2007,  random,  TML

“Hey, Leaf fans: Boo these guys, not Leafs”

Hey, Leaf fans: Boo these guys, not Leafs
Oct 23, 2007 04:30 AM

Years ago, fans knew who to blame when the Leafs fell on hard times – crusty ol’ Harold Ballard. Today, club ownership is a rarely seen, seldom-quoted collection of suits.

Clockwise from top left, Jim Leech of Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan; MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum; MLSE director Dale Lastman; Robert MacLellan of TD Bank; Robert Bertram of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan; CTVglobemedia CEO Ivan Fecan.

The Toronto hockey public has known the two extremes of sports ownership.

Both, in very different ways, created a sense of tyranny and helplessness for Maple Leaf fans.

For almost two decades, the bombastic, idiosyncratic and destructive Harold Ballard owned and operated the Maple Leafs and Maple Leaf Gardens. While a publicly traded company, Ballard was clearly the man in charge, a constant presence at Leaf games sitting in his trademark corner bunker.

He was certainly accessible, frequently quoted and eminently quotable.

For the past four years, by contrast, the Leafs have been controlled by a private corporate entity that is among the most nameless and faceless in pro sports.

Ask people, even knowledgeable Leaf fans, who owns the hockey club, and it’s likely most could at best give you a partial answer. Most know the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan is a major player (58 per cent). Larry Tanenbaum and his company controls a chunk (13 per cent). But after that, it gets a little foggy.

It’s exactly the opposite end of the spectrum from the Ballard years. Then, there was one man, one face and one so-and-so to blame.

Now, instead of Ballard, you have successful businessmen like Bob Bertram and Jim Leech of the teachers’ pension fund, CTV Globemedia executive Ivan Fecan, Robert MacLellan of TD Capital and Tanenbaum’s lawyer and business partner, Dale Lastman, ostensibly acting as caretakers of Conn Smythe’s legacy.

These are the people who are truly responsible for this hockey organization, truly responsible for the fact 40 years after its last Stanley Cup, success is now defined as striving for the eighth and final playoff berth in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.

This matters these days as Leaf fans try to identify a villain in all of this.

They started to boo Bryan McCabe, but then decided to feel sorry for him instead. Goalie Andrew Raycroft has been a target from time-to-time. Chat rooms and blogs have no end of critics willing to crucify GM John Ferguson.

But all of these Leaf employees, really, have a limited role in the success of the team.

The same can’t be said of ownership, but MLSE directors are rarely seen, almost never quoted or interviewed.

They never have to answer for the team’s failures, and never even appear on the ice when a player or former player is being honoured. Other than Tanenbaum, most aren’t actually owners in a conventional sense; they represent companies that hold a stake in the Leafs.

Take the aforementioned Leech of the teachers’ pension plan. He’ll take over as president and CEO of that organization on Dec. 1. But he doesn’t own that chunk of equity himself. What are ACC fans to do, chant “Leech must go?” Stand outside their local elementary school with placards of protests for the teachers that work there?

People know Eugene Melnyk owns the Ottawa Senators, that George Gillett owns the storied Montreal Canadiens and that Tom Golisano rescued the Buffalo Sabres.

But those who make the decisions for the Leafs, approve the budgets and decide the nature and quality of the men who run the hockey office, aren’t nearly as identifiable or accountable.

But it was the MLSE directors, or some of them, who decided to spend the summer beating the bushes for a senior hockey adviser to either work with Ferguson, or over his head, a shadowy and ultimately pointless process.

It’s the directors who approve of strategies that allow first-round draft picks to be peddled elsewhere for immediate assistance and ludicrous contracts with undeserving players to be signed.

So boo McCabe or call for Ferguson’s head if you want.

But understand that they’re only targets for fan frustration, convenient and available for a once-proud franchise that isn’t really owned by anybody any longer.

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