellow governors with their willingness to deal, they likely would represent the strongest anti-Bettman faction among owners in this climate of uncertainty.

"We don't control what's going on," Tanenbaum said with further frustration. "There are 29 other teams. We're just one voice."

Right now, a voice the league would rather not hear.


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