Fri, March 4, 2005
Ganging up on the Leafs
FELLOW OWNERS HEAPED VERBAL ABUSE ON TANENBAUM AT NHL MEETING, STEVE
By STEVE SIMMONS
THE GAP between the Maple Leafs and the National Hockey League has
grown wider, less trusting and more emotional. At issue isn't just
the philosophical conflict between commissioner Gary Bettman and
Leafs board chairman Larry Tanenbaum, but the contentious
relationship between a hockey club that wants a deal done yesterday
and a league bent on protecting its weaker franchises.
The Toronto Sun has learned that Tanenbaum read from a prepared
statement at the owners-only portion of Tuesday's board of governors
meeting in New York, strongly stating the position of the Leafs and
urging that a deal with the players must be accomplished. Immediately
afterward, he became a target of verbal abuse from his fellow owners,
numerous sources at the meeting have confirmed.
One source referred to the shouting down of Tanenbaum as "pretty
Another called it "nasty business."
When asked to confirm that he received significant backlash from
fellow governors after reading his statement, Tanenbaum first
said: "I did not receive any type of backlash. I deny that."
But he quickly went on to say: "The meeting was confidential from the
point of view of 30 owners. We made comments and others made
comments. Those comments will remain confidential. I'm not going to
speak about what went on.
"That's the commissioner's job if he chooses to. The commissioner can
characterize it any way he wants."
Tanenbaum did admit to leaving the meeting and returning to Toronto
in an "emotional state."
"I hate this," he said yesterday in an interview. "This is awful,
damned awful. I'm sorry we lost the season. We won't lose another
one. We cannot.
"If we (the Leafs) were a power of one, we know we could do it.
Unfortunately, that's not the way it works ...
"Not playing hockey is my No. 1 frustration. That's what we are here
for. That's what our business is and that's what our fans expect.
"We should be playing and we are not and, yes, that is incredibly
frustrating to me. I left the meeting frustrated by the fact we don't
have a deal. And that level of frustration will continue.
"We as the ownership of the Toronto Maple Leafs want to be playing
hockey. We don't want this."
Prior to the season being mothballed, Tanenbaum quietly had met with
Mario Lemieux and Tie Domi in an attempt to bridge a gap between
players and owners. But what has yet to be bridged is a gap between
players and players, even at the negotiating level, and owners and
owners, with the Leafs clearly representing the minority.
Surprisingly some of the Leafs' staunchest critics at the board of
governors meeting were fellow large-market owners.
The Leafs, meanwhile, have been the most vigilant and inwardly
outspoken team opposed to the cancellation of the 2004-05 season.
The club has made significant profits annually for Maple Leaf Sports
and Entertainment Ltd., in the very system that hockey is now
And on the day the season was officially called off, CEO Richard
Peddie was asked about the job Bettman has done in the negotiations.
He answered, first by pausing, then by saying: "I don't know if
anyone did a good job ... We all get a failing grade, players and
Other NHL franchises -- even those that wanted to play the season --
were more publicly supportive of Bettman's leadership.
While clearly the Leafs don't have support of their fellow governors
with their willingness to deal, they likely would represent the
strongest anti-Bettman faction among owners in this climate of
"We don't control what's going on," Tanenbaum said with further
frustration. "There are 29 other teams. We're just one voice."
Right now, a voice the league would rather not hear.