Peddie rumours 'greatly exaggerated'

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

Richard Peddie is still in charge.

"I love the quote, 'Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated,' " the CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. was saying yesterday. "I've been written off as fired at least four times in my career."

That said, this has not been a great week for Peddie. Dispiriting seasons by the Maple Leafs and Raptors have left Peddie open to critics who say he is a business guy who has no business meddling in the day-to-day affairs of the Leafs and Raps.

Peddie hired besieged Leafs general manager John Ferguson Jr. As well, Rob Babcock and former Raptors coach Kevin O'Neill were disastrous hires. In retrospect Peddie seemed to be the only guy in the game surprised to learn Babcock wasn't GM material.

In hiring basketball people, Peddie is playing away from his strength and toward his own vanity. He wrote "running a basketball team" as his goal while a student at the University of Windsor.

Peddie is a money guy, a human divining rod for new revenue streams. As such, he is much loved by his corporate masters for whom he has delivered wealth that we can not imagine and, as a private firm, MLSEL need not divulge. He is a spectacular marketer with a peerless sense of the deal and the company's initiatives, from real estate holdings to an American Hockey League team, have been exemplary.

When he cashiered Babcock, Peddie broached the subject of including the presidency of the basketball club with the GM's duties. The thinking was a president's job would bring more money, more prestige and more power.

Meanwhile, rumours have been floated that Hockey Canada honcho Bob Nicholson could be considered for the presidency of the hockey club. Did that mean a lessened profile for Peddie who would move off the point on the basketball side and perhaps on the hockey side, too?

Not so fast.

Peddie sounds more unsure than ever that such a system would work.

"I believe all the operations have to report to one person," he said. "You really have to have the team working so close to the business side of the operation.

"I would worry what would happen if you split off the teams. What you might have is a situation that, to use a word that has been attributed to us, is dysfunctional."

Peddie scotched the idea of a Nicholson or anyone as a hockey president.

"From the best of my knowledge there has been no discussion of it on the board side," he said.

In some ways, Peddie has been a terrific CEO for the people the CEO usually reports to: The board and the bosses.

First and foremost, of course, the brand is spectacularly profitable.

The hockey side has enjoyed plenty of on-ice success in the nine years since Peddie became CEO.

Aside from the nominal influence of one-time president Ken Dryden, the hockey side swung blockbuster trades and signed free agents unimpeded.

"I got accused of meddling in the basketball side and not the hockey side," Peddie said. "But I've always had the exact same relationship with the basketball side as with the hockey side."

Still, Peddie's greatest gift may be the ability to shield the board members from the kind of public heat he has been enduring.

Power flows north-south and chairman Larry Tanenbaum has opted for woefully inexperienced but pleasingly inexpensive figures in Babcock, Ferguson and O'Neill. Peddie might have suggested them, but the board picked them.

Peddie's tenure is a byproduct of monoliths owning sports teams and that isn't about to end any time soon. Stockholders and board members are the people who count. If you don't like the Leafs' arrangement, don't buy a condo.


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