TORONTO - It isn’t just time for Richard Peddie to leave. It’s overtime.
He used to sell packaged goods and if anyone understands best before dates, it is him.
Peddie likes to point to all his successes — four professional sporting franchises under his watch, three television networks, the condos, office towers and sports bar that is Maple Leafs Square — and it has been a massive undertaking for the king of bafflegab.
As a businessman, he has been an immense success.
As a sportsperson, he has been a dismal failure.
Unfortunately, his job, as president and chief executive officer of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., meant he needed to be successful as both.
The sports fan of Toronto, frankly, doesn’t give a damn about the profit and loss of MLSEL, nor should they. But the fan cares about the teams, about the Leafs and the Raptors and Toronto FC (sorry, nobody really cares about the Marlies). They care about wins and losses and promise of the future. They care to believe in the people running these teams.
But over time, it became impossible to believe in Richard Peddie, the sports executive.
Every time he opened his mouth and talked sports, we cringed. Every time he offered an opinion on the direction of said team, you wanted to cry. And right now, with the Maple Leafs and Raptors in crisis mode (with Raptors close to ticket selling crisis mode) and with Toronto FC fans in open revolt, it is time for Peddie to walk away, even if he will hold on for each and every day, while a replacement is eventually found.
Peddie leaves behind a legacy of losers — and the sooner he’s gone, the more likely the necessary culture change will take place at MLSEL. The culture change that can perhaps produce productive teams. Peddie, you may remember, is the man who hired John Ferguson.
That decision set the Maple Leafs back a decade — Brian Burke is still shovelling out from the mess left behind — and in real terms, the kind Peddie likes to brag about, cost the Maple Leafs something in the neighbourhood of $50 million. When you’re running the No. 1 franchise in all of hockey, how do you put Ferguson in charge?
Under Peddie’s watch, MLSEL also hired a search firm in an attempt to find a general manager for the Leafs. The search firm produced names such as Ken Holland and Burke for the job, as if that wasn’t obvious enough. When the search firm was set aside, Peddie then anointed sports attorney Gord Kirke to find the Leafs’ next general manager. Kirke zeroed in on Burke, who by that time was quietly letting people know he had an interest in the Leafs position.
It was the stuff of a business professional and a sporting amateur.
Peddie also hired Rob Babcock. Hiring one of Ferguson or Babcock could have been a bad decision. But hiring both on the cheap? For a company making all kinds of money and a fan base overpaying for garbage?
Babcock drafted Rafael Arraujo and botched the Vince Carter trade and was so evidently out his league it was incredulous to imagine that anyone with the intellect of Peddie could have determined him the best man for the job.
The word around was Peddie hired Ferguson and Babcock because it basically kept him in charge of the Leafs and Raptors. And hasn’t that worked out nicely?
The hiring of Burke was obvious and the hiring of Bryan Colangelo was orchestrated by NBA commissioner, David Stern, so if you want to blame someone for the state of the Raptors, blame Stern.
Burke and Colangelo came to Toronto with big reputations and are well on their way to destroying them.
But soon — probably sometime in the summer — they won’t and we won’t have Richard Peddie to kick around anymore.
A quick Peddie story to end this: A few years back, a very successful Toronto businessman was asked to join the board of MLSEL. The man declined. When asked why, he said he wanted nothing to do with a company run by Richard Peddie. When asked if he would join the board should Peddie not be part of the company, he said he would.
If there’s a board opening this summer, at least they know one man who might be available.