Pelley’s Integrity At Stake – Already

TORONTO (June 20) — It was a sentence that eluded widespread observation. Even if from a largely unassailable source. Yes, Darren Dreger of TSN spilled a cauldron of beans on Tuesday with this fairly significant remark about the Leafs and Mitch Marner. Which, on the surface, appeared to contradict the tone (and words) of the end–of–season press gathering, when Keith Pelley and Brendan Shanahan all but guaranteed a shift in strategy:

We’ll begin to find out within two weeks whether the Maple Leafs are negotiating a contract extension with Marner and agent, Darren Ferris; Mitch can sign anytime starting July 1. If the club even threatens to retain Marner — thereby moving forward, indefinitely, with an horrific playoff formula — Pelley will fall in line with the other blowhards at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment that have promised Toronto hockey fans the moon in the past five years… and delivered nothing. Zilch. One measly triumph in the opening round, last spring, against the declining Tampa Bay Lightning. Never close to a Stanley Cup challenge. Such perennial playoff fodder for the Boston Bruins that it’s become a franchise embarrassment. The seven–game defeat in April of this year was evidently the straw that broke MLSE’s back. Or, so we were told. Pelley didn’t want to sell jerseys. He wanted to win games when it mattered. So he professed. That entire 40 minutes of Pelley, Shanahan and Brad Treliving facing the media will be rendered fictional should Dreger’s forecast evolve. If the Maple Leafs lock up Marner as they have Auston Matthews and William Nylander, my theory will be effectively confirmed: that MLSE is committed to entertaining Leaf patrons during the six–month regular season. And, would rather not threaten to win the big prize.

For the mere and obvious fact it doesn’t need to.

Ending the interminable Stanley Cup illusion comes with unpredictability. There’s no reason to alter the company blueprint when profits are close to maximal. So, the Maple Leafs, if they follow the usual path of least resistance (which was supposed to change under Pelley), will retain Marner for the next half–decade, thereby falsely delighting the masses from October to April. And, guaranteeing more playoff heartache for the club’s enormous fan base.

The only reasonable scenario for the Leafs is to entertain potential trade offers involving Marner. If an overture looks appealing — and, any return should be preferable to the player walking as an unrestricted free agent — Treliving will take it to Ferris and Marner. The player is in complete control, which, again, illustrates how poorly the Leafs have managed their top assets. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Even if Marner does walk, the club gets an immediate gift of nearly $11 million in cap space. Which is far–more preferable and strategically sound than using it on full retention of the Big 3 draft choices. Given his playoff misadventures, Marner isn’t worth anywhere near that amount to the Leafs (quite frankly, neither are Matthews and Nylander, but they signed first). Maybe to another team… but not for rounding out (and locking in) a triumvirate that routinely comes up small at Stanley Cup time. Any effort toward that will heighten the agony of Leafs Nation and assure that the longest–ever championship drought in the National Hockey League surpasses 60 years. Which, again, may be the plan.


Clearly not part of the plan — and I’m being blunt here — is Keith as company puppet. Which hasn’t come to pass in his prior sports and media involvement. He won the 2004 Grey Cup as president of the Toronto Argonauts then spearheaded the massive, 12–year deal signed by Rogers Communications with the NHL for exclusive TV rights in Canada. Worth a paltry $5.2 billion. Keith made his name in the 1990’s as a visionary with TSN. He is neither accustomed to losing nor appearing foolish. Both of which will quickly follow if he caves and allows Leaf management to re–sign Marner. It will not only prove that Pelley was blabbering at the farewell news conference, but would place him alongside all others in the hockey department have spewed absurdities for half–a–decade.

Keith was supposed to be different, with no attachment to those responsible for the annual playoff implosion. Seeking only a reversal of the rinse–and–repeat folly each spring. Heck, even Shanahan, who would stick with Matthews, Marner and Nylander at gunpoint, sounded uncharacteristically resigned in the media gathering.

Change was necessary. At last.

Now, Darren Dreger, a trusted hockey voice, is suggesting the Leafs will venture to keep Marner with the other two. Committing the club to roughly $36 million for three playoff ballerinas. If that isn’t a shot across the bow to the NHL’s most–resilient rooters, what could be. Along with the bitter disappointment of Pelley becoming yet another MLSE mouthpiece… with hollow words and unfulfilled promises. Haven’t we endured enough of that already?


Further images from my collection — these dating from June 1968 to August 1988:

I somehow remember watching TV on the morning of June 6, 1968 as my father was getting ready for work. All stations in Canada and the U.S. had mothballed programming and were covering the gruesome details of another political assassination. This one involving the senator, Robert F. Kennedy, frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in the ’68 presidential election. And, brother of the late president, John F. Kennedy, who’d been cut down by bullets in downtown Dallas nearly five years prior. The senator was slayed only two months after the shocking assassination, in Memphis, of civil rights leader Martin Luther King. Covers of the Toronto Star and Toronto Telegram (above) detailed Kennedy’s futile struggle in hospital. He died without regaining consciousness after a waiter at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles shot him in the head. While Kennedy was leaving the hotel through a kitchen. The assailant’s name: Sirhan Bishara Sirhan. Now, 80. But, only 24 when he gunned down Robert F.

How could a happy, 10–year–old kid, snuggled between his parents, not create a lifelong memory? Watching in amazement as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin pranced about the moon — the ghostly images surreal to this day. I suppose Mom or Dad kept the Toronto Telegram of July 21, 1969 (above) because it has forever been part of my collection. The Telegram would cease publication just more than two years later, giving way to the tabloid Toronto Sun. This paper is in terrific condition for its age (nearly 55 years). Such a wonderful souvenir.

The great false alarm for Major League Baseball in Toronto (Star, above, from Jan. 10, 1976) as the San Francisco Giants were evidently moving to our city. Only to remain in the Bay Area when the sale was “undone by legal injunctions and political brinkmanship.” Ultimately, Toronto was awarded an American League expansion franchise for the 1977 season, along with Seattle. But, this caused quite a local firestorm in the early part of ’76.

Finally, it was time for the Toronto Blue Jays to — as the headline says — PLAY BALL! This, a 23–page supplement of the Toronto Star on Wednesday, Apr. 6, 1977, a day before the club’s first game in the American League. Veteran righty Bill Singer (on cover) would throw the first pitch in Blue Jays history.

The mid–season Maple Leafs “report card” — assembled (above) by legendary hockey writer Frank Orr of the Toronto Star — was always to anticipate. This edition (from Saturday Jan. 21, 1978) graded the best Leafs team of the Harold Ballard era. The 1977–78 club, under rookie coach Roger Neilson, compiled 92 points, second–most (at the time) in franchise history. Led by captain Darryl Sittler, enjoying his best NHL season (45–72–117, still the second–highest point total by a Leaf), Toronto swept Los Angeles in a best–of–three preliminary playoff then upset the favored New York Islanders in the quarterfinals after dropping the first two games on the road. Lanny McDonald famously won the series in overtime of Game 7 at the Nassau Coliseum. The Maple Leafs lost Borje Salming, their top defenseman, with a serious eye injury in Game 4. As such, the club was easy fodder for Scotty Bowman, Guy Lafleur and the dynastic Montreal Canadiens in the Cup semis. But, this was an enjoyable team to watch. I attended most games at Maple Leaf Gardens in season tickets: South Mezzanine Blues, Sec. 30, Row F, Seats 27, 28. Had ’em from 1975–76 until 1983–84, when I earned my first press box pass at the Gardens.

If there’s a bigger upset in international hockey, it’s yet to occur. I had just turned 21 and was romping around Hallandale Beach, Fla. at my pal Jeffrey Spiegelman’s condominium when that group of American college upstarts brought down the Russian bear in Lake Placid, N.Y. during the 1980 Winter Olympic Games. This was such a colossal surprise that few people remember the gold medal match, two days later, against Finland. But, no one forgets Al Michaels warbling “do you believe in miracles? Yes!” at the final buzzer, as ABC broadcast partner Ken Dryden offered “un…believable”. Here was the Toronto Star Sports front of Feb. 23, 1980.

Who, of any baseball vintage, can forget the famous “Pine Tar” incident of July 24, 1983 at Yankee Stadium? When elite batter George Brett of the Kansas City Royals threw the most–famous tantrum in Major League history (Google it). Storming out of the visitors’ dugout after being called out by plate umpire Tim McClelland. Which nullified a monster, three–run homer to right field. Yankees manager Billy Martin, nobody’s fool, noticed the pine tar (for grip) had been rubbed too far down Brett’s bat. Once McCLelland laid the bat across the width of home plate, he motioned the “out” sign to the K.C. dugout, igniting Brett as never before (or since). The Royals protested the decision and were upheld by the American League. The game continued more than a month later, on Aug. 28, with K.C. holding the 5–4, top–of–the–ninth lead crafted by Brett’s home run. Which became the final score. The incident made headlines (above) on the front and rear covers of the July 25, 1993 New York Daily News.

This remains widely considered the best international hockey tournament of all time. I was fortunate to have a media pass for Games 2 and 3 of the 1987 Canada Cup final… at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton between the host country and the Russians. Sat up in the corner of the stands, amid a makeshift, auxiliary press box. Not a bad spot given that Mario Lemieux scored his legendary winning goal on a drop pass from Wayne Gretzky directly below and to the right of my location (can still close my eyes and see it). The late, great Jim Proudfoot covered the series for the Toronto Star, penning a Sports–front column (above) on Sep. 16, 1987, the morning after Game 3.

Whether in Edmonton (left) or Toronto, Wayne Gretzky was on his way to Los Angeles in the biggest hockey trade of all time. Look at the number of pages the Edmonton Sun dedicated to the mega–swap of Aug. 9, 1988.


7 comments on “Pelley’s Integrity At Stake – Already

  1. Great articles Howard, brings back memories.

    On the day Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, I was awaiting newspapers for my newspaper paper route, but they never came as the headline had to be changed to account for the assassination. Eventually they did and I was late for school, priorities :-).

    That evening I attended the Cream concert
    at Massey Hall.

    One question Howard, has anyone ever analyzed what a Stanley Cup drive to the final would bring in profits to MLSE?


  2. Maybe unpopular in this forum, but I don’t think Marner was the big problem. Ultimately, the Leafs lost by one goal. You’re going to run into hot goalies in the playoffs and that will trump elite scoring no matter who it is. I like Samsonov and his fight, but they need consistency in net in terms of the performance they get. Woll is good, but oft-injured. Tavares is coming off the books or possibly taking a pay hike and Brodie is as good as gone. They’ve got the guy that wrote the rules of the cap. They have a different type of coach coming in. I want to see how Marner responds before trading away a top talent. The current GM doesn’t have a good track record with big trades and getting commensurate value. Respect you greatly, Howard, but I don’t believe in moving a guy that is important on the PK just as he is on the PP. Those kinds of players don’t grow on trees and would likely come back to haunt us

    1. As I wrote, Marner is the odd man out because the other two (Matthews, Nylander) have already signed. You CANNOT keep all three, unless there’s a playoff death wish at MLSE (not out of the question). But, it’s all up to Mitch; he’s the GM and the player. More wonderful Leafs management.

  3. But Howard, winning is hard, and making decisions is hard too. Better to deliver platitudes and talk about “the process” than actually take a chance. What on earth will all the little darlings do who bought a Mitchy jersey? One of them might send out a nasty tweet!!! MLSE couldn’t abide that.
    I’d say that they’ve stuck a carefully licked finger into the breeze and determined that there’s enough suckers who still believe that these 3 overcompensated, overhyped, overconfident, self important, coddled hockey players could win (in some form) if they just swapped out Noah Gregor for a different Noah Gregor. Unfortunately they mistook their own flatulence for a breeze.
    Lower or abandon your expectations Howard. This organization doesn’t warrant the attention.
    Plus ca’ change….

  4. Pelley stated that there would be changes but he didn’t specify that the changes would include the core four nor did Treliving or Shanahan. It was the gossip queens who created the Marner debacle with fake news and the various methods that the Leafs were going to use to crucify him.

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