Fiddling While Rome Burns?

CTV announced today that it had acquired the rights to the iconic “Hockey Night in Canada” song. Most people ’round these parts seem to want to talk about how CBC was wrong-footed on this one; the conventional wisdom is that CBC looks foolish in failing to re-acquire a license for the tune. That may be so, although it seems to me likely that – had the Mother Corpse thrown a pile of money at the rights holder just to nail down the song – people would have been just as busy bellyaching about a publicly-funded broadcaster lavishing funds extravagantly on a mere overture to the weekly exhibition of hockey. Whatever the truth of the matter, my point is that patrons of donut shops coast to coast would – and do – have no shortage of second guessing and “obvious” wisdom to offer free of charge, delivered between gulps of coffee and with an accompanying spray of cruller dust, for the dunderhead bureaucrats and anyone else within earshot.

My own parochial interest was piqued more by this little chestnut, hidden near the end of the linked article:

Earlier Monday, CBC had announced it asked Toronto sports lawyer Gord Kirke to mediate negotiations between the public broadcaster and Copyright Music and Visuals, the company that controls the song’s rights.

Yes, that’s right, the CBC wanted to hire Gord Kirke – THAT Gord Kirke! The one that’s supposed to be taxed to the max by his many demanding duties on the committee the Toronto Maple Leafs have struck to find The One, the G.M. that will lead Leafs fans into the promised land after our own little version of Exodus, lo these forty years (yes, that was a cheap “1967” reference. I’m entitled to one a year.)


Haven’t the Leafs been assuaging the worst fears of their fans – that the lack of obvious activity towards achieving this goal is in fact reflective of the actual level of activity going on within MLSE – by assuring us all that a very thorough and exhaustive search was being conducted in order to identify the perfect candidate for the position, and that the organization would not be rushed into making a selection simply for the sake of having someone in place come draft day? Haven’t they in effect been telling us that Gord Kirke and the rest of the committee are busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest, and don’t you worry your pretty little head about it, they’ve rolled up their sleeves, they’re pulling all-nighters on this one, but dammit we’re gonna do the job right?

Doesn’t it sound a little bit like that’s all – and this next passage is a technical term, please try to follow along – bullshit? To me, this sounds a little like Mr. Kirke is the kind of “busy” that you used to be when your Mom asked you to mow the lawn: “Oh, wow, I’d love to, Mom, but I’ve got this killer report due in third period geography on Tuesday, and the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment board is also kind of hoping I’d have a GM hired by then.” In other words, too busy to mow the lawn, but NOT too busy to go whip donuts at passing buses with your best buddy.

If Gord Kirke and the search committee is so damn busy, how the hell does he have time to be even considering taking other jobs? I appreciate the fact that the story indicates CBC was approaching Kirke, rather than the other way around, lemonade-755563but what’s the likelihood that CBC isn’t plugged into Kirke’s level of activity on the GM question, tied as they are to the apron strings of Maple Leaf broadcast money – money that gets more and more plentiful the more successful the Leafs become, as the playoff runs of 1993 and 1994 proved beyond any shadow of a doubt? If Gord Kirke is truly busy with the GM search, and I’m talking “juggling chainsaws while he puts out a four alarm fire, dances a jig, writes an opera and rescues a puppy” busy, no way does anyone at CBC throw out his name as a dude that might be able to help them in their time of crisis.

I wonder what other occupations and pre-occupations might currently be engaging Mr. Kirke, in addition to his many exhausting headhunting labours on behalf of the Bay Street Mint? He could be:

  • operating a lemonade stand – can’t let the first heat wave of the season go unexploited, and 25 cents a glass for some water, sugar and citrus flavouring is market waiting to be exploited. Look for the chain of stands with 16 oz glasses of “product” that comes in a plastic cup with Bryan McCabe’s picture on it, and retails for eight bucks plus tax;
  • trying to get through Grand Theft Auto IV;
  • watching Cheers marathon on Deja Vu – currently enjoying seventeenth consecutive “Coach” episode, struck by similarities between Ernie Pantuso and former employee John Ferguson Jr.;
  • totally working up the courage to flirt with that hot chick behind the counter at Timothy’s coffee shop under the TD Centre: “Hey, baby, I can get centre ice reds for you. Of course there is the matter of the seat licence; now, if you’ll let me take some licence with your seat…”
  • trying to learn how to belch the alphabet. Currently making it regularly up to “q”, only vomited once;
  • secretly hiding shit from Cliff Fletcher’s desk when Fletcher takes a time out in the executive crapper, then wondering aloud whether Fletch may be beginning to suffer from Alzheimer’s when Cliff expresses frustration at not being able to find his fucking stapler; and
  • helping O.J. look for the “real killer”.

Seriously, Gord and his buddies couldn’t convey their intentions any more clearly at this point if they hired a skywriter to author an airborne message to the following effect: “Dude. Chill out. We totally have Brian Burke’s phone number. He just has to work some shit out, man.”

Breaking News: Leafs Hire Coach / General Manager

TORONTO (JP) – Sources familiar with the inner workings of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment today confirmed that Alvin Fitzgibbons, 28, has been hired to replace recently fired Paul Maurice and interim G.M. Cliff Fletcher as Coach and General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Fitzgibbons – until recently the Assistant Manager of a McDonald’s Restaurant at 2936 Finch Ave. E. in Toronto – was widely regarded by experts as an unlikely candidate Fitzgibbons trains to deal with Muskoka 5for either post as he has no prior coaching experience of any kind whatsoever and has learned everything he knows about the NHL by playing EA Sports’ NHL’04 on his Playstation 2. Prior to working with McDonald’s, Fitzgibbons (pictured at right) was employed by Eaton’s Canada on a “seasonal basis”.

According to a source close to the team, Fitzgibbons had submitted an application seeking a position in the concessions and guest services division of the hockey/basketball/condo building conglomerate; through administrative inadvertence, the Fitzgibbons application was mis-filed along with the credentials of some more conventional candidates for the Leafs coaching job, and an interview was scheduled as a result. Fitzgibbons was evidently initially hired as coach only, but impressed the MLSE board so much that they have bestowed upon him both portfolios effective immediately. The source notes that prior to being hired as the new coach of the Leafs, Fitzgibbons’ application for the position of Part-Time Deputy Assistant Popcorn Concession Manager had been rejected, as it was felt that Fitzgibbons lacked sufficient experience and a proven track record of successful results in the food service industry.

Asked why Fitzgibbons – who has never attended a National Hockey League game – would be hired as coach of the Maple Leafs, one source pointed to the urgency to do something to keep the media wolves at bay on Bay. “Alvin is available immediately,” said the source “except that he has to cover the Saturday night midnight to 8 a.m. shift on the drive-thru for the next 16 weeks. We think that works out well for us.” In addition to the convenience factor, Fitzgibbons is said to have wowed the Board during the interview process as a fresh thinker unburdened by preconceptions about his role and imbued with a novel perspective on the job. One board member who participated in the interview but who has asked to remain anonymous said, “Alvin had these mind-blowing ideas – for example, he’ll be instituting a system where every month he’s going to identify the one member of his team who has performed the best, and put that guy’s name and picture up on a plaque on the wall. Talk about accountability on the bench!” MLSE directors felt that Fitzgibbons’ coaching record was comparable to that of other rumoured candidates; for example, both Fitzgibbons and soon-to-be ex-San Jose Sharks’ coach Ron Wilson have each won zero Stanley Cups.

Board members were also reportedly so excited by Fitzgibbons’ plan to offer “smiles” for free to all patrons that they conferred the G.M. portfolio upon him, though jit should be noted that the MLSE Board, while stressing that Fitzgibbons will have complete autonomy over the team’s operations, has nevertheless slightly modified his plan – smiles will now be offered free at Air Canada Centre to fans who have paid the applicable yearly up-front licensing fee of $6000.

MLSE Board members also reportedly found that they were personally more compatible with Fitzgibbons than they were with many of the other potential candidates.  They attributed this easy camaraderie to Fitzgibbons’ non-traditional background. “So many of the other candidates we interiewed reminded us of the problems we’ve had in the past with some of our hires,” said the source, “talking about ‘forechecking scheme this’, ‘defensive system that’ and things like ‘salary cap room’ or ‘no movement clauses’- all this technical hockey mumbo jumbo that, frankly, the Board finds boring and confusing. That’s why we hired John Ferguson Jr. – he didn’t know fuck all about any of those things either, but I guess he went off track and tried to walk the walk and talk the talk of other hockey executives. We all know how that worked out. Fitz assures us that he couldn’t care less about any of that stuff and that he feels he isn’t capable of learning; we understand him and he is able to take very clear direction from above, so we’re pretty convinced we’ve found our man.”

Reached at his Etobicoke home, Fitzgibbons was unable to discuss his plans for the NHL club at length, as he had promised his mother he would wash the dishes following dinner and was hoping to take in the new episode of “Lost” airing on ABC before turning in for the evening.  Asked whether he was concerned about the pressure associated with the job, Fitzgibbons indicated that he was used to working in a high-stress environment.  “Trying to do a cash reconciliation, doing prep for the morning menu and keeping an eye out for the occasional shotgun-toting armed robber, that’s pressure,” Fitzgibbons quipped.   As to how he proposes to deal with the so-called “Muskoka Five” players with no-movement contracts, Fitzgibbons indicated that in the past, he had enjoyed a certain amount of success by simply promising to deliver a toy train and handing out a couple of candy canes.

Fitzgibbons is expected to commence work with the Maple Leafs as soon as he can make arrangments to borrow his brother-in-law’s car.

I’ll Have the Egg Salad…and a Penalty Killing Scheme, Please.

Cliff Fletcher apparently met with the media fletcher_cliff_getty_260today to give a horrible season by a bad team the uncomfortable (but not overly time-consuming) eulogy it needed. Wisely preferring not to point fingers at under-achieving players (which might lead to some uncomfortable moments among the pallbearers while interring the corpse), Fletcher further stipulated that the future of Leaf coach Paul Maurice is up to the incoming General Manager. According to the Globe and Mail’s account of Fletcher’s remarks, Fletcher appears to have quite appropriately assumed the hushed tones and comforting countenance of a caring and compassionate funeral director. He offered re-assurance for Leaf fans that time heals all wounds, and that the Leafs are going to a better place.

“The message is simple,” says the interim general manager. “The team is going to get better.

“It’s going to be a team starting next October that the fans are going to get excited about and be able to become proud about again.”

HiR:tb sources deep inside Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment confirm that the “there, there, it will get better in time” theme underlying Fletcher’s remarks to the media was selected after several board meetings characterized by boisterous debate between opposing management camps; in the end, the board decided this approach would be superior to the “don’t worry, the 2007-2008 Maple Leafs went to live on a farm” message that reportedly tested very well in focus-groups composed largely of six-year olds, hardcore Tie Domi fans from Woodbridge, and CBC budget planning executives.

In the “No Shit Sherlock” Department, please note that Fletcher isn’t saying that the turnaround will come quickly:

“Back when I was in Calgary and we looked up the road at the Edmonton Oilers . . . I had lunch with a rancher one day,” Fletcher recalled. “I said, ‘Boy, we’ve got to straighten this thing out in a hurry.’

“He said, ‘Cliff, the corral is full of horses but you can only bring one into the barn at a time.’

Couched as it is in folksy wisdom terms involving things like barns, horses and corrals, this observation must indisputably be both pithy and truthful. As compelling as all agricultural reasoning may be, however, I think that it would have been better for Uncle Cliff to quote Robert Duvall’s character (Officer Bob Hodges) from the film Colors, which would have had the obvious advantage of referring to bulls and fornication instead of barns and horses (which are, no doubt, a rather “girly” animal). Perhaps it’s just a matter of personal preference, but I think that this reference, delivered with the appropriate amount of non-Michael Jackson-like crotch grabbing would have a salutary effect upon Fletcher’s overall machismo and might well intimidate other general managers and scare them into making a stupid trade with the Leafs, such as Andrew Raycroft for – well, anybody.

The real news in this article, however, concerns neither the public grieving for a stillborn season, nor the relative merits of colourful rural parables. Rather, the incredible news in this item concerns the nature of an NHL general manager’s job duties: to run a team based upon the received wisdom of sandwich-gobbling cowboys. All these years, I thought that general managers were executives who functioned much like management in other business organizations: setting goals, objectives and priorities, evaluating personnel, devoting scarce institutional resources towards certain needs and doing things like, well, managing (generally) their organization’s attempts to achieve an objective. I guess I just sort of assumed that the decisions the manager made would be based upon his own assessment of the correct organizational response to the particular challenges faced at any given point in time. It would appear, however, that the evidence runs much to the contrary: if the Calgarian renaissance in question was indeed sparked by an aphorism-spouting farmer, the key to success does not come from within, but is instead received as a fait accompli from without.