TSN Changed; The Leafs Did Not

TORONTO (Jan. 8) — It isn’t often, if ever, that TSN gets its clock cleaned on a big story involving the Toronto Maple Leafs. But, it happened this week with the William Nylander contract extension. Elliotte Friedman and Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet, the National Hockey League’s Canadian broadcast partner, had the scoop well in advance of Darren Dreger and Pierre LeBrun, who played catch–up on the story from the outset. As for the Leafs… well, it is now complete. The brazen lack of urgency, inspiration and ingenuity that fans of the team allow Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has doomed the club for at least the next two seasons, and likely beyond.

None of Nylander, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and Morgan Rielly — the lone movable assets on the current roster — can be discarded by any means: trade, waivers, buy–out or demotion. Brad Treliving and the Teflon Prez, Brendan Shanahan, have ceded control of the club to the Corpse–4 (plus one). They need permission to maneuver these players in any way. It marks the first time in modern franchise history that the Leafs cannot make a meaningful roster trade. Instead, Treliving will need to offload more futures and draft choices at the Mar. 8 deadline for the quick fix (Alex Galchenyuk, Nick Foligno, Ryan O’Reilly) that always fails. Astonishingly, Marner, close to a 100–point player, can walk for free after next season and there’s not a thing the Maple Leafs can do; he has a no–movement clause until his contract expires. As do the others. It’s their team to run. More reward for the franchise stalwarts that have withered for seven consecutive years in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Honestly? That’s how you manage a hockey club?

Any supporter of the Leafs that finds comfort in the easy and lamentable strategy is whistling past the graveyard. There is nothing about this talented, yet buttery soft, nucleus that lends itself to a Stanley Cup challenge (quadruple that statement as it pertains to the blue line, devoid of a Norris Trophy type since Borje Salming, 44 years ago). The better part of a decade is hardly a small sample–size of playoff impotence. So, I return to my theory on MLSE’s hockey wing: It will forever assume the path of least resistance, knowing there will be minimal push–back in the market. While also fully understanding, amid abundant evidence, that this group cannot prevail when it matters. It explains the luminous, albeit criminal, business model of the Leafs: Do whatever is easiest to placate fans while ensuring the club does not win a championship. Ending the Stanley Cup charade is far too risky. Keep the imaginary chase alive. Stay predictable. After nearly 60 years, the market has proven its financial and emotional resilience, pathetic though it may be. Why induce fundamental change when it is never solicited by those who pay the freight? Good regular seasons and another franchise scoring chase by Matthews is more than sufficient.


BRENDAN SHANAHAN MUST CONSTANLY CHUCKLE AT HOW EASY IT IS TO EXECUTE THE MLSE BUSINESS MODEL AND FOIST A PERENNIAL PLAYOFF LOSER ON FANS OF THE MAPLE LEAFS. NOTHING IN TORONTO SPORT REQUIRES LESS EFFORT. NOTHING GENERATES FEWER RESULTS.

Leafs Nation should be thrilled the team is moving into next season with five players gobbling up $54,153,000 of the marginally increased salary cap. Leaving all of $33,547,000 to put together an actual team; to allocate among the other 18 men. That equates to $1,863,722 per player… or enough to compensate a fourth–line reserve.

A Norris Trophy threat? Not important to the Leafs.

I’ll tell you one person who is smiling beneath the grass: Harold Ballard. Not since that buffoon ran the Leafs have fans and media been so readily played for fools. Many of Ballard’s teams, in fact, were more playoff–worthy than the current collection. Especially in the years with Salming, Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald, Tiger Williams and Ian Turnbull when no club could defeat the Montreal Canadiens. Good regular seasons and a bit of a playoff push easily sufficed. Even after a dismal season did the Ballard Leafs occasionally show character: 1986 and 1987 come to mind. Goalie Ken Wregget heated up in early April. The ’86 Leafs, coached by Dan Maloney, stunned Chicago with a first–round sweep after the Blackhawks had finished 29 points higher. The ’87 Leafs (32 wins, 70 points) knocked off St. Louis then came within a victory of eliminating Detroit and reaching the Cup semifinals.

The overpaid underachievers on the current team should be so fortunate.


SPORTSNET, OWNED BY THE LEAFS, CELEBRATES THE BIG SIGNING AFTER OUTRACING TSN.

Still to be asked by any of the brave souls in the mainstream media is why the Leafs continually bank on (and richly compensate) players that come up small when the stakes increase. Probably because reporters know the Leafs will fib their way through another easy exercise. Just sign your own people. It requires much less effort than replacing them with potentially better playoff performers. Shanahan, in particular, must enjoy the leisure accorded him by the big bosses at Rogers and Bell, which own 75% of MLSE. He somehow breezes from one season to the next, playoffs be damned. That’s a pretty good gig… if you can land it.

So long as ownership allows for such apathy, the Leafs will never change.

Nor will their Stanley Cup résumé. That is for certain.

“GET YOUR HOCKEY LINE–UPS!”…
Maple Leaf Gardens Centerspread Designs, 1936 to 1969

Some notable Maple Leaf Gardens hockey programs in my collection.



MAR. 19, 1936. A 2–2 TIE WITH BOSTON. EDDIE SHORE WAS STILL THE KINGPIN ON DEFENSE FOR THE BRUINS, JUST MORE THAN TWO YEARS AFTER ENDING THE CAREER OF LEAFS COUNTERPART IRVIN (ACE) BAILEY. THE “KID LINE” OF CONACHER, PRIMEAU AND JACKSON LED TORONTO TO THE STANLEY CUP FINAL, WHERE IT LOST TO DETROIT. KING CLANCY PLAYED DEFENSE FOR THE LEAFS.


MAR. 1, 1947. A 5–4 LOSS TO DETROIT. NHL ROSTERS, AFTER WORLD WAR II, RETURNED TO NORMAL. THE LEAFS, COACHED BY HAP DAY, WOULD WIN THEIR FIRST OF THREE CONSECUTIVE STANLEY CUPS. A ROOKIE NAMED GORDIE HOWE WORE NO. 17 FOR THE RED WINGS.


DEC. 29, 1956: DESPITE A 6–3 WIN OVER CHICAGO, THE LEAFS WERE MEDIOCRE, FINISHING OUT OF THE PLAYOFFS WITH A 21–34–15 MARK FOR 56 POINTS. BUT, PIECES WERE IN PLACE FOR THE 1960’s STANLEY CUP DYNASTY, INCLUDING TIM HORTON, GEORGE ARMSTRONG, DICK DUFF AND BOB PULFORD. FUTURE LEAFS COACH MIKE NYKOLUK PLAYED ON DEFENSE. HALL–OF–FAMERS FRANK MAHOVLICH (LEAFS) AND BOBBY HULL (BLACK HAWKS) WOULD DEBUT THE FOLLOWING SEASON.


NOV. 23, 1963: A 4–1 LOSS TO THE BRUINS THE DAY AFTER PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY WAS ASSASSINATED IN DALLAS. STILL THREE SEASONS BEFORE BOSTON WOULD BE RESCUED BY BOBBY ORR. LOTS OF FUTURE NHL COACHES ON HAND: AL ARBOUR, RED KELLY, GEORGE ARMSTRONG (BRIEFLY, IN 1988–89), RON STEWART, BILLY HARRIS, BOB PULFORD (TORONTO). ED JOHNSTON, TOM JOHNSON, MURRAY OLIVER (BOSTON). FORBES KENNEDY OF THE BRUINS WOULD ONE DAY BECOME LEGENDARY IN A MAPLE LEAFS UNIFORM. MOSTLY, FOR BAD REASONS.


JAN. 2, 1965: A 3–1 VICTORY OVER DETROIT. THE YEAR AFTER WINNING A THIRD CONSECUTIVE CHAMPIONSHIP, THE LEAFS WOULD LOSE TO MONTREAL IN THE CUP SEMIFINALS. COMPONENTS OF THE MONSTER TRADE (MAR. 3, 1968) BETWEEN THE TEAMS WERE IN PLACE: FRANK MAHOVLICH AND CARL BREWER (TORONTO); NORM ULLMAN, FLOYD SMITH, PAUL HENDERSON (DETROIT).


OCT. 29, 1966: A 3–3 TIE IN THE FIRST VISIT TO TORONTO BY BRUINS’ ROOKIE BOBBY ORR. NO ONE EXPECTED THE LEAFS TO WIN THE STANLEY CUP, BUT PUNCH IMLACH’S OLDSTERS CAME THROUGH YET AGAIN. AND, WHO OF VINTAGE CAN FORGET THE “PUT A TIGER IN YOUR TANK” ESSO ADS?


APR. 11, 1967: DESPITE LOSING GAME 3 OF THE SEMIFINALS TO THE HEAVILY FAVORED BLACK HAWKS, THE LEAFS WOULD REBOUND FOR A SHOCKING, SIX–GAME UPSET… THEN DO THE SAME TO MONTREAL IN THE TITLE ROUND. A MONTH LATER, PHIL ESPOSITO, KEN HODGE AND FRED STANFIELD WENT FROM CHICAGO TO BOSTON IN THE MOST–LOPSIDED TRADE OF ALL TIME.


OCT. 25, 1967: A 4–2 VICTORY OVER LOS ANGELES IN THE FIRST VISIT TO MAPLE LEAF GARDENS BY AN EXPANSION TEAM. KINGS’ COACH RED KELLY AND GOALIE TERRY SAWCHUK HAD BEEN VITAL COGS IN TORONTO’S STANLEY CUP TRIUMPH A HALF–YEAR EARLIER. FUTURE JUNIOR HOCKEY COACHING LEGEND BRIAN KILREA PLAYED CENTER FOR THE ORIGINAL L.A. TEAM.


NOV. 22, 1969: DESPITE A 4–0 SHUTOUT OVER DETROIT, DESINTIGRATION OF THE STANLEY CUP LEAFS WAS WELL UNDERWAY. JIM GREGORY AND JOHN McLELLAN WERE IN THEIR FIRST YEAR MANAGING AND COACHING, AFTER IMLACH HAD BEEN FIRED THE PREVIOUS APRIL. MAHOVLICH, BREWER, PETER STEMKOWSKI AND GARRY UNGER, ACQUIRED FROM THE LEAFS, WERE ALL PERFORMING WELL IN RED AND WHITE. PAT QUINN (23) WAS A ROOKIE TORONTO DEFENSEMAN.

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

11 comments on “TSN Changed; The Leafs Did Not

  1. Thanks for the blogs as always Howard. I appreciate your opinion and years of experience as a reporter ETC.

    I’m not sure if the Leaf’s really stunned the Hawks in 1986. Sure they finished 29 points behind and it was an upset, but the Leafs handled them 6 out of 8 times in the season, and Toronto was confident going into that series if I remember correctly. The Black Hawks didn’t check much better than Toronto, Toronto had 3 scoring lines, and Chicago had major injury issues. It was a really fun series to watch.

    I also remember that CBC wouldn’t show Harold sitting in the stadium seats lol.

    Chuck

  2. As I felt in the summer when all leafs management did was the old trick of signing veterans with little to offer, that this year would be about resigning Matthews and Nylander. This coming summer will be about extending Tavares and marner. Whatever cap increases come this summer and next summer will go to these 4 players.

    So this summer I expect new veterans signed to one year deals, more poor play from those players and management to bury those contracts somehow and hope the fans look elsewhere.

    I think there is no doubt now that the “core 4” idea is all Brendan Shanahan. The Maple Leafs, from ownership down, is only about making the 41 home dates during the season entertaining so fans can watch their favourite players, but jerseys and other merchandise and keep up the concession stand purchases.

    It’s not about being a contender or making a Stanley Cup champion or finalist, that’s too risky. (The trades that would need to be made would hurt some fan’s feelings and possibly affect income.) The only thing ownership wants is a competitive team. In the playoffs but it really doesn’t matter about winning divisions or playoff rounds.

    Other teams can’t continually do that. For some teams only being competitive invariably leads to a drop in revenue because fans get bored and move on. That doesn’t happen in Toronto.

  3. Howard, you continue to make reference on how TSN was “destroyed” or “got their clocks cleaned” on the scoop of the Nylander signing and I’m not sure why you feel the need to hammer them for it. Could it be for the very reason that you were never hired to do any work for them? That is the only reason I could come up with for your disdain towards TSN. Both Sportsnet and TSN have fabulous and “in the know reporters/insiders” and once in a while one will beat the other to punch. If I’m not mistaken the ratings show which of the two is leading and not laying off great talent to pad the executives pockets and both you and I know who that is.
    While I’m on a Howard rant, it would be nice for you to lay more blame where it is deserved for the Leaf’s continued playoff ineptitude and that is with the people who continue to purchase tickets. The suits are doing exactly what is needed to print money!!
    Maybe a season or two with empty seats might change the playoff outcome for them. Although, I will not hold my breath.

    1. You imply there was something personal in telling what happened. Had it been the other way around, I’d have written the same. Don’t waste your time on conspiracy stuff.

    2. Don’t you dare blame the fans for the ineptitude of Leafs management. It’s been a lifetime since the Leafs fans had a good general manager to build their team. It’s been long overdue. Suits never do anything right.

      1. Dino, you make my argument my friend!
        57 years and counting but yet you all continue to fill the executives pockets, why would they change that formula? Empty seats would do it.

  4. Up next, trade away some high draft picks for short term rentals. But don’t trade Max Domi, the third line centre that doesn’t play well defensively or kill penalties, the role expected from a third line centre, and don’t trade Tyler Bertuzzi, the 5.5 million dollar winger that falls down all over the ice and is on pace for a whopping 13 or 14 goals on the full season. Just keep telling the reporters and fans that you’re a cup contender and you’re going for it.

  5. The run up to the Blue Jays winning the World Series in 92 and 93 was constant sellouts…huge crowds…massive income. After they won, attendance dropped off and has never been the same.

    Same would happen if the myth of the Leafs ever ended due to a Stanley Cup win.

    Its all about the money for MLSE, anyone who thinks differently is fooling themselves.

    1. The Leafs have graduated to the final step of this perpetual rebuild. The catastrophic phase. We are now seeing NHL teams that where world beaters when the Leafs began this process. They have won their cups or made it to the final, gotten old, tore down, rebuilt again and are now surpassing the Leafs and their “core.”. Food for thought…Connor Bedard will be an aging player in his decline by the time William Nylander is no longer under contract with the Leafs. In other words Chicago will be into their THIRD rebuild since the 91 million dollar man was drafted. If we don’t see at least 1 cup in Chicago by then I will be shocked. They are only one of a half dozen teams that will fit that comparison. Find a new compulsion Leafnation . Aaron.

  6. We will be treated to an identical scenario next year, same time, when Mitch Marner “proves his worth” by scoring 50 points in the first 35 games or so, as such, “earning” himself a very lucrative 12MIL+ a year contract. And the same TSN/Sportsnet cheerleaders will be “high fiving” Leafs management, article after article, for having locked up yet another “nucleus” of their team. What also will be identical: The Leafs would have been eliminated in the first (or the second round) of the playoffs in the spring preceding to the signing of Mr. Marner to a long term contract.

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