Anselmi has his work cut out for him
(Tom Anselmi was named MLSE president and COO on Tuesday: photo from MLSE.com)
Welcome to the top, Tom Anselmi.
It’s been an often tumultuous ride for your organization during your tenure at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment that began when you came on board as Vice President, Project Director during the 1996-97 season.
Few could have predicted that nearly 16 years later, you’d inherit such a debacle of a sports empire.
Your job was so much simpler back then. All you had to do was oversee the development of an arena; a new shrine on Bay Street called Air Canada Centre that would host your company’s two main entities: the Leafs and the Raptors. You didn’t even have BMO Field to think about.
But now you’ve been named president and chief operating officer of an organization that has bred doormats in the major pro hockey, basketball and soccer leagues. It certainly couldn’t have boosted morale in your first week on the job to read that ESPN The Magazine named the Leafs the worst team in North American sports.
The challenge in turning around the hockey club is made all the more difficult in not having a key advantage that was afforded to the Leafs when you first came aboard in the late 90′s: players wanted to play here.
You came in just at the beginning of a rebuild, right after Steve Stavro – having pinched as many pennies as he could – notoriously put the kibosh on a deal that would have seen Wayne Gretzky in blue and white. But the playoff drought didn’t last long, certainly not by today’s standards.
There were other Ontario boys to be had, beginning with Curtis Joseph. The club made a surprise run to the final four under new coach Pat Quinn’s guidance. Suddenly Gary Roberts wanted to play here. And Shayne Corson. And Joe Nieuwendyk.
Sure, the absence of a salary cap gave the affluent Leafs an upper hand. But so did the brand name of the once-proud club.
Where is the hometown advantage now? Brampton native Rick Nash is a New York Ranger. Perhaps even a single post-season appearance by the Leafs since 2004 may have enticed the former Blue Jackets superstar to at least consider a move to Toronto.
By contrast the Minnesota Wild, a franchise that didn’t even exist when you were in charge of the MLG closing-ACC opening ceremonies, was able to flex its hometown muscle in securing coveted free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. That’s not to suggest that either player ever had any intention of landing with the Leafs, it’s merely an indication of how low the bar has dropped for Toronto in terms of enjoying the free agent attractiveness that they once did.
The discussion doesn’t need to be limited to homegrown talent, or even free agents. On the same day that you were named to your new post, disgruntled Canucks goalie and Montreal native Roberto Luongo told the Florida Sun-Sentinel that his preference is to sign with the Panthers.
Looks like it’s James Reimer and Ben Scrivens again, all things being equal.
Is there any reason to believe that the Leafs, or Raptors, or FC will fare better with you at the helm than they did under your predecessor Richard Peddie?
The immediate results will of course be played out on the ice, and the court, and the pitch. Though I’m thinking that the Rogers-Bell conglomerate, whose broadcasting endeavours present more of a vested interest in the won-loss standings than a teachers’ union, will have less tolerance for cellar-dwelling.
Welcome to the top, Tom. Toronto fans only wish you weren’t starting from the bottom.
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