As end-of-season statements go, this one was hard to miss.
A full page letter in the Toronto editions of a national newspaper, directly from the chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and addressed to the fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
We’re sorry for missing the playoffs, yet again.
“The Toronto Maple Leafs are a public trust with the greatest fans in the world,” the letter reads. “We have fallen short of everyone’s expectations, and for that we are sorry.
“We take full responsibility for how this team performs on the ice, and we make no excuses. The way this year ended was unacceptable.”
The letter is signed “Lawrence M. Tanenbaum” in a rare public comment for the team’s minority co-owner, whose stake in the organization is set to increase slightly when the Rogers and Bell consortium takes over later this year.
Tanenbaum was again a regular at Leafs games this season – sitting in his season’s tickets behind the home team’s bench and shaking hands with players in the dressing room after wins – and he couldn’t have enjoyed what he saw during the past two months.
At one point, Toronto set a franchise record by losing 11 games in a row at home, which came as part of a late season collapse that ultimately ended with the Leafs sitting fifth last in the league.
Through an MLSE spokesman, Tanenbaum declined an interview request on Monday, indicating that he preferred to let general manager Brian Burke be the voice of the team.
Burke, who will meet with the media on Tuesday, was given a mild vote of confidence in Tanenbaum’s letter, which stated that “ownership believes in the plan for the Maple Leafs.”
Marc Ganis, a sports franchise consultant and president of Chicago-based Sportscorp, Ltd., sees the apology as “a reflection of great frustration on the part of ownership.”
“This does not happen often,” Ganis said. “This is a full page ad saying how poorly we played and how much we disappointed you and ourselves. And we are very angry about this.
“By making this public, they’re trying to express to the fans that ownership is feeling the same way the fans are... and ownership and the fans are in the same boat. They’re both paying top dollar, they both expect better results and they’re both furiously disappointed.”
Tanenbaum’s wasn’t the only apology the organization gave out on Monday.
With the players all on hand for one final day at the Air Canada Centre for final meetings, Leafs defenceman Cody Franson said simply that he was “sorry” when asked what he would say to the fan base after a seventh consecutive playoff miss.
“We want to make the playoffs more than the fans want us to make the playoffs,” Franson said. “It’s one of those things where we got into a stretch where we just couldn’t find our way through the fog.”
The most frustrating aspect of Toronto’s season for its fans, players and, presumably, owners, was how it all played out.
The Leafs were in sixth in the Eastern Conference as of Feb. 6 but won just two of their next 17 games and seven times in the season’s final 29 games to nosedive right into the NHL’s basement.
Unlike past seasons, where Toronto was out of contention early before a late, fruitless rally, this year’s team had created the expectation they would at least be competing for a playoff spot up until the final weekend.
Instead, they were essentially eliminated by the trade deadline, with coach Ron Wilson getting fired a few days after Burke decided to stand pat with his roster.
Now the Leafs summer will be filled with questions over how poorly they played when the games mattered the most.
“I can’t really pinpoint what happened and where it went wrong,” Leafs winger Phil Kessel said. “But it went wrong, and we obviously have got things to work on. Hopefully we can improve and do better next year.”
“It’s a bad feeling for everyone in the city,” teammate Clarke MacArthur added. “We’re pretty frustrated with how it ended.”
The Leafs' day of apologies comes on the heels of the Montreal Canadiens making similar statements in French and English to their home crowd on the Bell Centre scoreboard before their final home game last Saturday.
Other players around the league have issued their own form of apologies directly to fans via Twitter over the past few days, including Dallas Stars veteran Steve Ott.
“Sorry to all the fans that were pesky for us all year,” Ott wrote. “Long summers are the worst.”
The full text from Tanenbaum's letter is below:
Dear Leafs Fans:
On behalf of the ownership of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, we want to thank you for your unwavering passion and loyalty. Like every fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, we are disappointed with the results of this season.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are a public trust with the greatest fans in the world. We have fallen short of everyone's expectations, and for that we are sorry. We take full responsibility for how this team performs on the ice, and we make no excuses. The way this year ended was unacceptable. Results are the only measure of success in sports and the results speak for themselves.
Ownership believes in the plan for the Maple Leafs. All of the resources at our disposal will be used to make sure that the entire organization is focused on making the Leafs a successful playoff team. We are 100% committed to ensuring we ice a team that competes with the NHL's best. Passion, hard work and accountability will always be the hallmarks of our organization.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are privileged to have such passionate and loyal fans. We do not take that for granted. Our entire organization wants nothing more than to deliver a team that makes you proud.
Lawrence M. Tanenbaum, O.C. Chairman of the Board Maple Leaf Sports & EntertainmentReport Typo/Error
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