“Our owners want to win as much as anyone,” Tom Anselmi kept repeating, while fans and media gave him the skeptic stink-eye the past decade.
But as of Saturday night, the president and COO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment finally had some evidence, as he celebrated the company’s crowd jewel making it back to the NHL playoffs.
“I’ve had about 8,000 e-mails since Saturday’s game,” Anselmi said Monday morning. “I had to see that ‘X’ by our name in Sunday’s paper to make sure it was real. Then I saw the first Leaf car flags driving to the grocery store and I’m thinking ‘yessss!’.”
The long-awaited sign of progress comes less than a year after the major corporate shake-up in the sports empire, Anselmi’s promotion and three months after he carried out orders from one or more MLSE board members to replace Brian Burke as Leaf general manager with Dave Nonis.
Knowing the lucartive profits to be reaped by a long playoff run and the good public relations that would be generated if a nearly 50-year Stanley Cup drought ended on their watch, it’s been a stretch to think ownership consistently and deliberately engineered a regular season tank.
But that said, the Leafs somehow messed up the math trying for one of eight playoff spots with a better than 50% chance. Now, with Nonis creating far less publicity than the bombastic Burke and with coach Randy Carlyle on the job a full calendar year, the Leafs are over the hump, even if it was a shortened 48-game season.
Anselmi acknowledged the tough call he had to make on the eve of the new season.
“I think Burkie deserves some of the credit. Burkie brought in two-thirds of the roster. He built the race car, now David and Randy are driving it. It’s a really good group of players that has come together.
“I’m just really happy for the fans, they’ve been so patient. It has been seven seasons and nine years overall. Now we can start dealing with matters such as ticketing and getting our rallies going.”
Burke, himself, took to Twitter to praise his former team.
"Congratulations to Dave Nonis, Randy Carlyle, Dion Phaneuf and the rest of the Leafs on reaching the playoffs!" he wrote.
Congratulations to Dave Nonis, Randy Carlyle, Dion Phaneuf and the rest of the Leafs on reaching the playoffs!— Brian Burke (@Burkie2020) April 22, 2013
A 75% “lift” in seat prices is coming for Round One, which the team claims is in line with all other major markets. Toronto already has the NHL’s most expensive seats. The Leafs Last Minute Club is also a chance to sgn up for non-subscribers to access purchase of seats, details of which will be on the club’s website in the next 24 hours, with availability likely by this Thursday or Friday.
Maple Leaf Square, built next to the rink a few years ago with the intention of hosting many playoff parties, has never seen one such event. Leafs TV, which came to prominence after the last playoff trip, has had nothing to show in the spring but old highlights of the 1993 run.
“Now it gets excting,” Anselmi said. “Now it’s hold on to your hat time."