What was different for the Toronto Maple Leafs about this trade deadline?
The silence of Toronto’s ownership. There was no bluster of a Harold Ballard or fervent wish from a Larry Tanenbaum that the team could have done more to improve its playoff prospects. Just the sound of general manager Brian Burke, saying that he believes in the team.
The impending ownership – telecom giants Rogers' and Bell Canada's controlling interest will be finalized this summer – will make parent Maple Leaf Sport & Entertainment one of Canada’s richest companies. Technically, the Leafs are between ownerships. The Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan is going and the Rogers-Bell partnership isn't ensconced. Ergo, little criticism has come Burke's way from on high.
But there never was a clearer indication that the sports teams in Toronto mean one thing – inventory for broadcast outlets. It doesn’t matter whether the Leafs or basketball's Raptors or soccer’s Toronto FC brings home a championship, as long as they supply games for broadcast.
The Leafs’ existence as a business is Burke’s blessing. Then team can struggle on the ice of the Air Canada Centre, but it is a winner in the financial ledger. The Maple Leafs essentially look no different than they did before, apart from a minor deal that sent Leafs/Marlies defenceman Keith Aulie to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Carter Ashton, who will be dispatched to the minors. The Leafs have won only one of their past nine games. Goalie James Reimer has lost five of his last six outings and was “held accountable” (some describe it as Reimer being thrown “under the bus”) by coach Ron Wilson for giving up stoppable goals to the Washington Capitals on the weekend.
The fans might complain that the Leafs are in danger of missing the post-season Stanley Cup playoffs for another year, yet they fill the place at high prices and subscribe to specialty channels to get their fix of the Leafs. As long as the team is a turning a profit, Burke can wait out the struggles of goalies Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson in the net. He doesn’t have to make desperate deals to get Rick Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Upper management will stay off his back.
Toronto, he says, is a tough place in which to be a hockey player because of the media scrutiny. But it may also be a place where a general manager gets a lot of leeway, so long as the corporate ownership is making money.