Larry Tanenbaum's profile is first in the Maple Leafs media guide, but his face is usually the last to be seen in public when the team is in crisis.
That changed yesterday when the chairman of the board of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. apologized to the legions of fans who have followed a once great team to wallowing in 14th place in the NHL.
Tanenbaum watched from the second row of yesterday's Air Canada Centre news confererence as the hockey team underwent yet another regime change, the fourth since he joined the board in 1996 and the second involving Cliff Fletcher.
In the days leading up to John Ferguson's dismissal as general manager, Tanenbaum caught the same angry blast from the public as club president and fellow board member Richard Peddie. And clearly, it stung him.
"I apologize to the fans for not getting to the playoffs and the Stanley Cup for them," said Tanenbaum, who usually lets Peddie face the media music. "On my watch, we're going to bring that (Cup tradition) back."
Where Peddie supported Ferguson, the man he hired back in 2003, it's believed Tanenbaum had been involved in a dump-Fergie movement since last summer. Tanenbaum wanted Scotty Bowman, at least as advisor to Ferguson, but Peddie, fearing his own role would diminish, would not offer Bowman autonomy on all hockey decisions.
"It would have been nice if it worked out," said Tanenbaum, denying there was board friction about Bowman.
Tanenbaum bristled at talk that the Leafs are becoming a third-world hockey team because of ongoing interference from the board paralysing development.
"I don't think it's a rock-bottom product, it's a good team," he insisted. "What we're looking for now (in the serach for a new general manager or president) is vision and leadership."
It was pointed out that Tanenbaum was in agreement to give Fletcher the heave-ho in May of 1997, when Steve Stavro was chairman.
"I was not in the position I am today," he said. "At that point, I had been brought in during 1996. It was the right time for Cliff to move on then, it was the right time to bring him back now."