The Big Lie
LONDON--Truth has often been the first casualty of many a Leaf off-season. Like, say, this one.
Look, John Muckler's a terrific hockey man who could help a lot of NHL teams, and he's meeting with Leaf representatives today. Apparently he's meeting with both Richard Peddie and Larry Tanenbaum, but not necessarily together.
Whether Muckler will take the job, if offered, isn't clear. First of all, he'd like to know what the job would be, which nobody seems to really know. Second, he would want to make sure that he wasn't seen as a threat to GM John Ferguson, and so might insist that he wouldn't be able to join the organization without Ferguson getting some contractual security beyond next season.
But really, hockey is not what this is all about. You can see that all the way from these lawns of Wimbledon.
This is not about the Maple Leafs looking to add depth, experience and expertise to their hockey department. In fact, it could add confusion, disagreement and dissension. The Phoenix Coyotes, for example,were not pleased with the way in which Cliff Fletcher functioned as "senior consultant," and fired him. Muckler couldn't co-exist with Bryan Murray. This is not like having grandpa clipping hedges in the backyard, available if you need to know how to find a good plumber.
Anyways, as mentioned, none of this is about hockey.
This is about Leaf politics, pure and simple. This is Peddie and his political allies giving in to the demands of Tanenbaum and his allies, but not totally.
Tanenbaum and Co. want Ferguson out, and have successfully made sure, at least so far, that the promises made to extend Ferguson's contract by the end of June have not yet be kept.
Peddie, the epitome of a corporate politician, supports Ferguson, but understands a little compromise will buy him - and JFJ - some time to stabilize the status quo.
So you pretend, through the addition of a Muckler or someone like him, to be improving the team's hockey office, when in reality what's going on is jostling for positions of strength at the MLSE board of directors level.
Make it about hockey if you want. But that's not what this is. Not even for a second.
The Leafs, of course, have been hobbled by this kind of nonsense for almost a half-century. It all started back in the early 1960s when Conn Smythe decided to sell to his son Stafford and his partner, John Bassett, not knowing that his son had also secretly made Harold Ballard part of the new Leaf ownership team.
The younger Smythe and Ballard ended up forcing Bassett out. Then, when Smythe died, Ballard outmaneuvered the Smythe family to gain total control of the Leafs and Maple Leaf Gardens.
That lasted for about 20 years until Ballard's death, and then the executors of his will, Don Giffin and Steve Stavro, tried to engineer their own power plays for control, with Stavro winning out in the end. Just before that happened, however, Giffin managed to manoeuvre Fletcher into the GM's chair against Stavro's wishes, a hockey decision clearly influenced by internal politics.
Later, when in full control, Stavro chopped Fletcher's hockey budget, and then ultimately fired him while listening to the advice of Ken Dryden, a pal of Stavro's lawyer, Brian Bellmore. Dryden then moved in and established a bizarre management structure with Bill Watters, Mike Smith and Anders Hedberg. Soon after, Smith and Hedberg were at each other's throats, and Smith eventually took at run at displacing Dryden, but failed.
Dryden, meanwhile, eventually became locked in his own internecine struggle with Pat Quinn.
Tanenbaum also became part of the ownership picture, and ultimately elbowed Stavro out. Eventually, that resulted in Quinn - a Stavro favorite - being ousted as GM, with Ferguson being brought in over his head. Quinn and Dryden were so alienated that when they were interviewing candidates for that job, neither would escort interviewees to the other man's office, leaving them lost in the bowels of the Air Canada Centre without necessary pass cards.
Meanwhile, somewhere along the way, insiders say, Tanenbaum and Peddie became estranged, which has left them on opposite sides of the Ferguson divide.
Now, Tanenbaum and his buddies believe they've got Ferguson and Peddie on the run, having achieved clearance to hire Muckler or another senior hockey person.
Peddie, a survivor if there ever there was one, probably believes he's held the Tanenbaum forces at bay for now.
Can you believe this guy? "We think (Ferguson) has lots more upside." So, four years after they hired him, they believe Ferguson has almost got things figured out? Does that mean they were lying their asses off when they hired him and said they were trying to win the Stanley Cup immediately?
"And we think he should get some help." Thus, feelers have been sent out to any number of experienced hockey people, the best of whom have told the Leafs to take a hike and in so doing made the team a laughingstock. Rumours persist that Tie Domi, of all people, was one of the people in contact with Scotty Bowman when the Leafs were courting him.
Apparently, Domi wanted to let Bowman know that he had recommended him to Tanenbaum. I mean, can you imagine Bowman's reaction to such a thing?
Meanwhile, the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund just worries about counting dollars.
It's all rather interesting, if not really new, and the manner in which Ferguson sorts things out with the person that presumably is going to be hired will be just as interesting as the Andrew Raycroft-Vesa Toskala goaltending competition.
Just don't believe it's about making the hockey team better.