TUESDAY OCTOBER 24, 2017
 
Blog THROWIN SMOKE
OUT WITH THE OLD LEAFS?
tim-leiweke.jpg

You’ve got to hand it to Tim Leiweke – he sure knows how to alienate a fan base.

Leiweke, introduced as President and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment just three weeks ago, has spent his time shuffling deck chairs at the Air Canada Centre and dancing on the graves of his predecessors.

Before he could even formally assume his new job, he had to shuffle out former Raptors president and GM Bryan Colangelo and replace him with Masai Ujiri. And soon after setting up his corner office, he had to green-light the Maple Leafs investing about $58 million in free agents David Clarkson and Tyler Bozak.

Somewhere among making those moves and unpacking boxes in his corner office, Leiweke took some time to piss off die-hard Leaf fans in an interview with Bloomberg News by suggesting it was time to do away with franchise history and start a new era.

To hell with the “passion that unites us.” To hell with Bob Baun, Dave Keon and Darryl Sittler. To hell with Leafs Nation.

“I don’t want the players walking into the hallways of the Air Canada Centre and seeing pictures from 1962,” Leiweke said. “Get rid of those pictures and tell (the players), ‘This is your legacy,’”

I understand what Leiweke is doing, as he’s spelled it out numerous times in various interviews. He wants to clear the slate in Toronto and put the MLSE franchises on a path of consistent success, similar to the winning traditions by the San Antonio Spurs, the Detroit Red Wings or the New England Patriots. He wants to create the right environment where winning is commonplace and the most talented players want to be a part of it.

That all sounds great, but unfortunately, if it were that easy everyone would do it. Brian Burke said something similar when he signed on to be the Leafs president and GM in 2008, and Colangelo said the same thing when he took over the Raptors in 2006. Both arrived with blue-ribbon, championship pedigrees, both were convinced their predecessors weren’t as smart as they were and both were let go by MLSE this year after achieving just two playoff appearances between them.

And now Leiweke joins them as high-profile American sports executives who underestimate the Canadian market and disregard the importance and tradition of the teams to their fans. Leiweke thinks the Raptors should be a nationwide concern, even though it’s a little unreasonable for fans in Edmonton, Halifax or Vancouver to drive in for a game. And he thinks he can reboot the Leafs the same way the AEG ownership transformed the Los Angeles Kings into a Stanley Cup winner.

Granted, the Leafs don’t have a lot to celebrate over the past 45 years, but unlike the Kings, the franchise has a proud history akin to the Montreal Canadiens or New York Yankees, and there is a certain level of pride that comes with wearing the CH jersey or pinstripes. Maybe focusing on that pride is a better approach than tearing down tradition – because the Chicago Blackhawks somehow managed to win the Cup last year with statues of Stan Makita and Bobby Hull in front of the United Centre.

The Leafs are not the Kings – the history and tradition of the franchise and the memories of the team’s uniqueness can’t be wiped away with a new slogan and uniform change. True Leafs fans know where they were when Sittler recorded 10 points in a game, they still bristle over Kerry Fraser’s missed call on Wayne Gretzky and still pine for the unique, nasally tenor of Paul Morris whenever blowhard Andy Frost over-announces something.

So hats off to Leiweke for aspiring to start a new winning tradition for the Raptors and Leafs. It’s long overdue.

But alienating die-hard fans and disrespecting their cherished memories is no way to get started.

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