TORONTO (Jan. 3) — Given they share the same cradle as co–owners of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, TSN and Sportsnet can still play hardball with one another. This was evident throughout Wednesday.
Whereas Sportsnet played up its “breaking” story — corroborated by Nick Kypreos and Elliotte Friedman — that the Maple Leafs are nearing a mammoth contract extension with forward William Nylander, TSN completely ignored the report… from sun up to sun down. Not even a syllable about Nylander, who scored twice in Tuesday night’s shutout victory at Los Angeles, was written on TSN’s website during the day. We wouldn’t, of course, anticipate that TSN might immediately put its own spin on the story. But, to overlook it altogether indicates that either the elder sports network did not want to acknowledge being destroyed on the biggest hockey news in the city.
Or, the “insiders” at TSN were not in concurrence with their Sportsnet counterparts.
SPORTSNET’S MAIN INTERNET STORY WAS IGNORED ALL DAY BY RIVAL TSN.
Normally, in such a circumstance, it’s the former — disdaining a rival bulletin is seen as discrediting the report.
I encountered this several times during my years (1994–2010) covering the Leafs for The FAN–590, particularly in the pre–Internet era, when real time news was disseminated on radio; analyzed at night on television and recounted, the following day, in print. Today, with social media and news organization websites, radio no longer holds an edge. I particularly remember all other electronic outlets completely ignoring a report of mine, after the supper hour on July 17, 1998, that goalie Curtis Joseph would leave the Edmonton Oilers and sign as a free agent with the Maple Leafs. I had been on the phone with Leafs director Brian Bellmore, who titillated me about the possibility of a major announcement the following day. When he refused to elaborate, I called veteran hockey reporter Alan Adams (The Canadian Press, Toronto Star) and wondered if he had any idea what Bellmore was hiding.
“Yeah, Cujo is signing here. There’s a press conference tomorrow at the Gardens,” he replied somewhat casually.
Alan had been a terrific news source at the national wire service and was often willing to discuss a story with a competitor — providing the competitor contacted him. He was very amiable and accommodating that way. At the time, Al was working as a Leafs beat–writer at the Star, alongside Paul Hunter and hockey columnist Damien Cox.
“Why the hell are you telling me this?” I wondered, happily yet incredulously.
“What am I gonna do with the story; we don’t publish ’til the morning?” he replied. “You’re a hard worker. Get the news out there.” Which I immediately did after hanging up. I remember the studio host that night (don’t recall who, a quarter–century later) reacted quite skeptically to the bulletin. Though Joseph was still on the market more than two weeks after free agency, the Leafs had not been rumored among the clubs pursuing him. Loud whispers had Cujo joining either the Philadelphia Flyers or New York Rangers. No one in the Toronto media knew that Don Meehan, Joseph’s agent, had run into Leafs president Ken Dryden at the Hasty Depot convenience store on Davenport Road. Ken, his wife, Lynda, and their son, Michael, were buying ice cream on a humid summer night when Meehan happened by and sold Dryden on making an offer to Joseph. The agent insinuated the goalie preferred to play close to his home town of Keswick, Ont., 70.3 kilometers north of Toronto. But, he implored Dryden to work quickly. “Philly and New York are hot on his heels; don’t procrastinate,” Meehan warned the Leafs exec.
Puttering around the radio and TV, there was no confirmation of my report; not even a mention.
“Good,” I said to myself. “Let ’em all get hammered on this story.”
Adams had a large piece in the Star the next morning while the Toronto Sun, if I remember correctly, mentioned near the bottom of its story that the club “may have been in contact with free agent goalie Curtis Joseph.” When the Leafs called a press conference at the Gardens for later that afternoon, it was a great feeling. This will be experienced, rather intensely, by Kypreos (again) and Friedman (again) if Nylander goes on to sign an eight year, $88 million extension with the Leafs. TSN will revel at Sportsnet’s expense if the story doesn’t unfold… or if the Sportsnet pundits are inaccurate with term and salary. All of which truly warms my old–fashioned reporting heart.
You see, there is no longer much competition between those who write and talk about the Leafs. This is largely a result of the most–deplorable conflict–of–interest in Canadian media history — the country’s two all–sports networks controlling 75% of the hockey club. Unavoidably, all remarks, no matter the trustworthiness of those speaking, are made through the prism of a business and branding affiliation. Why the local newspapers have softened on Leafs coverage remains an enigma. None of the Star, Sun or the Globe and Mail have a stake in MLSE, yet have become increasingly wary of criticizing the Maple Leafs… and of challenging the Teflon Prez (Brendan Shanahan), who has virtually nothing (one playoff–round triumph) to show for nearly a decade in the big chair.
So, let Sportsnet and TSN posture over William Nylander. As they did in a bygone (and splendid) media era.
MY FIRST LEAFS ROAD GAME
Within 15 years, the old arena on the hill would become familiar. During my 17 seasons covering the Toronto Maple Leafs for The FAN–590, I made numerous visits to the Pittsburgh Civic Arena (renamed Mellon Arena in December 1999) — for regular–season games; Leafs playoff games, Stanley Cup final games; the 1997 NHL draft… and the LAST EVER game in the building, a playoff encounter with the Montreal Canadiens on May 12, 2010. Today, I show you images of my first Leafs game on the road, during the 1976 Christmas break. With my closest pal, David Silverman, we took a Greyhound bus to Pittsburgh and visited cousins in the suburb of Monroeville. We had tickets for the Leafs–Penguins game of Dec. 26, 1976. During the afternoon, a snowstorm blanketed the city and surrounding areas. Somehow, my valiant cousin, Stephen Tobe, drove us downtown along I–376 (the Penn–Lincoln Parkway). The crowd was listed at 6,603, but they must have been counting arms and legs. Much of the arena was empty, as evidenced by the photos I took (of unspectacular quality) with an old Instamatic camera. Pat Boutette scored the first Leafs away goal of countless others I would witness during my time covering the team. The visitors, coached by Red Kelly, lost, 4–2. I found these images in an old scrapbook:
OBTAINING GOOD TICKETS IN 1976–77 WAS HARDLY A PROBLEM IN PITTSBURGH. ESPECIALLY DURING A SNOWSTORM. THE MASSES OF EMPTY ORANGE SEATS CAN BE SEEN IN ALL OF THESE PHOTOS — INCLUDING CLOSE–UPS (BELOW) NEXT TO THE TORONTO BENCH. COACH KELLY WAS DRESSED IN THE STYLE OF THE DAY. DARRYL SITTLER (27) WAS THE MAPLE LEAFS CAPTAIN.
AS MENTIONED, IT WAS A BLUSTERY NIGHT IN DOWNTOWN PITTSBURGH ON BOXING DAY 1976.
THE LATE, GREAT LEAFS DEFENSEMAN, BORJE SALMING, STOOD NEAR ME AT THE VISITORS’ BENCH. THE GAME SUMMARY IS AT RIGHT. MIKE PALMATEER WAS THE LOSING GOALIE.