Skip to main content

The ownership changes at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment mean nothing to the hockey operations of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the short term, but it's going to be awfully interesting this summer.

At this point, the winners in the shuffle that resulted from Steve Stavro selling his stake in the holding company that controlled MLSE and Bell Globemedia joining the ownership group are Larry Tanenbaum and Richard Peddie. Tanenbaum will take over as chairman from Stavro on July 1 and Peddie solidified his position as MLSE president and CEO by being named to the MLSE board of directors.

Identifying the losers is the subject of much speculation, but many National Hockey League and Maple Leafs insiders think Maple Leafs president Ken Dryden, rather than his corporate rival, Maple Leafs general manager Pat Quinn, will ultimately be shown the door.

However, it was made clear by Peddie yesterday that Quinn will lose one of his jobs as general manager or head coach. Pressed for a timetable, Peddie sounded a lot like Quinn when he said the move would not be made until "the time is right."

When he was asked if he expected his job to change right away, Quinn said, "No, not at all."

Quinn's confidence may spring from the knowledge that he has the ultimate say on who will be the next general manager. Dryden, who is expected to make his third attempt to bring in Bob Gainey for the job, says he has input into the decision, but two NHL sources insisted yesterday that Quinn has an ironclad last word written into his contract.

The conventional wisdom around the Leafs is that Dryden has a close relationship with Tanenbaum. Quinn was close to Stavro, which kept Dryden at bay. However, two sources close to the Leafs said Dryden is not a "Tanenbaum guy."

Peddie was more certain about the other question on everyone's mind yesterday -- whether the new majority owners of the Leafs, the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan Board, will be willing to cough up the money if going over the budget to sign a big-name free agent will bring the Stanley Cup to Toronto for the first time since 1967. This was an especially sensitive topic because the Leafs lost the Alexei Kovalev sweepstakes to the big-spending New York Rangers on Monday.

"You look back and the teachers have been full party to investing in the team," Peddie said. "They believe winning is good business. They're prepared to invest in the on-ice product to increase [the value]of their investment."

However, the manner in which Robert Bertram, the Teachers' Pension Plan representative on the MLSE board, handled the question was less reassuring.

Peddie told the reporters at yesterday's press conference to put the question to Bertram in person, but when the formal part of the conference ended, Bertram bolted for the door and all reporters saw of him were the backs of his shoes as he fled down a hallway.

Tanenbaum, though, said, "We are prepared to provide the resources necessary to help attain the championship goals of the organization."

But it appears there's a limit to the resources. "There are many teams that have spent themselves out of existence," Tanenbaum added later. "This is not a team that is going to do that."

Just who will lead the Leafs to the promised land is up for debate, although Quinn is given the upper hand by team and NHL insiders.

Dryden was not in attendance yesterday. He was in Sweden at another press conference to announce that the Maple Leafs will spend nine days in Sweden and Helsinki in September as part of their training camp. While Peddie dismissed this as a coincidence, others were not so sure.

There is no equivalent to Dryden on the Toronto Raptors side of MLSE since Peddie also serves as Raptor president. In other companies that own both an NHL and National Basketball Association team, it is common to have one president like Peddie, with the hockey GM and the basketball GM reporting to him.

When he was asked about Dryden's role in the newly structured company, Peddie replied that "this does not change how we're going forward in management at all."

The most immediate loser was Brian Bellmore, who was dumped from the MLSE board of directors, which went from six to nine. He did not have an ownership stake in the company but was on the board because he was Stavro's lawyer.

This may not bode well for Dryden, since Bellmore helped get him hired. It appears Bellmore was kept in the dark about the sale because he lectured a couple of reporters last week that Stavro was not about to sell his shares.

There was another indication that Quinn is still in the driver's seat. It was clear that he has already had discussions with Peddie about the succession issue. Peddie spoke about it yesterday as being done on Quinn's terms.

"We all agree that it might not be the ideal situation to have [Quinn]have both roles," Peddie said. "[Quinn]knows that. He agrees and at the right time we'll sit down with Pat and talk about that.

"We'll do it when both [Quinn]and ownership thinks it's the right time."

If there is any potential conflict between Quinn and Peddie, it may come over spending money. A little more than an hour after Quinn said he did not want to make the Kovalev trade because it would have cost too much in assumed contracts, Peddie said once again the money is there if Quinn wants to spend it.

"We still hope there's some action before the [NHL]trade deadline [on March 11]" Peddie said. "When the dust all settles, we believe we'll be one of the top-spending teams, despite the Canadian dollar."