Wherever the Road Leads

The Role of the Toronto Maple Leafs

The question was once asked, “What is the role of a corporation?” The answer is simple, generic and the Toronto Maple Leafs are the epitome of that answer.

The Toronto Maple Leafs came to be in 1927 after a decade of squabbling over arenas and names. The name was taken from the The Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team that had won the International League championship a few months earlier and had been using that name for 30 years. In the team’s lifetime, they have won the Stanley Cup, hockey’s top honor, eleven times.

The last Stanley Cup the Leaf’s won was in 1967. Assuming that one would have to be around ten years of age to remember that event, this would mean 73% of the Canadian population has never known the Leafs to win the Stanley Cup.

Yet the Toronto Maple Leafs are the most wealthy team in the league and at approximately $1 billion, the most valuable. They charge the highest prices, rake in the most money and produce the biggest profits. The Leafs generate $200 million per year in revenue. By comparison, the fifth-from-lowest Carolina Hurricanes, who won the Stanley Cup seven years ago, generate $89 million.

Now, back to the question, “What is the role of a corporation?”

To make a quality product? No.

To provide employment? No.

To pay taxes? No.

The number one purpose of any corporation is to make a profit for its shareholders. The Leafs do that in spades.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, owned by Bell Canada Enterprises/Rogers Communications (75%) and Larry Tanenbaum, brought in 1996 as part of the Steve Stavros (Knob Hill Farms) group who purchased the Leafs from the Ballard Estate in 1991, are for all intents and purposes, a corporation. The corporation is making a killing, why should it worry about the Stanley Cup?

There’s an old Jewish joke about a fellow who has 100 cases of sardines. He sells it to his friend at the rock bottom price of $10 per case, for the lot. That fellow finds a buyer at $15 per case. This third individual finds another buyer at $20 per case for the 100 cases.

Eventually, the first man gets a phone call, “Manny, these sardines taste awful!”

Replies Manny, “Those sardines aren’t for eating, they’re for buying and selling.”

Same with the Leafs. They’re not there to win a Cup, they are there for television rights, ticket sales, parking, concessions and merchandising. And there’s a line-up of people with fists full of cash waiting to hand it over. Why do they need to win?

They have come by their philosophy honestly. I quit being a Leaf’s fan during the Ballard years. Harold Ballard, one of the most detested owners in NHL history, took control of the Leaf’s in 1972 and traded away many of the team’s most popular players. Ballard assumed (correctly) that the Leafs would continue to sell out regardless of the team’s on-ice quality, and refused to raise the payroll any higher than necessary to be profitable.

Captain Darryl Sittler played with the Leafs from 1970 – 1982.

The serious decline started in July 1979, when Ballard brought back Imlach, a long-time friend, as general manager. Imlach traded McDonald to undermine Imlach’s friend Sittler’s influence on the team. Sittler himself was gone two years later, when the Leafs traded him to the Philadelphia Flyers. He was the franchise’s all-time leading scorer until Mats Sundin passed him in 2007.

The McDonald trade sent the Leafs into a downward spiral. They finished five games under .500 and barely made the playoffs. For the next 12 years, the Leafs (who had shifted to the Norris Division for the 1981–82 season) were barely competitive, not posting another winning record until 1992–93. They missed the playoffs six times and finished above fourth in their division only once (in 1990, the only season where they won even half their games). They made it beyond the first round of the playoffs twice (in 1986 and 1987, advancing to the division finals). The low point came in 1984–85, when they finished 32 games under .500, the second-worst record in franchise history.

Yet the stands were full.

The Stanley Cup has been won by the Anaheim Ducks (who???) in 2007, Carolina Hurricanes (who???) in 2006 and Tampa Bay Lightning (who???) in 2004. The Maple Leafs last win was in 1967. The Toronto Maple Leafs are the only Original Six franchise to have neither won the Stanley Cup, nor a Conference title, since the 1967 NHL expansion…forty-six years!

In what other industry can your corporation be the most profitable with such sub-par results? “Only in Toronto, eh?”, to adapt a Red Rose tea commercial.

Come on, Leafs’ fans, when are you going to say, enough is enough? Root for Ottawa, Detroit or Montreal and watch CTV or Global on a Saturday night. Keeping your money in your pocket is the only way to get results.

Even Buffalo could use a few good fans.

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  1. Alistair Mair  May 17, 2013

    Well done. Sad but true. Every year we are told they are “building” a team, a”work in progress” they say. Now there is a new generation of fans as many who remember the Stanley Cup win watch with heads shaking as each year the new “team” repeats the mistakes of the old team. Blame the coach, the GM, the so called stars, but how do you blame the “owners” when they get the results they want….high profits from the advertising revenue.


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