Peddie's view of Leafs Nation

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:08 AM ET

Richard Peddie has big plans the next three years to renovate the Air Canada Centre, get more rivals on the Maple Leafs' home schedule and tweak the Marlies.

But the CEO/president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. won't be changing the sign on the Maple Leafs general manager's office next season, giving embattled John Ferguson a passing grade on his annual performance review.

In a wide-ranging interview, Peddie denied a rumour that Ferguson can't announce Paul Maurice or any other candidate as the new coach because he didn't fare too well in the review after the Leafs missed the playoffs.

"He (has passed) and that's the way we're going in to (next season)," Peddie said.

Marlies coach Maurice remains the No. 1 candidate to coach the Leafs, with the delay in confirmation possibly due to a clean-up of Marlies personnel matters, contract language and general due diligence.

Peddie was coy on his own future and how it's tied to the Leafs and the company's various hockey, basketball, soccer and real estate ventures. He has had two votes of confidence from board chairman Larry Tanenbaum, despite the fact the Leafs and Raptors missed the playoffs. Though Peddie said he also is subject to an annual review, a company source insists he has a firm deal taking him to mid-2009.

"I will say that 2009 is a very interesting date," Peddie said. "Lots of things will be coming up by then. I hope we win a Stanley Cup, O'Brien Trophy (the NBA championship), (AHL) Calder Cup and Major League Soccer title. Maybe I'll have four or five rings when I leave."

Here are some of the items on Peddie's agenda:

ACC expansion

Peddie says MLSEL is completing plans for "a multi-million dollar renovation" of the west end of the arena by 2009. It will include a new atrium, better traffic flow to the upper levels, added restaurant space and a connection to Maple Leaf Square. At this stage, adding extra seats or private boxes to increase capacity beyond 19,000 people is not in the works.

Revamped schedule

The Leafs heard whining from fans and players who thought eight games against each of their Northeast Division rivals was too much.

That could be sour grapes from the Leafs dressing room, but players around the league have griped that Detroit had too many Central Division games against the St. Louis Blues, Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets -- the three worst teams in the Western Conference. Many fans are upset that stars such as Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Dion Phaneuf are two to three years away from visiting.

"From what we heard at the last meeting of team presidents and chief marketing officers, there's a 50-50 split on the schedule," Peddie said. "Some really love the eight games, others want it down to six.

"We know other people in the league are thinking about changing. We should do it for geographical reasons."

Marlies matters

Few NHL teams make money on their farm operation, but Peddie was concerned by low attendance. The Marlies averaged 4,400 at the Ricoh Coliseum, a building that holds almost double that.

"It was a challenge financially, but that's true of introducing any new product to a cluttered market," he said. "Crowds weren't what we expected, but we've learned from it. We had no season ticket base to start from. I think we'll go after more group sales next year. We might fine tune ticket prices, though our highest price seats were our best sellers.

"But the best part was having the team in the same NHL city, which allowed us to attract veterans. We'd have never got a coach of Paul Maurice's stature if he had to tell his wife he was going on a 24-day road trip, as St. John's had last year."

By 2009, MLSEL hopes its other projects are up and running, including a MLS pro soccer team next year in its new CNE stadium, a new hockey/basketball/community recreation facility in Etobicoke, the junior rink it is managing in Oshawa and the condominiums in Maple Leaf Square.

Peddie was asked of the risk of neglecting the Leafs' hockey operation by juggling so many business ventures, particularly the condos.

"We never forget that the Leafs and Raptors are the engine," Peddie said. "The practice facility is something that will benefit both teams and as for the Square, that is something John (Ferguson) and (assistant GM) Mike Penny are not concerned with, only myself and (MLSEL chief financial officer) Ian Clarke."


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