A New Era Begins For The Leafs

TORONTO (Apr. 1) — Please pardon me the sin of diverting you, even temporarily, from the Auston Matthews love–fest in the mainstream media. I promise to not keep you very long. But, a far–more significant event is about to unfold at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. The company’s highest chair becomes occupied, tomorrow, by a person with no business or emotional ties to Brendan Shanahan, Brad Treliving, Sheldon Keefe… or anyone in the hockey department not secured by movement restrictions. Which, of course, excludes all members of the failed playoff core: Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares. None can be even touched.

Neither will it dissuade Keith Pelley from stamping his mark on the franchise, particularly if it bows out meekly, yet again, in the Stanley Cup chase. Pelley wasn’t lured home from his European golf odyssey to flash a corporate smile and glad–hand with employees that cannot show more than financial return. Contrarily, there’d be no purpose in hiring the former executive with TSN, the Toronto Argonauts and Rogers Media; the man who helped spearhead a 12–year, $5.2 billion contract with the National Hockey League for Canadian TV rights. We’ll overlook that (with a hard swallow) and suggest you will not recognize the Leafs, off the ice, after another playoff flub.

There will be no more promises from Shanahan, who has one year remaining on the extension he signed (in 2019) with MLSE. Behind the scenes, Shanahan has been a revelation for the Leafs, transforming and modernizing the club from the staid Ballard–Stavro–Teachers era. No person since Cliff Fletcher has shown more reverence and devotion to the team’s alumni; it was Shanahan who coerced Dave Keon into ending his decades–long estrangement. When Borje Salming, a year ago November, made his final visit to Toronto, Shanahan bent over backward to accommodate the player’s family and former teammates — particularly Salming’s closest friends: Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald and Dave (Tiger) Williams. You will not find a Leaf alumnus with anything but affection for the club’s president. At the highest level of professional sport, however, winning should be the lone benchmark. And, the Shanahan era, approaching its tenth anniversary this month, has been a near–complete failure.


UNLIKE HIS PREDECESSOR, KEITH PELLEY WILL NOT SIT IDLY AND WATCH THE LEAFS DIE LIKE DOGS IN THE PLAYOFFS. HE IS BOLD AND SMART ENOUGH TO MAKE CHANGES THAT COUNT.
NEW YORK TIMES PHOTO
 

So long as Matthews keeps up his franchise scoring pursuit, you’ll hear nothing about the perennial playoff mess, in which No. 34 stars. The club, today, is held to minimal accountability by those who cover it for newspapers, TV and radio. Particularly the latter (TSN and Sportsnet), which are co–owned by MLSE, forming a grievous conflict–of–interest. A good regular season alleviates pain from the previous spring. The pattern endures. No one in media, for any length of time, is willing to tackle the elephant in the room — that the Leafs, under Shanahan, have not come close to competing for the Stanley Cup. As long as Auston gets his 60 goals, nothing else seems to matter.

It certainly will under Pelley. While his bosses revel over the bottom line — the Leafs are the NHL’s highest–valued franchise — the new Chief Executive Officer comes back to North America with, shall we say, an ego?

Keith likes to win, as he proved in his early tenure at TSN; with the Grey Cup–champion Argonauts in 2004 and the groundbreaking TV contract between Rogers and the NHL. He’s a high–profile catch by MLSE and will not sit idly. I can guarantee that no team under Pelley’s direction would move forth without fundamental change after seven years of playoff calamity. It wouldn’t happen after three–such failures. So, the wind will start to blow in a different direction for the Leafs, Raptors and Toronto FC. And, not a moment too soon. Pelley has to wonder why the Shanahan regime keeps watching its club get humbled in the playoffs… and keeps rewarding those most responsible with gargantuan, unmovable contracts. A winning team doesn’t operate in such a manner. Presumably, the head honchos at 60 Bay Street are beginning to grow weary of the pattern; otherwise, a lower–profile individual than Pelley would have succeeded the nearly invisible Michael Friisdahl, who ran MLSE from 2015 to 2022. Only Tim Leiweke, CEO of the company prior to Friisdahl, could match Pelley as a prime sports mover and executive.

Once Tuesday begins, only the Core–4 players will be safe at MLSE. And, maybe… somehow… not even them.

Just watch.

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

12 comments on “A New Era Begins For The Leafs

  1. I don’t see Keith Pelley as anything but a self promoter. Certainly he’s been successful at that. And I don’t see him having anything to do with the future on ice success of the mlse teams. He certainly has the power to make heads roll, and he knows how to climb himself up corporate ladders, but does he know hockey or basketball or soccer? When these organizations have hundreds of people working for their teams what will a new boss be able to do? Make some good decisions we hope. As of today the Leafs are not too bad. See what happens in the playoffs. There is the potential of a ’93 type playoff, with long hard series that maybe these Leafs can squeak by.

  2. This is 100% bang on, in my opinion. Sid Seixeiro of CITY TV was talking about Pelley in the same way, several months ago. I am hopeful that he will change the organization for the better ?

  3. I know this is crazy but after the Florida game I am getting my hopes up again. No Marner, Rielly and Edmundson and Leafs handled the Panthers easily. The game was over and Leafs were coasting in the third. Also quite surprisingly the Leafs seem to be playing physically and standing up for teammates when in the past they pretended nothing had happened after a bad hit. I guess we will find out soon enough but seriously they look pretty good right now. So if Matthews does what he is supposed to and Samsonov keeps playing like he has the Leafs could win it all. What worries me is memories of Reimer on his back in OT and Andersen letting in goals from corner shots behind the red line. So I agree with most of your Leaf criticisms but the Leafs goalies have really sucked in the playoffs and so who gets the blame? Blame management but a few routine saves and things are a lot different. Some of the Leaf goalies should have been good but when it counted they sucked so we will see. My guess is Samsonov will win the Conn Smythe.

    1. You’re either drunk or high or, perhaps, both. The leafs haven’t lost playoff series because of goaltending. The leafs lose playoff series because they always make it easy for teams to move the puck zone to zone.

      As quickly as the leafs have a scoring opportunity one happens the other way. The leafs lose puck battles behind the net, in front of the net and along the sideboards.

      This has been going on for years.

  4. In your negative reporting on the Leafs and the continued non success in past playoff, which you state your premise/position on what Keith Pelley wil do. It seems that you enjoy a very close relationship with him and know him so well as is apparent on your reporting. So what happens and what does Keith Pelley do if your premise of continued failure is interrupted hy a deep run this year??

    1. Keep your money in your wallet. Leafs are too soft for a deep run (which, in Toronto, is Round 2). And, I haven’t seen or spoken to Keith since covering the 2004 Grey Cup in Ottawa.

      1. tell anonymous to stop drinking the koolaid, we need more straight shooters like you Howard to speak the truth, sick and tired of listening to the panel , especially Mike -the leafs could do no wrong- Johnson.
        ps anonymous stop hiding

  5. Matthews regular season means nothing to me. It’s time for him to man up and lead this team in the playoffs. If he fails again then move him out.

  6. With the ‘core 4’ having been signed to no-movement clauses, not to mention consuming a large portion of the cap, I doubt Pelley can make any significant moves in the short term.

    1. If I’m not mistaken Nylander can still be moved prior to July 1st this year all be it to certain teams. I know people may say that he’s the only one who plays in the playoffs but that’s just not true. Among He Matthews and Marner he has the worst ppg and the worst plus minus. He is second in gpg. The most worrisome trend is Matthews shot percentage in the playoffs which is abysmal

  7. Going on 57 years without an appearance in the final, one can only hope Keith Pelley has his priorities right.

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