Leafs' priorities differ

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:28 AM ET

The majority owner of the Ottawa Senators passed on the Queen's Plate barbecue yesterday -- questionable culinary decision -- in order to announce via conference call the firing of John Muckler and the promotion of Bryan Murray.

Meanwhile, the majority owner of the Maple Leafs recently completed a purchase of the New York Container Terminal on Staten Island, one of four marine containers it has bought for a total of $2.4 billion. Imagine that.

Eugene Melnyk wants to win the Stanley Cup.

The Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan wants to focus on the acquisitions of low-risk assets with return profiles that are strongly correlated to inflation, making them ideal for paying inflation-indexed pensions.

This is a tale of two hockey towns -- one with living and breathing ownership, one with a storied hockey club owned by a storied pension fund.

Eugene Melnyk has a horse named Marchfield that may win the Queen's Plate on Sunday and a hockey team that just lost the Stanley Cup final and he happened to pay for the best football field in this city on the campus of St. Mike's. He is a sportsman, a player, this is his team, these are his decisions.

The Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan is the majority owner of the 18th-best team in the National Hockey League, two years running. While the Leafs were out of the playoffs, the Teachers were not, acquiring an airport in Birmingham, England; a water supply distribution company in Chile; and opening a branch office overseas to further search for investment opportunities. In business terms, that's a Gordie Howe hat trick.

LIFE'S NOT FAIR

Meanwhile Muckler, more qualified than John Ferguson Jr. to be a general manager, more successful than Paul Maurice as a coach, is out of work. Life's not fair and here is proof. Ferguson, who has missed the playoffs in his only two seasons where he was fully in charge of the Leafs, remains day to day as general manager, until further notice. Maurice, who has missed the playoffs in six of his nine NHL seasons, will return to coach.

Muckler, with a hand full of Stanley Cup rings, is looking for a job.

The Teachers, meanwhile, are encouraged not by Friday night's draft but by the fact that BCE has undertaken a process to enhance shareholder value. With free agency coming, that has to mean something.

In the interim, Melnyk fired the general manager who didn't win the Cup. He got there, just didn't finish the job. Melnyk saw an Anaheim team beat up on his Senators, with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and Dustin Penner, all of whom were acquired by Murray when the latter was general manager of the Ducks.

Winning is Melnyk's only goal with the Senators, even if it means being cut-throat.

The Teachers' goal is to sell their shares in the Leafs eventually for more than they paid for them. That is their only goal. They have no pulse, no opinion, no clue. The board of MLSEL is like a hung jury -- it can't make important decisions.

So the 18th-place Leafs, in an ever-competitive NHL, are falling further and further from contention without reacting in any conceivable way. Around them action is frantic. The Philadelphia Flyers made a wild preemptive strike with the trading for and signing of Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen yesterday. The Calgary Flames shocked people with the out-of-nowhere hiring of Mike Keenan. Why?

Because winning is all that matters to these teams. Because just making the playoffs isn't enough. Because, doing something is almost always better than doing nothing.

Unless that something means signing Pavel Kubina for $20 million.

What happened in Ottawa yesterday never would happen in Toronto. Should a general manager, any general manager, get the Leafs into the final, hell, they'd build a statue for the guy outside the Air Canada Centre.

There would be a parade for finishing second, a civic celebration, books written.

Eugene Melnyk doesn't want to finish second in the Queen's Plate or any other race. Winning is what matters. Ottawa has become one fortunate hockey town.

And for the record, we should be happy, too. Shares in BCE closed up 19 cents yesterday.


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