Leafs facelift may trickle down from the top

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:13 AM ET

The fantasy has ended and now the Maple Leafs have to start dealing with reality.

Of course, they couldn't just go quietly into the offseason. They had to break a few hearts on their way to missing the playoffs, teasing their fans and maybe even themselves into believing in something that wasn't going to happen.

The good news is the braintrust now has a month or two of idle time to sift through the ashes of this burned out season to determine where it all went wrong.

The bad news is that they already have had 40 years to try to figure it out and they still don't have any answers.

Ah, but there is nothing like an empty arena at playoff time to galvanize even the fat cats of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., into action. Lost revenue, not lost hockey or basketball games, will be the catalyst that gets the attention down at the corner of Bay and Lakeshore.

So, what now?

Well, for starters, it's about that braintrust.

Will Larry Tanenbaum be back as board chairman? How about that ultimate survivor, Richard Peddie, the CEO and board member? Then we move on down to general manager John Ferguson and coach Pat Quinn.

First, Tanenbaum. He may be board chairman, but with an ownership stake of only 13%, he doesn't wield the big stick in the boardroom. He operates, as does everything else at MLSEL, at the whim of the Teachers Pension Fund.

Rumours have been circulating that Ken Thomson, the publishing and entertainment magnate, and ranked the ninth-richest man on the planet by Forbes magazine, may increase his MLSEL holding from the current 15% (through BellGlobemedia) and effectively take control.

Right now, the Teachers Pension Fund has a 58% stake. If he were to take out the teachers, Thomson (or his designate) would hold the hammer in the MLSEL board room.

Not that long ago, Tanenbaum gave Peddie and Ferguson votes of confidence, but there is no guarantee Tanenbaum will maintain his power base in a revised hierarchy.

It was Peddie who hired Ferguson to take over as GM from Quinn two years ago and the inexperienced GM has done little to indicate Peddie made a good call.

It would appear that the Leafs, under Ferguson, have made many misreads going into and coming out of the labour stoppage that led to a revised NHL landscape. The Leafs were among a minority of teams who believed that there would be no prolonged lockout.

ILL-ADVISED

That led to the ill-advised signing of goalie Ed Belfour to an unnecessary contract extension, tying up more than $4 million US a year in a 40-year-old goalie with a history of back problems.

Ferguson also miscalculated last summer when the lockout was resolved. He seemed to have the misguided impression that many free agents would be falling all over themselves to come to Toronto. Instead, Ferguson was overwhelmed by the speed and intensity of the marketplace. He failed to take advantage of the one-time buyout option that could have gotten him out from under some of the club's oppressive salary commitments.

And, in the end, his key signings all lacked the two elements that would prove to be critical in the new NHL: Youth and speed.

There is talk that MLSEL is considering putting a hockey president in place, along the same lines as it has done with Bryan Colangelo and the Raptors. That would put Ferguson's job in peril.

As for Quinn, well, it would seem his number is up in Toronto. If the current power structure remains in place, it's doubtful that the team can miss the playoffs without somebody getting the axe and he is the likely scapegoat.

Likewise, if a new president comes in, unless his name is Wayne Gretzky, Quinn is unlikely to survive.

Sounds like a summer of intrigue in Leafs Nation. Then again, maybe it will just turn out to be the same old, same old.

Forty years removed from their most recent Stanley Cup parade, can we expect anything more?


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