When I arrived at our coffee shop table Paddy had both hands wrapped around his cup of latte, which allowed me to easily determine that he had all fingers intact. (If you don’t know what this is about, you’ll have to read last week’s column to find out.)
“Well,” Paddy began, “another Leaf coach done gone. Are you surprised that Carlyle got the boot?”
“Can’t really say I am,” I said. “Even if he was doing the right things as their coach, the players clearly weren’t listening to him. And as the saying goes, you can’t fire a bunch of players but you can fire a coach. Besides, it’s a Leaf tradition.”
“What do you mean?” Paddy asked.
“Since the Leafs last won a Stanley Cup, which as you will recall, was 1967,” I paused and looked around the coffee shop before continuing, “and I think you and I are the only two people here who were even born then. Anyway, since 1967, the Leafs have had twenty-two different coaches. So the average tenure for a Leaf coach is just over two years. And if you take out Pat Quinn, who lasted almost eight years, the average tenure is even less.”
“Has Leaf management been that dysfunctional for that length of time?” Paddy asked incredulously.
“It would seem so,” I suggested. “They’re certainly a dysfunctional bunch right now.”
“Explain,” Paddy urged.
“Let’s start right at the top,” I said. “There are two majority owners, Bell and Rogers, who, as I understand it, each have 37.5% with Larry Tanenbaum holding the other 25%.”
“So,” Paddy said, “Tanenbaum holds all the power as the tie-breaker.”
“Not so,” I contradicted, “and that’s where the current dysfunction begins. I’m told that under the shareholders’ agreement Bell and Rogers must vote as one or the issue doesn’t get resolved.”
“Good Lord,” Paddy exclaimed, “You can’t run a company that way!”
“You can run it,” I countered, “you just can’t run it effectively.”
“So then,” Paddy went on, “the CEO is the key guy. Who’s that?”
“More dysfunction,” I pointed out. “They don’t really have one. Tim Leiweke, the hot-shot saviour the Board brought in from Los Angeles to run things has already announced that he’s leaving, so he’s a lame duck. And to make things worse, even though the Board has known for quite some time that Leiweke is leaving, no replacement has been named.”
“Why,” Paddy questioned.
“I don’t know for sure,” I admitted, “but it might have something to do with that rumour that Bell and Rogers have to agree on all major decisions. They’re mortal business enemies, so probably neither wants the ‘other guy’s’ choice.”
“So, who’s in charge of hockey?” Paddy prodded.
“Brendan Shanahan is the head of hockey operations,” I told him, “but until a hastily-called, very short press conference this week he’s been mostly invisible and strangely silent since taking the job last spring. Even during the Carlyle firing this week he had nothing to say.”
“But,” Paddy said, “he did have that press conference.”
“Yes,” I answered, “but it was three days after the firing. Also, he said absolutely nothing of substance during the press conference and evaded the only tough question he was asked.”
“Which was?” Paddy queried.
“He was asked if there were any untouchable players on the Leafs,” I explained, “which is a question that requires a simple yes or no answer. But that would have begged for follow-up questions, so he evaded it by making some vague reference to other teams.”
“Maybe he’s still getting his feet wet,” Paddy offered as an excuse.
“Oh, I think his feet are pretty soggy,” I argued. “Look at what Leaf management did over the summer. They fired the assistant coaches but gave the head coach an extension. They fired the assistant GMs but kept the GM. And then half way through the season they fire the head coach that they gave the extension to last summer. If that’s not a puddle of dysfunction I don’t know what is. And throughout all this, Shanahan has had Dave Nonis out front making the announcements and taking the heat.”
“Is there anything wrong with that?” Paddy challenged. “Nonis is the general manager isn’t he?”
“Yes,” I acknowledged, “Nonis is the GM who was retained while his assistants were fired, and who was Brian Burke’s guy to begin with. So we have a GM that Shanahan didn’t hire, whose assistants were all fired and who is now working with assistants who may not have been his choices. Not only that, but many hockey folks feel that Nonis, the only key pre-Shanahan guy still standing, should have been the first guy to go.”
“Why?” Paddy prodded.
“Because,” I informed him, “Nonis and Burke were the architects of this team. I don’t know any hockey people who don’t think that Nonis will be next on the chopping block”
“I’m still not sure why you’re so down on Shanahan,” Paddy said.
“Because,” I told him, “the head of an operation should be the face of that operation. As head of hockey operations Shanahan should be the face of the team, and he’s not. He’s left that to Nonis. And if ever there was a face that reflected a dead man walking it was Nonis’ when he addressed the media after Carlyle’s firing. And getting back to dysfunction,” I went on, “the handling of Carlyle’s departure was about as dysfunctional as it could get.”
“In what way?” Paddy asked. “Coaches get fired all the time.”
“Not too many of them get fired three months into a season after being given a two-year extension before the season began,” I reminded him. “And, although I don’t know this first-hand, I’ve heard that Nonis fired Carlyle over the telephone while Randy was visiting his dying brother-in-law in Sudbury.”
“If that’s true, that’s not very nice,” Paddy opined.
“You’re right,” I agreed. “And they even botched the announcement of Carlyle’s replacement. When Nonis announced the firing, he said that Peter Horachek and Steve Spott would be interim co-coaches. Then less than twelve hours later they announce that Horachek will be the interim head coach.”
“Got any more examples of dysfunction?” Paddy inquired as he reached for his coat.
“I’ll give you another Nonis gem,” I said, “David Clarkson’s contract.”
“What’s dysfunctional about that?” Paddy asked.
“Based on Clarkson’s performance last season and so far this season,” I told him, “Clarkson is costing the Leafs about $278,000 per point. At that rate, Sidney Crosby would be earning over $30,000,000 per season.”
“You love your numbers,” Paddy said as he headed for the door.
“Always have,” I mused as I finished my coffee.