Leafs trouble starts at top

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

If John Ferguson is to be fired -- and that remains a big if -- then before the Maple Leafs should even discuss a replacement, they must find a way to repair the fractured board of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.

To make one move without the other would accomplish next to nothing.

To have chairman of the board Larry Tanenbaum paddling in one direction with CEO Richard Peddie paddling in the other will forever doom the Leafs to futility.

Yesterday, Peddie told Sun Media's Mike Zeisberger that hiring a rookie general manager in Toronto was, in retrospect, a mistake.

He said that in one breath. In another, he said there were no plans to fire Ferguson, whom he believes has grown into the GM's job.

It is comments such as these that make the public cringe when Peddie speaks. It is comments such as these -- considering the Leafs have regressed in each of Ferguson's four seasons as GM -- that display Peddie's basic lack of sporting acumen.

The man may know how to make money, but when it comes to operating successful professional sporting franchises, he seems ultimately clueless.

But by cuddling up to the silent majority that owns the Leafs, the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, and by hitting all of his financial targets, Peddie has manoeuvred himself into a position of extreme power.

He has power. And the Leafs fan is essentially punished for it.

On the flipside of the equation is Tanenbaum, minority shareholder, owner of right of first refusal on available MLSEL shares, and chairman of the board. He is chairman with many opinions but little power to get anything tangible done.

Tanenbaum wanted Ferguson fired at the end of last season. Peddie, via the Teachers, blocked that at the board level.

NOT SATISFIED

Not satisfied with the status quo, Tanenbaum attempted to hire a major domo to run the Leafs -- a la Bryan Colangelo -- last spring. Third-party contacts were made with such people as Brian Burke, Ken Holland and Kevin Lowe before Tanenbaum got into serious conversation with Scotty Bowman.

Tanenbaum wanted Bowman to be Colangelo. But he needed Peddie on side to get it done.

Tanenbaum wanted Bowman to have ultimate authority. But when Bowman wanted Ferguson and a whole lot of front office people gone before he would consider the position, Peddie's view changed.

And the position changed. Instead of it being the senior executive's job, Peddie altered the job description, and the job he wanted for Bowman was as consultant/senior adviser for Ferguson. He wanted to re-sign Ferguson to a multiyear contract, but that's where the board stepped in and said no.

The Leafs actually went at Bowman a third time, but nothing came to be -- partly because Bowman is more of a game player than a real candidate and partly because he saw how impossible it would be to work for two people who can't seem to work together.

So fast forward to today: Peddie insists there is no urgency to replace Ferguson and denies he has spoken to anyone about becoming the next Leafs GM.

In the meantime, at least three hockey people I know have been contacted during the past two weeks about possible Leafs employment. The question being: If Peddie isn't out there interviewing people, guess who must be?

Tanenbaum, for the record, isn't taking calls. For the first time in my experience of calling Tanenbaum, rather than return his own messages, the senior vice-president of communications, John Lashway, is returning calls to say the chairman isn't talking.

The assumption, meanwhile, is that Tanenbaum is out there looking, and considering the Leafs would have been better off making the change last April rather than now, it's hard to argue with what he wanted to accomplish then and now.

But attracting the right candidates to operate the Leafs franchise may be next to impossible if Peddie and Tanenbaum can't get on the same page. Firing Ferguson is a no-brainer. That has to be done.

But the next hiring of the Maple Leafs should be a president first, who then hires a general manager, who then hires a coach. A foundation is necessary before anything else.

The right foundation would eliminate both Peddie and Tanenbaum from this hockey equation.


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