By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Apr. 11) – Tim Leiweke may have a grandiose vision for Brendan Shanahan within the upper reaches of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, but I can tell you this: Long-suffering fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs couldn’t give a hoot about Shanahan’s potential impact on the business of sport in this city. The latest golden boy of the MLSE empire will be outwardly gauged by the performance of the hockey club under his watch.
After all, what else really matters to those that pay the freight?
Given that David Nonis and/or any future headmaster of the hockey operation must now answer directly to Shanahan, who cares what Leiweke has in mind? MLSE would be a dime-store venture without the hockey team and its immense, unbroken following. Neither Rogers Communications nor Bell Canada would have invested a nickle in the company if not for the Maple Leafs filling their media platforms – the heated rivals becoming unlikely “partners” only to prevent the other from gorging on the full hockey pie. The Raptors, Toronto FC, the Marlies, Air Canada Centre, Maple Leaf Square (its high-rise condominiums) and BMO Field are merely adjuncts to the Leaf colossus. None would have materialized were hockey not so astoundingly and unconditionally popular here. No reason to pussyfoot around the truth.
As such, the big-money backers of MLSE (corporations and multi-millionaires in the private sector) are chiefly concerned with how Shanahan might remedy the ailing product on the ice. In that regard, his acquisition raises an enormous red flag. For all of Shanahan’s hockey involvement as a player and executive at the league level, he hasn’t spent 15 minutes running a team. Moving him into a position of authority over those that have done the hands-on work could be the equivalent of dousing a forest fire with a cup of water. Yes, others have prospered in a similar chair; look no further than Steve Yzerman and the playoff-bound Tampa Bay Lightning. But, Tampa isn’t Toronto as it pertains to hockey… just as Toronto isn’t Tampa when it comes to football. This city and region is engrossed in the Maple Leafs and thoroughly nauseated by – as Rosie DiManno put it in the Toronto Star – the “unpardonable ineptitude” of missing the playoffs in eight of nine seasons. Given their druthers, sports fanatics here would appreciate an umbrella executive with whom they can identify; a person with a proven managerial record at some level of the game to be the MLSE point-man.
Why, then, Brendan Shanahan and not Doug Gilmour?
DOUG GILMOUR – A LEGENDARY MAPLE LEAF SINCE 1993.
For those that aren’t aware, Gilmour has elevated a one-time wasteland in the Ontario Hockey League into a proud, winning organization. In 2009-10, he became coach of the Kingston Frontenacs – twice a playoff spectator before his arrival. The club improved by 25 points in Gilmour’s first season behind the bench and made the playoffs two years running. Losing a pair of cornerstones to the NHL – defensemen Erik Gudbranson (Florida) and Brian Lashoff (Detroit) – led to another regression, but Gilmour took charge by becoming general manager and naming former Leafs teammate Todd Gill as coach. The Frontenacs improved by 14 points last season and a whopping 24 points this year – losing a seven-game clash with Peterborough Petes in the opening playoff round.
That, to me, represents progress under a living hockey legend in this city and a man not afraid to put reputation on the line by rolling up his sleeves at the ground-level of the sport. Were Gilmour to have been hired today as chief hockey administrator of the Maple Leafs, some would have considered it a “feel-good” acquisition in the throes of another on-ice collapse. In part, that may have been true – for no wearer of the Blue and White has performed so remarkably over the span of two NHL seasons. Twenty-one years afterward, Gilmour maintains the club record for most assists (95) and points (127) in a full schedule as well as assists (25) and points (35) in one playoff year – 1992-93 – when he carried Leafs on his back to within minutes of the Stanley Cup final.
That alone may not have qualified Gilmour for the post given to Shanahan. But, a combination of his storied time in a Leaf uniform and his exceptional work at the Junior A level certainly would. As such, I’m not convinced that Tim Leiweke has hired the best man available.
GILMOUR TODAY AS GM OF THE OHL KINGSTON FRONTENACS.
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