There were almost as many apologies issued by the Maple Leafs this week as we heard from Exxon 23 years ago when the Exxon Valdez oil spill turned the Alaska coast into a black gooey ecological disaster.
In a 24-hour span, defenceman Cody Franson, team co-owner Larry Tanenbaum and even president/general manager Brian Burke all told the team’s faithful supporters they were sorry for the sub-par product that was offered up to fans who shell out the highest ticket prices in the National Hockey League.
While Burke’s job seems safe for now, there is no doubt both Tanenbaum and the board of directors of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment understand the bitterness and venom flowing through an angry fan base.
While Tanenbaum opted to deliver his message in an open letter to Leaf fans that ran in the major Toronto dailies on Tuesday, a letter was sent out to Maple Leaf season ticket holders on Monday night detailing the so-called “state of the union.”
To that end, Tom Anselmi, chief operating officer of MLSE, is vowing that this is not just idle chatter either.
Anselmi, one of the leading candidates for the vacant MLSE president’s job that opened up with the retirement of Richard Peddie, claims he will personally get back to any season ticket holder who reaches out to him with their concerns.
“I gave them an e-mail address (in the letter) and I’m going to respond to every one of them if they want to call,” Anselmi said on Tuesday at the Air Canada Centre, where Burke and coach Randy Carlyle were holding their end-of-season addresses.
“I’ll guarantee I’m going to talk to every one of them if they reach out. Send me an email address. Give me a phone number. We’re going to call them, we’re going to talk to them. Because I want them to understand that this is upsetting us just as much as it is upsetting them. And that’s not fair. They’re the ones who are paying their hard earned dollars.
“It’s not right. That’s why it was in the paper today.”
Anselmi chuckled when asked about the usual accusations that MLSE’s only mandate is to produce revenues, not victories. In his mind, that is unsubstantiated drivel.
“Sports is about winning,” he laughed. “We get that. I’ve answered that question so many times, why even answer it? Why would we not want to win? Of course we want to win.”
According to critics, MLSE’s motivation for on-ice success is centered around the additional revenues created from playoff gates, yet another notion Anselmi was quick to dismiss.
“I don’t even look at it that way,” Anselmi said. “It’s about winning. It’s about doing right by your fans. This is what we’re all in this for.
“Yes, this is a business. But it’s a business based on emotion, about passion and about caring. These fans care. They give a s--t. You owe them a great product. And when it’s not good enough, that’s not good enough.
“What was in the paper was just a real honest expression of how our owners (and board members) are feeling. You know, we’re all fans. We sympathize with the fans. We had expectations this year and we didn’t meet those expectations. That’s just not right. So that’s what that was about in the paper today.
“It’s a real disappointment. You go into every year wanting to succeed. (Burke’s staff) is three years and change into building a team. They thought they were going to take a step this year that didn’t happen. Everyone’s disappointed, Expectations were higher this year and we didn’t live up to them.”
One interesting line in Tanenbaum’s letter stated that “ownership believes in the plan for the Maple Leafs.” Asked if that sentence was an endorsement of Burke and his staff, Anselmi was noncommital.
“It’s simply a statement that there is a building plan put in place,” he said. “And (those in management) believe they have to stick with the plan. This isn’t a time to panic. It’s a time to stick with the plan and continue to build a team.
“I think the issue is, everyone thought the team was further along that it is. That’s the way the team played too. They played that way for eight months, then went in a different direction. So, this is about delivering the goods. You’ve got to do it with a plan and they believe in that plan.”
Do the disgruntled patrons at the Air Canada Centre believe? Not so much.
They don’t want “sorrys.”
They want wins.