Leafs 'owner' won't meddle

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:05 AM ET

For the record, Jim Leetch has very little to say.

Politely, if not uncomfortably, he will tell you he is "pretty disappointed" by the state of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Politely, if not uncomfortably, he will tell you he is a season-ticket holder and "pays for the tickets with my own money."

But that's about as far as he will proceed.

So who is Jim Leetch and why does he matter?

For lack of a better term, he is the controlling owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs. That's how big he is in the financial world. Since last month, after Claude Lamoureux's retirement, Leetch was promoted to the head of the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan.

The OTPP basically controls majority interest in the Leafs.

It controls the team but does next to nothing except check on the state of the rather large investment.

That's what this is to the teachers. It's an investment. It's a buy-in, buy-out proposition. "We look at our investments day-in, day out," Leetch said.

HAS THE POWER

Leetch could do something about the rather sad state of the Leafs but chooses not to. At least, not until the board of directors meets next week. He has the power to bring about change but the only change the OTPP is interested in comes on a balance sheet.

This is their investment, your hockey team.

A private investment of what is essentially a public trust. One side is strictly business, the other purely emotional. And the reason the OTPP and Leetch are terrible owners is they can view one side of the arrangement, but have absolutely no feel for the other.

The business of sport is as much about winning as it is about making money. It is as much about hiring the right people and building an organization, and the corporate governance the OTPP insists upon having in its other investments doesn't appear to exist in the sporting end.

Jim Leetch goes by the rules. He doesn't speak out of turn. He doesn't get involved. He doesn't seem to care that the Maple Leafs are perceived as a laughing stock outside of Toronto so long as they hit their investment targets.

And the sad part is, he's a fan. When asked if he is not concerned about the state of the 28th best team in the National Hockey League, Leetch calmly pointed out that Richard Peddie is the spokesperson for MLSEL.

This is important to know.

"Mr. Peddie is the chief executive officer of our company. He speaks on behalf of the company. It's no different that our investment in, say, CTVglobemedia or any of our other investments. Mr. (Ivan) Fecan is our spokesman there. We don't get involved in that. That's how we operate with all our investments," Leetch said.

This is enough to make a sane man cringe. Peddie hired Rob Babcock. Peddie hired John Ferguson. Peddie wouldn't know a hockey general manager if he tripped over Ken Holland in the hallway.

Peddie knows how to make money, which is nice, and that enables Leetch to give him the keys to a sporting vehicle he is incapable of driving. Larry Tanenbaum may be titled as chairman of the board at MLSEL but it has been proven he has next to no real power.

Leetch has power. Leetch has control of the board. Leetch can remove Peddie or Ferguson or anyone he chooses to. He just doesn't choose to.

If Peddie had done his job properly and hired a winning general manager for a hockey club that was successful under its previous regime, Leetch would be more unknown today than he already is. The board never would be discussed. The hockey people would operate independently, the way Bryan Colangelo operates the Raptors.

But in the post-lockout NHL, where every GM had the opportunity to start over, the Leafs are about to miss the playoffs for the third consecutive year. Their future salary cap situation is convoluted. There are no prospects of consequence anywhere in the organization. It is that dismal.

It is, in the words of Leafs fan Jim Leetch, "pretty disappointing." The only difference between him and us is he can do something about it.

And he chooses not to.


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