'I'm extremely encouraged by this Leaf team': MLSE president Tim Leiweke

Tim Leiweke (AFP files)

Tim Leiweke (AFP files)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:27 PM ET

TORONTO - Tim Leiweke watched Toronto’s Game 7 collapse against the Boston Bruins from the highest vantage point at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

But the new president and CEO did not see it as another nadir of the Cup-starved franchise. With the introduction of Masai Ujiri as Raptors new president and general manager on Tuesday, Leiweke turned his attention to the Leafs and his first extended sit-down with GM Dave Nonis.

The afternoon meeting, following the Ujiri presser, was expected to pick through the 2013 season that ended in shocking fashion with Toronto blowing a 4-1 lead with advancement to a winnable second round in sight. But the new boss wasn’t looking for scalps.

“You go through that last game and it either makes or breaks an organization,” Leiweke said. “I’ve seen games like that. I remember the Portland Trail Blazers when they had a collapse against the Lakers (a 2000 conference final where Portland coughed up a 15-point lead in Game 7 in less than 10 minutes). They were never the same team after that and it still hangs over their head.

“(But) this is going to make us. That (Boston breakdown) will be the image, the impression and the moment that we ingrain within everybody in the organization now to make sure we grow from that and we learn our lesson.

“If that’s what we do, it’s the best lesson we can ever go through.”

Leiweke, who oversaw Anschutz Entertainment’s stake in the Lakers, Cup-champion L.A. Kings and successful L.A. Galaxy soccer, was proud to have landed NBA executive of the year Ujiri from Denver. But no such need is pressing with the Leafs with Nonis on the job barely six months and the Leafs in better developmental shape than the Raptors.

“(The Leafs) were good enough to let me do what I had to do (with Ujiri) first,” Leiweke said. “They know how passionate I am about hockey. There could have been some reference that maybe (the Raptors) were a higher priority. It was just about patience. This team was the most pressing because of the time restraint I was under, having not started (officially) until yesterday.

“At the end of the day, I made the decision to stay out of (Leaf management’s) way and let them go through what they had to go through. Dave and (coach) Randy Carlyle did a great job of living with the young kids and letting them learn. Some organizations and coaches would not have done that. I think it’s going to pay huge dividends.

“We’re sitting down today. We’re going to win championships with all of our teams, that’s clear. I’m going to spend as much time and energy as necessary and bring the same amount of passion to every one of the teams (Leafs, Raptors, TFC, Marlies).”

Leiweke saw both Leaf home dates at the Air Canada Centre during the playoffs and stayed to watch fans pack Maple Leaf Square when the games were in Boston.

“Phenomenal,” he said of the atmosphere. “I’m extremely encouraged by this Leaf team and I look forward to getting to know them.”


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