Leafs Fans Deserve Housecleaning

TORONTO (May 7) — The hockey bar in this city is so low that giving it an honest try over three games, while doing just enough to lose again in the opening playoff round, was acceptable for at least one veteran scribe to endorse “running it back” a ninth consecutive year. Which has to rank this among the most–absurd lede paragraphs in the history of my website. Running it back should have ended four playoff seasons ago for the Toronto Maple Leafs, after the humiliation and discomposure of frittering that 3–1 series edge over the Canadiens. But, no.

Brendan Shanahan held sway at the top of the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment puck pyramid. Somehow, one of the National Hockey League’s all–time most ruthless forwards insisted his team march on with a passive nucleus, no matter the cost. Consequently, we now have eight years of lame Stanley Cup underachievement.

I suspect someone in media will continue the “run it back” crusade as long as compelled… or until that person dies of old age. For, there is no chance the current Maple Leafs will embark on a Stanley Cup challenge.

Not now. Not ever.

As we’ve been telling you in this corner for nearly that long.

The entire organizational philosophy has to deviate before the Leafs will legitimately contend. And, there’s no way the current administration can be entrusted with such a change. Not after water–drip torturing the club’s loyal subjects for nearly a decade. Keith Pelley would therefore be wise to clean house, top to bottom. This would reasonably involve Shanahan and head coach Sheldon Keefe; less reasonably, general manager Brad Treliving and the analytics department, which has labored exhaustively with no return. The new Chief Executive Officer of MLSE — if provided the authority — must appoint an umbrella hockey administrator to replace Shanahan: an otherwise good person, but not deserving to continue as president of the Leafs after one, measly playoff triumph in ten years (the first two of which, fairly, were “tanked”, leading to the procurement of Auston Matthews). The new hockey czar should then choose his own department, from GM, downward. For so many years — including right now — the Maple Leafs have gone counterclockwise, with a head coach in place for an incoming GM. That’s not how it works. At least, not with most functional NHL franchises. And, it’s the reason Pelley needs to start from scratch.

The fact Pelley will evidently be joined by Shanahan and Treliving for Friday’s get–together with reporters is reason, in some minds, to be suspect of any modification at the top of the MLSE hockey triangle. And, if Pelley has already decided to stand pat with the Maple Leafs, he’s a whole lot different than the dynamic, proactive person I knew when the Toronto Argonauts won the 2004 Grey Cup. Or (and say what you wish about it), the man who spearheaded Rogers’ winning bid, in 2013, for national television rights to the NHL in Canada. All it cost for 12 seasons of exclusivity was $5.2 billion. There are few people on this planet, apart from Pelley, that could have talked Canada’s largest communications conglomerate into parting with such a fortune. If that’s the Keith Pelley MLSE has landed, Shanahan will be window dressing at Friday’s press conference. Treliving is more difficult to assess, given his brief time with the franchise. Still, and even if unfairly, he, too, has to go for a new hockey head to properly build a department. Under no circumstance should a replacement for Shanahan be affixed to an incumbent GM. Such an appointment must be his to make. The GM then chooses a head coach; the coach, his assistants. A pecking order must be established in Leafs Land. The “whoever is hired first” method doesn’t cut it.

If Pelley, therefore, steps to the podium on Friday and starts singing Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here, we’ll know his authority has been usurped by at least one FOS (Friend of Shanahan) in ownership. Anything along the lines of “we’re going to keep working at this with the same people” will diminish Pelley in the eyes of Maple Leaf fans and prolong the playoff death knell for the Blue and White. Knowing MLSE, however, Pelley could easily use the occasion to announce multi–year contract extensions for Shanahan and Keefe… while crossing his heart that nothing will stand in the way of Mitch Marner joining Matthews and William Nylander as overpaid Leafs for life. You almost expect the Leafs to announce that nothing will change, given that a massive reconstruction should have been called for in the wake of the 2021 Montreal playoff debacle. On the other hand, perhaps Pelley has somehow gained the ear of the MLSE poohbahs with respect to overhauling the hockey department. In other cities, a prompt decision would be made following a playoff exit. Here in the Big Smoke, no one would glance sideways if Shanahan is on the podium this Friday… then out of work by early next week. The Leafs never embark on a different route without hours of collective brain energy. So, who knows when a fork in the road may finally emerge?

All we can tell you, for certain, is that status quo cannot prevail.

Changing on the ice, as mentioned in my last blog, won’t be possible until after next season, when Marner and John Tavares can walk as unrestricted free agents, loosening nearly $22 million in cap space. At which point whoever is running the Leafs can finally start building the club conventionally — from the goal outward. Speculation will persist about Leafs management encouraging Marner to waive the full no–movement clause that governs the final two years of his current pact. And, it may be a fruitful exercise. Though Mitch professed loyalty, desire and commitment to his hometown club on Monday during the media exit interviews, he looked as if he’d rather suit up in Guantanamo Bay. Lips tucked tightly, Marner spoke as he always does after a playoff disappearance: about the “pain”… this time describing the discomfort as “shitty”. For a fellow that graduated from junior hockey with the world’s brightest smile, Marner seems to have grown forlorn. On Monday, he left the appearance of someone that would prefer to jab his eyeballs with an ice–pick than answer the same, old queries from the media. Not that he performed more abysmally than his Core–4 teammates, none of which have ever used the final media gathering to express remorse or culpability. I’ll invoke Marner: It was a “sh**” show for the cameras and microphones.

Yet again.

The central Leaf figures are either clinically delusional or have entered into a pact: “None of us will ever submit to blame or denunciation.” As in every lost spring, there was no emotion; no anger, just lots more eye–rolling at the uber–familiar line of questions. Poor Tavares is heartsick. For the second time in three springs, he announced his club was “right there” with respect to… I’m not sure what. I’d imagine he meant the annexation of one playoff round, which is the highwater mark for the post–2004 Maple Leafs. Others might agree that “right there” better applies to the Florida Panthers after losing the Stanley Cup final, last spring, to the Vegas Golden Knights. But, this is Toronto, where — once again — the hockey bar gazes upward from beneath the curb. Matthews, seemingly blasé and indifferent, all–but said “yeah, it’s a bummer, but I’ll be back with the NHL’s highest salary next year.” Auston has never expressed a scintilla of concern over his playoff record with the Leafs. Even though he is hoisted upon a pedestal by adoring members of the local media, he often finds occasion to offer a dig or two.

Hardly for a moment has Matthews convinced me that he truly gives a fu**.

Along with Nylander, whose performance sharply declined after signing his eight–year, $92 million contract extension on Jan. 8. He, too, never seems particularly disturbed over an early playoff exit. The Leafs simply do not have the proper mix at the top of the line–up. Skill coming out of their backsides, yes. Character, soul searching and timely performance? Not in the least. All they want, so desperately, is to “stay together”, the loving brethren, year after lousy playoff year. So, it’s time for a lead person with “balls” to start making tough, important decisions.

An individual like Keith Pelley.

Unless his pair has shrunk in the past decade.

We’ll begin to find out before the weekend.


He was the Most Outstanding Player in the Canadian Football League last season and, yes, we all deserve a second chance. In the case, however, of Toronto Argonauts quarterback Chad Kelly, I’m not sure that applies.

Not after he was, quite frankly, stupid enough to harass a female employee of the team — producing allegations that were clearly strong enough for the CFL to smack a minimum, nine–game suspension on the player that led Toronto, last year, to a league record–tying 16–2 mark in the regular season. Only to fall apart early in the Eastern playoff final at home; his team getting drubbed by the eventual–champion Montreal Alouettes. At no time, but particularly in our current social climate, should a man intimidate or pester a woman, whether a work colleague or someone else. In fact, Kelly couldn’t have been much of a man if culpable for the accusations from the female employee, which included trying to arrange a date even though he and the woman had partners. This isn’t the equivalent of accidentally taking a substance that enhances performance. Or, deliberately, as with a group of famous baseball players in the 1990’s. That’s cheating. Harassing women, taboo long before Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire put on their quasi–legitimate home run displays, ranks higher on the scale of immortality. Much higher.

As such, I don’t know how the Argos can go back to Kelly, even with all his obvious skill. Professional athletes have an obligation to comport themselves appropriately, especially within eye and ear–shot of fellow employees. It sure appears that Kelly defied that standard. Neither is this the first time his conduct has come into question.

Also partly culpable here is Argos assistant general manager John Murphy, who evidently scolded the female employee for “a can of worms that didn’t need to be opened.” The whole episode was unsavory and it has to be bitterly disappointing for GM Mike (Pinball) Clemons to comprehend the club’s star attraction behaving like a lout and diminishing his name among loyal followers of the team. The CFL has found Kelly, despite denials, guilty. The Argos, in my view, need to find another quarterback. A person that young fans can admire and look up to.

Not an abuser.


Ahhh, May 7. A date that will always ring a bell for yours truly. It was the morning, in 1979, that I began my career in the media biz. Yeah, 45 years ago today. After an incredible and inexplicable break of timing. I had met Joel Colomby during the hockey season of 1978–79. As sports editor of the Lakeshore Advertiser/Etobicoke Guardian, a weekly community newspaper published on Wednesday, Joel covered the Royal York Royals of the Ontario Junior Hockey League (a tier beneath Major ‘A’). I was with the team the Royals played in the opening round of the 1979 playoffs: the North York Rangers. Did their program and other publicity stuff. Joel and I hit it off really well as we watched our respective teams battle through seven games, the first three of which were won by Royal York. Only to have the Rangers claw back with four consecutive triumphs (our top player was Bernie Nicholls, who, a decade later, would score 70 goals for the Los Angeles Kings). When the series ended, Joel invited me to come up and say hi at the newspaper offices, which were located in a large plaza on the southeast corner of Dixon Ave. and Islington Rd. As I entered the main newsroom, a fellow around my age walked by and gently nodded.

Joel was sitting behind a desk with the look of astonishment on his face.

“Did you pass another guy while coming in here?” he asked.

When I answered affirmatively, he told me the person was Andy Juniper, his lone sportswriter, who had just resigned. I nearly soiled the floor of the sports department. “But, I can’t offer you the job,” said Joel. “That has to come from our executive editor, John Park. I’ll set up a meeting.” To this day, I cannot comprehend how I landed the position. I wouldn’t have been as nervous if you had dangled me from the door of a jetliner at 39,000 feet.

What a babbling idiot I turned into. During the course of my “interview”, I called John “Pat”, “Fred”, “Irving”, “Jerry”… and any other wrong name that slipped out. Somehow I made enough of an impression that he brought me aboard for the princely sum of $175 per week. Which was, at the time, the most money I’d ever seen at once.

Joel and I worked together for 1½ years, forming a lifelong friendship away from work. In 1979, he was 25. Today, he is 70 and still working in the sports department of the Toronto Sun, for which he left the Guardian in 1981. After a few months, Joel gave me my own column (above) in the sports section, naming it after a famous dog food.

Yup, thems were good times.


6 comments on “Leafs Fans Deserve Housecleaning

  1. So far the FOS’s are prevailing.

    Flushing everyone down the dumper was the correct move. Sacrificing a coach is akin to being a coward.

    The lack of an A1 defenseman, over-reliance on Marner to advance the puck, and a horrible power play all contributed to Toronto’s lackluster regular season where they finished 4th. They should have finished 1st in the NHL with the top-shelf talent.

    Shanahan and Treliving should have fixed Toronto mid-season but opted not to alter course. Would be nice to see them both at the EI office next week.

  2. Keefe has been fired. But the fault with the Leafs is the management. Kyle Dubas failed both Mike Babcock and Sheldon Keefe. Brad Treliving also failed miserable in his first year. Good luck to the future coach. Hopefully, no one will accept the job and Treliving and Dubas can co-coach the team.

  3. Maybe an obvious comment from me, but tonight I watched two hockey games I really enjoyed. Not sure who to hope for but Canuks comeback against the Oilers was not what I expected which makes playoffs the best !!! And Panthers Bruins was actual playoff hockey. Those teams both want to win and they showed it. I was watching and thinking holy sh*t Pastrnak wants to fight Tkachuk, bad idea I thought, and it was as Pastrnak was smoked. Anyway then I thought back to the Leafs Bruins and I couldn’t think of a single time the Leafs were actually engaged in playoff hockey like the Bruins and Panthers were tonight.

  4. I remember the North York Rangers. I caught the occasional game at Centennial Arena, including a playoff series v. North Bay Trappers.

  5. You can blame Mitch Marner if you want, but John Tavares, Max Domi, Tyler Bertuzzi aren’t going to bring you to the promised land. There’s your housecleaning, if you want to make some good moves.

  6. Howard – this is about the end for me and my 57-year, hope-filled imaginings that a Stanley Cup final series and victory would be something fun to experience. I’m losing my will and possibly even getting wiser as I grow older. One thing I’d like to see: maybe somewhere, some day, a bright young MBA student will take a deep dive on MLSE and decipher once and for all if in truth, the Leafs are merely viewed by their owners as a cash-churning utility for which risk, either in the form or going all in, or actually winning something and having fans feel satisfied afterwards, are something the organization has tried to avoid at all cost. Nothing else makes any sense any more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by Comment SPAM Wiper.