Someone really wants to see Wayne Gretzky take a job with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.
This week, for the second time in six months, his name came up in speculation about an executive role with the company that owns the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Perhaps that someone is Gretzky. Maybe, when there was a conversation between the hockey legend and new MLSE president Tim Leiweke about an executive job that ultimately went nowhere, that conversation was initiated by Gretzky.
After all, who gets the most benefit from an association with Gretzky – MLSE or Gretzky? The answer is obvious once all the factors are considered.
First, there is Gretzky’s celebrity value. Even 14 years after he retired, he remains one of the biggest names in hockey. He still attracts the A-list of corporations that want him to be their celebrity spokesman, and his passive-aggressive estrangement from the NHL (because he was stiffed out of millions of dollars owed to him by the Phoenix Coyotes) still makes news occasionally.
Leiweke has a reputation for trying to attract big names, forged when he was running Philip Anschutz’s sports and entertainment company, AEG – which owns the Los Angeles Kings, once Gretzky’s most-notable hockey employer.
MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum also has an attraction to celebrity, so perhaps he or someone else on the MLSE board said it would be nice to have Gretzky around.
But since when does MLSE need a celebrity spokesman? Last time we checked, the waiting list for luxury suites at the Air Canada Centre may be shorter thanks to the lingering recession but there are precious few vacancies. Ditto for the Maple Leafs season-ticket list and the roster of team sponsors.
As one fellow intimate with the Leafs’ situation put it: “He’s Mr. Hockey, but he’s not Mr. Toronto Hockey.”
Then, there is Gretzky’s value as a sports and/or hockey executive. But on the business side, there is no sign he has any interest in dealing with Maple Leafs or NHL corporate issues.
When he was part-owner, director of hockey operations and head coach of the Coyotes, Gretzky was never spotted at an NHL board of governors meeting.
With AEG, Leiweke was actively involved in the operations of the NHL, as well as the Kings and the L.A. Galaxy soccer team, so it is doubtful he needs any assistance.
There is a vacancy for Leafs president, since Brian Burke was fired last January, and his replacement, David Nonis, was named general manager but not president. However, as he showed by the team’s performance this season and by his player moves of late, Nonis is an experienced executive who has already done a good job as president/GM of another NHL team (Vancouver Canucks) and needs no help in this respect.
Nonis also has lots of support from a rather large gallery of Leafs executives such as assistant GM Claude Loiselle and Dave Poulin, vice-president of hockey operations.
So just how many suits does one team need?
The answer was not readily available. Leiweke was visiting his family in the United States for the July 4 holiday and was not available for comment; Gretzky could not be reached either.
But the answer could be found in wondering: just what a Leafs president would do to occupy his time?
If you look at it from Gretzky’s perspective, it would be a perfect fit. He could stay busy with his obligations to corporate clients and still collect a handsome paycheque to show up at the ACC from time to time and press a few hands at an NHL governors meeting if Toronto is chasing an all-star game or an outdoor game.
Sounds like a perfect match.