Life under Tim Leiweke sure moves fast. Take your eye off things and the pictures in the hallways are gone, Johnny Bower gets kidnapped, the basketball team’s general manager is elbowed into oblivion and a bunch of suits get re-shuffled or removed. You go to sleep with a team that loses in the seventh game of its first playoff series in nine years and you wake up the next morning you have a Stanley Cup parade route planned. This Cristiano Ronaldo fellow? When does he join Toronto FC, anyhow?
For Dave Nonis, the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, there is something readily apparent about life under Leiweke, the new president and chief executive officer of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.
“From a hockey standpoint, I don’t know if there’s any real difference, yet,” Nonis said Thursday. “But in other ways, it’s obvious that he was serious when he told us he wanted our group to focus on the hockey team. He’s allowed us to focus our energy on that task. Tim ... he’s the kind of guy who takes a lot of things off your plate.”
He’s also not afraid to bear gifts, either. Thursday, Nonis received a five-year contract extension which was somewhat surprising since he said he had three years left on the contract he received when the MLSE board fired Brian Burke at the end of the lockout and promoted Nonis.
“It was a little bit of a surprise,” Nonis said Thursday. “It was obviously something he didn’t have to do.”
It’s clear by now that Leiweke understands the meaning of the grand gesture, however, and it’s a safe bet he felt the need to ensure there was no misunderstanding: that as much as Masai Ujiri, the Toronto Raptors GM, is his guy so, too, is Nonis his guy. This, in light of the circumstances in which the Leafs collapsed late in Game 7 against the Boston Bruins, and the fact that Nonis’s three-year deal was never really made formal in a public way, to the point where some in the hockey community believed it was only for one or two years.
This removes any doubt: Nonis is under contract through 2018, and Leiweke said in a news release that the extension “will allow David the time to build his kind of team to produce steady results, year after year ... and today’s new contract agreement will offer the Leafs consistency and a long-term vision.”
Nonis estimates that it took 10 days to two weeks to get the extension done – likely between bold pronouncements and various stops along a planned media campaign trail designed to introduce Leiweke to the public. Nonis paused when he was asked what was going through his mind as he heard his new boss lay waste to the Leafs’, um, glorious past – how he read Leiweke’s one-man exorcism of the ghosts of 1967, and the resulting blow-back.
“I understand the feeling from the alumni and the fan-base,” Nonis said. “Toronto is a pretty savvy hockey market. But I also understand what Tim was doing from a team standpoint. He wants us to build a championship team for the here and now, and if anything is in our way of doing that, he wants it removed.”
That pretty much leaves Toronto FC president Kevin Payne on the clock, with Leiweke indicating publicly that he would prefer to wait until the end of the MLS season to evaluate TFC (although we can pretty much guarantee that the ‘end,’ when it comes, will somehow involve a late goal by the opposing team.)
At any rate, the only real drama left in the Air Canada Centre executive suite is whether all these rumours about Wayne Gretzky getting some sort of title are little more than the result of a slow hockey news cycle. If consistency and long-term vision is what Leiweke’s about, it makes little sense to toss a personality such as Gretzky’s into the mix just for yuks or to sexy up the board room. It’s not like the Leafs need him to sell tickets or push merchandise, and the truth is Nonis’s demeanour proved to be a welcome relief to the bluster of his predecessor. The total lack of angst suggested a measured competence, that this was a man with whom anybody could work.
Including Tim Leiweke.