Now that Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan is going to hang on to its 80-per-cent share of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the company can come out of its state of suspended animation.
The to-do list, roughly in order, is to resume the search for a successor for retiring president Richard Peddie who will depart on Dec. 31, pray for the return of goaltender James Reimer in the next few days to keep that Toronto Maple Leafs playoff bandwagon moving toward a cash bonanza in the spring, get ready to rake in millions, probably from Bell Media, in a new radio deal and quietly, very quietly, hope the Toronto Raptors lose as much as possible in the lockout-shortened NBA season so they can get the first overall draft pick in 2012. Then, once all of that is out of the way, get started on that regional sports network for which MLSE already has a licence, tentatively called Real Sports, which will combine Leafs TV, NBA TV Canada and Gol TV, as first reported by The Globe and Mail more than a year ago. But more about that later.
First, the search is officially back on for a new president, although MLSE types are keeping quiet about potential candidates. Maybe that’s because the front-runner internally is Tom Anselmi, MLSE’s chief operating officer.
Anselmi has been working hard to get the job since Peddie announced his plan to retire Dec. 31. Peddie was going to leave as early as July 1 but agreed to stay when Teachers’ put its shares up for sale. But now that Teachers’ is staying, Peddie will definitely leave on Dec. 31, according to an MLSE source.
At this point, it looks like Anselmi will either be named acting president or assume Peddie’s duties and keep his title as COO in a sort of audition for the top job until a permanent president is named. The rest of the management team will remain in place.
The trouble with finding a new president for MLSE is the same as finding a buyer for Teachers’ share of the company: There are few qualified candidates. MLSE’s varied holdings require expertise in a lot of areas, from sports to media to real estate.
In the NHL, for example, the most obvious candidate is Tim Leiweke, president and chief executive officer of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which operates the Los Angeles Kings in addition to other sports teams, the LA Live entertainment venue and various arenas around the world.
He has a friendly relationship with Peddie and MLSE. But he’s worked for Philip Anschutz for many years and probably has an equity position in his company which would complicate a move to Toronto.
The radio rights for the Maple Leafs come up for auction at the end of this season. Even though AM 640, the present holder, is not expected to bid, MLSE can anticipate a sharp increase in the current fee of $1.5-million a year. Bell Media sees those rights as the key to the future of its sports radio station in Toronto, TSN Radio 1050. What remains to be seen is how eager Rogers Communications is to get them for its own station, Sportsnet 590 The Fan.
As for a regional sports television network, MLSE is biding its time until 2015 when the Leafs’ local television rights expire, since those are the ones that will make this venture pay. The important stuff, the licence, is already in place, so the company has four years to build Real Sports into a network as successful as its sports bar namesake.
Like Peddie told The Globe and Mail in October of 2010: “Imagine a channel that had Leafs, Raptors, TFC and Marlies games on it. Imagine what you could charge for that.”
THE GREAT ONE AND THE LEAFS
If the Toronto Maple Leafs ever do get a new owner, do not expect Wayne Gretzky to automatically be part of the mix. Somehow that notion was planted when it was mistakenly reported Gretzky was approached by Providence Equity Partners to be part of a bid for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
Gretzky’s representative, Darren Blake, said Sunday that Providence never approached him and the other groups that did were “people kicking tires.”
It turns out the key party in this drama, Toronto-Dominion Bank, was never mentioned in any of the stories about this. For almost all of the discussions – and they were all informal – about Gretzky taking a role with MLSE were with TD.
One of Gretzky’s major endorsement deals is with TD. Before TD sold its 13.5-per-cent share of MLSE to the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan last May, its executives often asked Gretzky about one day joining forces with the Leafs’ parent company. But these discussions always came up at various corporate schmoozes and never went beyond the informal stage.
Gretzky never jumped up and said, “Yeah, let’s go,” only that he would be interested under the right circumstances. The right circumstances would be a version of the deal he had with the Phoenix Coyotes, where he was essentially paid to be a minority owner and he would only have to make a few appearances a year for the Leafs.
When TD was looking at selling its stake in MLSE, it told some prospective buyers that Gretzky would be a good person to have on board. A few of those buyers put out feelers to Gretzky and received a polite but non-committal response. None of those buyers was named Providence Equity Partners.
All of that chatter ended a long time ago and ceased entirely when TD sold its stake in MLSE but, Blake said, “somehow the whole thing got carried away.”
Speaking of the Coyotes
Thursday is deadline day for Glendale, Ariz., to come up with an owner who will buy the Coyotes from the NHL and keep them in the Phoenix suburb. But don’t expect the NHL to stick to its deadline. Why start now?
It’s hard to meet a deadline if there is no owner in sight. An NHL source who keeps an eye on the situation says it isn’t clear if Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf is still in the picture. Former San Jose Sharks president Greg Jamison is said to have a conditional deal but one of the major conditions is that he raise the money, which is proving to be a challenge.
Folks in Quebec are best advised to stay on alert.
When the NHL’s board of governors gather for their annual pow-wow on Dec. 5 and 6 in Pebble Beach, Calif., it will be the first time Toronto Maple Leafs chairman Larry Tanenbaum attends as a new power in the league. An NHL source says Tanenbaum was named to the 10-person governors’ executive committee, the one that has a role in every big decision. The Leafs were shut out of the halls of power for many years by commissioner Gary Bettman despite their status as the richest team in the league because they were moderates in the 2004-05 lockout. The freeze officially ended when Bettman filled a committee vacancy with Tanenbaum.
Randy Carlyle passed the 500-game mark as head coach of the Anaheim Ducks in late October, the longest tenure in franchise history. But not many are betting Carlyle will hit 600. He’s the latest NHL coach on the hot seat, thanks to the six-game losing streak and one win in 13 games the Ducks took into their game Sunday against the Maple Leafs. The line of Corey Perry-Ryan Getzlaf-Bobby Ryan that was so dominant last season is flailing badly. The only thing that may be keeping Carlyle employed right now is the expense of paying off that three-year contract extension he signed in August. After the Leafs, the Ducks will face the Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers and Minnesota Wild this week in hopes of a turnaround.
Some milestones to look for this week: Phil Kessel of the Maple Leafs to play his 400th NHL game Saturday against his old team, the Bruins; Martin St. Louis of the Lightning needs three points to hit 800 for his career and plays Monday in Minnesota.
FIVE GAMES TO WATCH
Predators at Oilers
If you’re interested in the NHL’s trophies, this one has some candidates going head-to-head. Calder candidates as top rookies are Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of Edmonton and Craig Smith of Nashville. Both Nikolai Khabibulin of the Oilers and Pekka Rinne of the Preds will get votes as top goalie, while Nashville blueliner Shea Weber is a favourite for the Norris as best defenceman. Monday, 9:30 p.m., Sportsnet-West.
Penguins at Rangers
Sidney Crosby’s comeback takes him to the Big Apple but there’s another reason to watch this one. It is the first game for the Penguins agitator Matt Cooke against the Rangers since he was suspended for 10 games last regular season, plus the first round of the playoffs, for a head shot on Ryan McDonough of the Rangers. Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., TSN2.
Penguins at Capitals
This is the first Crosby-Ovechkin showdown of the season. It’s also the first Washington-Pittsburgh game since the Arron Asham of the Pens KO’ed Jay Beagle of the Caps in a preseason fight. Beagle only started skating recently. You’ll need the Centre Ice package or a good sports bar to see it. Thursday, 7 p.m., NHL Network-US, Root TV.
Coyotes at Jets
Here it is, the first visit by the former Jets to the home in Winnipeg they abandoned in 1996. If it is possible for a crowd to boo for the entire 60 minutes of a game, it will happen here. Thursday, 8:30 p.m., TSN-Jets.
Flames at Oilers
Edmonton’s youngsters are trying to stay in playoff contention while Calgary is merely trying to stay afloat. But it’s the Battle of Alberta, so this one should be emotional. Saturday, 10 p.m., CBC.