Anselmi named to replace Peddie as MLSE president

MLSE's chief operating officer, Tom Anselmi, appeared to give GM Brian Burke a vote of confidence...

MLSE's chief operating officer, Tom Anselmi, appeared to give GM Brian Burke a vote of confidence on Tuesday, saying, "This isn't a time to panic. It's a time to stick with the plan and continue to build a team." (REUTERS)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:56 PM ET

From the Air Canada Centre to Afghanistan, Tom Anselmi has got an earful from fans frustrated with the woes of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

Now the long-rumoured successor to Richard Peddie can make a difference, to answer those who’ve accused the $1-billion empire of putting profit ahead of pride.

The Toronto native was confirmed as MLSE’s president on Tuesday, a role he’s waited eight months to fill since Peddie’s retirement. Anselmi, who keeps his old job of Chief Operating Officer, inherits three major league teams with long playoff droughts — the Maple Leafs, Raptors and Toronto FC, the latter his personal responsibility since 2006

Since 1996, Anselmi’s legwork on various arena, real estate and broadcast projects has been well noted, but he’ll be judged now by his role in repairing the company’s crown jewel.

The Leafs have missed the playoffs seven straight years, the past four under general manager Brian Burke. Burke could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Speaking for the board in March as another non-playoff year loomed, Anselmi said “we have faith in Brian and his people to get us back on track.”

This late in the summer, Burke will be starting the season, if the lockout doesn’t scrub it, with one more chance to show improvement. Ten years ago, not long after the ACC opened, Anselmi said he wanted to make the Leafs “the most important hockey organization in the world.”

Anselmi, in his late 50s, is certainly energetic, younger than Peddie, and an avid rock music fan with an adventurous streak that took him to Afghanistan several times to visit troops on behalf of the Leafs. At his urging, the Leafs and MLSE teams undertook several community and charitable initiatives, such as repairing aging sports facilities in the Greater Toronto Area.

“Tom has never forgotten where he came from or the people he met on the way up,” said Leafs alumni executive Mike Pelyk, who accompanied Anselmi overseas. “In his new position, he’ll definitely be in the hot spot. The Leafs are improving, maybe not as fast as people like, but Tom won’t be the one standing in the way of them getting better.”

Anselmi was the only internal candidate for Peddie’s job to be identified by the American-based Korn/Ferry corporate head-hunting firm.

There was a curiosity to Tuesday’s announcement — that Anselmi isn’t getting Peddie’s additional title of chief executive officer. That leaves the possibility that someone will be installed as CEO above him.

His appointment was announced by board chairman Larry Tanenbaum. Anselmi will report through Tanenbaum at present, with the new board yet to be introduced.

“Tom’s proven strength in operations has made him a respected leader here at MLSE and across the sports and entertainment industry,” Tanenbaum said in a statement. “His passion for our teams and our fans makes Tom the perfect choice.”

In the same release, Anselmi’s said: “I’m honoured to be appointed president and COO of one of the premier sports and entertainment organizations in the world. The opportunities for MLSE are limitless, and it all starts with a focus on building winning teams, strengthening our relationship with fans, and enhancing our positive impact in the community.”


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