The welcome sign that Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan may take its money and run away from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. has put the brakes on the succession plan for Richard Peddie.
Peddie, the president of MLSE, confirmed this week "we've slowed down the search" for a new president, although he declined to offer any more details.
Picking a new president may seem a minor concern to those celebrating the potential departure of an outfit long-vilified for wanting all of the perquisites of owning a public trust like the Toronto Maple Leafs and none of the responsibility. But this should be a big deal, not only to Leafs fans but the fans of all the teams owned by MLSE (the NBA's Toronto Raptors, AHL's Toronto Marlies and Toronto FC of the MLS).
Peddie's official retirement date is the end of December, but he could actually take his leave (with a nice fat consultant's contract in hand, I'll bet) by July 1. MLSE's fiscal year-end is June 30, and Peddie has the company purring smoothly - at least as far as money matters are concerned - so it would make sense to put the new fellow in place when the new financial year starts.
The problem is, just who will own the majority share of MLSE put on the block by Teachers probably won't be settled by then. If MLSE is looking for someone from the A-list of candidates, as promised, this will stall the search for a long-term successor.
Anyone among the top five or so sports company presidents in North America will want to know who they are working for before making a commitment, just as any new owner will want to pick their own president.
Peddie told his current bosses he is willing to hang around until the ownership question is settled. That might extend his stay until September, as nothing much is expected to happen on the Teachers sale as prospective bidders will be tied up over the next month or so looking at MLSE's books.
The reason this is an issue with the Maple Leafs is that ever since MLSE chairman (and part-owner) Larry Tanenbaum and Peddie were moderates in the NHL lockout of 2004-05, they have been frozen out of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's inner circle. This means the league's wealthiest franchise does not have a strong voice at the governors' table.
There is a vacancy on the NHL governors' executive committee - the one that makes all the important decisions the other governors rubber-stamp - but Bettman has not been falling all over himself to hand it to Tanenbaum. The MLSE chairman is not going anywhere, no matter who ends up owning most of the company. But if MLSE's next president was already held in high regard by Bettman, then maybe this problem would go away.
Like the list of potential suitors for MLSE, the list of those capable of running MLSE is short.
Internally, the top candidate is MLSE chief operating officer Tom Anselmi. Outside candidates known in the hockey world include Tim Leiweke (president of the Los Angeles Kings, runs Philip Anschutz's sports empire), Larry Quinn (until recently minority partner and president of the Buffalo Sabres), Jim Lites (who once ran the Detroit Red Wings and Dallas Stars), John McDonough (Chicago Blackhawks president) and Peter Luukko (president/chief operating officer of Comcast-Spectacor, which owns the Philadelphia Flyers).
However, most of those executives are well-entrenched in their positions. Leiweke, for example, is already an NHL governor and sits on the executive committee. But what a catch he would be. …
There is another intriguing name out there, although it must be stressed: this is just rumination. No one from MLSE has talked to him.
Dave Checketts, chairman and part-owner of the St. Louis Blues, has the right résumé. He used to run Madison Square Garden, which is the same kind of operation as MLSE. He has a lot of respect among his fellow NHL governors.
The sticking point is Checketts has an equity position in the Blues and owns the MLS team in Salt Lake City. But he is also trying to replace the majority investor in the Blues, an equity firm that wants out. And one of the other minority owners recently announced plans to try and buy out his fellow owners.
So if the new MLSE owner, be it Tanenbaum or anyone else, comes calling at the right time, you never know.