Meeting Brian Burke: Hope for Haiti at the Kings Game

I went down to the Leafs/Kings game at the Air Canada Centre last night with my Dad.

I’ll wait a moment or two while you make whatever derogatory, insulting and completely justified remarks about the woeful performance of the Blue and White.

(taps foot.  scratches ear.  coughs.  looks at watch.  scratches ear again. yawns.  checks email.  still scratching ear. you done yet? cracks knuckles…)

Well, that took some time but I’m glad we got it out of the way.  Very inventive use of profanity by you, by the way;  you have a special gift.  Your mother must be so proud!   To summarize, then:  the Leafs’ recent performance ranks somewhere on the acceptability scale between “cannibalism” and “child pornography”;  let us all agree that the Buds’ bed is now well and truly shat and – though it’s only late January – this has to be seen as another lost season.

I’ll have more to say about the reasons I think these things have happened and I hope to get into some discussion about the future too, but for now I want to give MLSE props where props are due.  I can hear the yowls of protest from the talk radio haters now; what good could possibly be said about MLSE? Everybody (well, at least everybody who calls into talk radio shows) knows that MLSE is a soulless corporate behemoth, one that greedily hoards every spare cent for the Pension Plan, right?  Everybody knows that the greed of ownership is the reason the Leafs always suck, right?  And everybody knows that’ll never change because the suits don’t have any incentive to ice a competitive team when they’re making money hand over fist already, right?

Except that the truth is more complicated than that.  As for basic economics and the impetus to compete, this myth has been compellingly debunked elsewhere by a commentator no less cynical than Sean at Down Goes Brown.  Some pretty compelling arguments  have been made that the notion of the perennial mediocrity of the Leafs is about as firmly grounded in fact as that of unicorn-riding leprachauns (read the piece by daoust at Pension Plan Puppets).

As for the heartless greed of MLSE, consider this: last night, MLSE and the Leafs arranged to collect funds from fans entering the building for relief of those affected by the recent earthquake in Haiti.  Typical, right, MLSE reaching into your wallet for your dollars, all the while cackling maniacally on a giant stack of their own money, right?  Except that the Leafs were matching every dollar collected threefold; that’s right, for every dollar collected from fans attending the game last night, MLSE is chipping in three bucks of their own for the emergency relief fund.   Apparently, the Leafs did the same thing at a Marlies game on the 23rd and a Raptors game on the 24th.   This doesn’t appear to me to be an attempt to grab some cheap publicity;  I wasn’t able to find any reference online to how much the promotion raised, though I did find the newspaper stories and press release announcing MLSE’s intentions to do the fundraiser.  None of the MLSE Twitter feeds make any reference to how much money was raised, according to a search I did earlier tonight.  I’m going to try and contact MLSE tomorrow to see if they can confirm the results.  I’d also like to find out whether that money is going to be funnelled through a charity to which the federal government’s matching program applies – which would effectively convert every dollar handed over by the fans into eight bucks in the hands of relief organizations in the quake zone.

Incidentally, I learned about the Leafs’ efforts in this regard from the big boss himself;  when I entered the Air Canada Centre with my Dad for the game at around 6:20, Brian Burke himself was at the front door, schlepping a coffee can for donations.   Say what you will about the way Burke is running the team;  go ahead and criticize the way his rebuild plan for the hockey club is unfolding.  Whatever you feel about either of those things, you’d have to agree that it takes some flat out balls for the General Manager of a Maple Leafs team that’s on its way to missing the playoffs for a fifth consecutive year to stand right there in the lobby, look the paying customers in the eye as they come through the turnstiles, and ask them to pitch in for an excellent charitable cause.  When I spoke to him, he was careful to tell me that MLSE was kicking in the extra matching funds, and he seemed genuinely interested when I told him about the fundraising efforts that the crew at Pension Plan Puppets recently made.

The Leafs have rightly taken a lot of heat for their performance on the ice this year.  Give them their due when it comes to community responsibility and good corporate citizenship.

Psssst!! Wanna buy a stick?

Okay, Barilkosphere, here’s your chance to pick up a piece of Leafs memorabilia.

My wife and I are running a charity auction tonight.  One of the items that’s up for grabs is an autographed hockey stick that  Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment was kind enough to donate.  It’s autographed by the 2008-2009 Toronto Maple Leafs;  you know, the pre-truculent ones.

Now I know that there will be some among you who say, “Meh.  No Nasty Nazem, no Komikazi, no Happy Trails.  I am excited about this year’s team.  Last year is so – well, last year.”   But there’s a lot of this year on the stick too;  Luke Schenn, Mickey Grabs, Nick Hagman and Nikolai Kulemin, for example, were all Leafs last year.  And if I could identify all the signatures on it, I would be able to assure you that they’re all there (just kidding – most of them added their numbers beneath their signature).

There are also some elements of history and soon-to-be-history.  For example the stick is signed by Nik Antropov and Anton Stralman.  Since both of those players were traded by the Leafs, the successful bidder is virtually guaranteed* to own a stick signed by sure fire future Hall of Famers and future winners of multiple Norris, Hart and Art Ross trophies.

The stick comes with a certificate of authenticity.  I picked it up myself from MLSE;  it’s the real deal.

The auction is taking place between 5:30 and about 8:00 tomorrow night.  If you’re interested in submitting a bid on the stick, I can do it for you – we can communicate by Twitter (my handle is warwalker) or email (junior [at]  on my iPhone.   I’ll cough up the dough for the charity, you can PayPal me the amount of the bid if you win, and I’ll even pay to ship it to your home, apartment, dorm room, cardboard box or park bench. Which is a joke, of course, but it’s a nice way to segue to…

…the charity.  It’s called “Miles for Smiles“.  We’re raising money for homeless and street-involved youth here in the City of Hamilton.  All the money we raise tomorrow is going to the Good Shepherd Centres and is specifically ear-marked for two facilities they run for these kids, Notre Dame House and Brennan House.  They’re places that these kids can go when they have nowhere else to stay;  they offer social support services and try to hook the kids up with counselling and educational services to help the kids try to address whatever problems may be causing their homelessness.   This year, our honorary chairperson is a young lady who once found herself having to make use of these services, but who has made a success of her life – she’s off the street and attending a post-secondary institution, and she wants to become a social worker to help the clientele of these facilities.  So it’s a good cause.  If you’d like to help out, I’d appreciate it.


*If you listen to the mittenstringers, anyway.  What I’m saying is that the guarantee is entirely fictional.

No Fat Lady Yet: Tidbits from the Balsillie/NHL Ruling

Not Yet Needed in a Phoenix Courtroom

I spent some time this morning (on my coffee break, relax everybody) looking at what Judge Redfield T. Baum had to say about the Phoenix Coyotes bankruptcy proceedings (Odin Mercer at Five for Howling has posted a link to a copy of Judge Baum’s ruling.)

Much will be made of this ruling – and properly so – as a huge victory for those intent on keeping the Coyotes in Phoenix (including the Coyotes’ fans, the NHL and one Gary Bettman).  Any result that has the effect of delaying an auction and preserving – however temporarily – the status quo concerning relocation rights, transfer fees and the NHL’s procedures in respect of these matters has to be seen as a loss for Balsillie’s side.  This is so for many reasons, not the least of which is that Balsillie has lost the advantage of surprise at this point;  with the status quo preserved and the relocation train stuck in the station, the NHL has gained an opportunity to organize a competing ownership proposal, one that addresses the league’s concerns and (you can bet your sweet ass) does precious little boat rocking in terms of territorial rights, franchise relocation, etc.

My initial sense, though, upon going through this ruling, is that the victory is far from complete for the NHL forces.  In particular, it seems likely to me that:

  1. The drama is far from played out in Phoenix as a result of this ruling; and
  2. Lawyers for MLSE will be sitting Brian Burke and the Directors down and giving them some unwelcome news:  specifically, they’ll be telling the Leafs’ brass that it probably won’t be long before they have neighbours of one variety or another.

The NHL can’t reject Jim Balsillie as an owner.

As to the first point, regarding the change of ownership issue alone (i.e. transfer of the team to Balsillie’s company PSE, absent any consideration of the league’s geographic restrictions essentially requiring the Coyotes to stay in Phoenix), Judge Baum has ruled as follows (at p.8 of the ruling):

Significant to the court here regarding the objection to the transfer of ownership of the Phoenix Coyotes is the fact that in 2006 the NHL approved PSE [a holding company controlled by Balsillie] to become a member of the NHL.  The court has the firm sense that if the only issue here was PSE purchasing the Phoenix Coyotes [no relocation term] there would be no objection from the NHL.  The law implies in every contract a covenant of good faith and fair dealing.  Even when one party retains, by virtue of the contract, a right of approval or disapproval or a discretionary power over the right of the other, such powers must be exercised within the parameters of the duty of good faith (citation omitted)…Absent some showing by the NHL that there have been material changes in PSE’s circumstances since 2006, it appears to the court that the NHL can not object or withhold its consent to PSE becoming the controlling owner of the Phoenix Coyotes.  Therefore and based upon this record, the court concludes that the NHL can not declare a default solely due to the change in ownership terms of the APA.

This would seem to be a very powerful signal from the court that Balsillie can’t be rejected in good faith by the NHL as an owner, provided that he comes up with an offer for the team that otherwise would conform with the bankruptcy code.  As I see it, in this portion of his ruling, the judge has signalled that the race is on – he’s telling the NHL to get its alleged competing bidders together and get them to the table with their best offers, because Mr. Balsillie – if he wants to – can buy this team.  The judge is telling the NHL, “You can’t say Mr. Balsillie is an unacceptable owner.  You’ve already accepted him in principle into your club.”

What’s the big deal about that, you might ask; Balsillie wants a team in Hamilton, not a team in Phoenix. If he can’t move the team, he won’t want to buy it, right?  Well, maybe – but maybe not.

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.