Anselmi throws some Leafs playoff credit to Burke
Tom Anselmi, president and COO of MLSE. (Toronto Sun files)
“Our owners want to win as much as anyone,” Tom Anselmi has kept repeating, while many fans and media gave him the skeptic stink-eye the past decade.
But as of Saturday night, the president and COO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment finally had some evidence, as he celebrated the company’s crown jewel making it back to the NHL playoffs.
“I’ve had about 8,000 e-mails since Saturday’s game,” Anselmi said Monday. “I had to see that ‘X’ by our name in Sunday’s paper to make sure it was real. Then I saw the first Leaf car flags driving to the grocery store and I’m thinking ‘yessss!’ ”
The long-awaited signs of progress comes less than a year after the major corporate shake-up in the sports empire, when communications rivals Bell and Rogers put away their duelling antennae and bought controlling interest of MLSE from the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan. Soon after came Anselmi’s promotion from executive vice-president to replace the retiring Richard Peddie.
“What’s happened this year is good for everyone, from owners to the players to those who follow them,” Anselmi said, repeating his mantra that a Stanley Cup and a profit margin are both worthy pursuits.
Knowing what could be reaped by a long playoff run and the good public relations to be generated if a near 50-year Cup drought ended on their watch, it’s been a stretch to think ownership consistently and deliberately engineered a regular-season tank.
But there was no sympathy for anyone on Bay St. when the Leafs somehow kept messing up the math trying for one of eight playoff spots with a better than 50% chance.
It was Anselmi who carried out orders from one or more of the new MLSE board to replace Brian Burke as Leafs general manager with Dave Nonis.
“Bad for the brand” was the word that trickled down from the ACC tower as the bombastic Burke’s public battles overshadowed his team-building.
With the low-profile Nonis in charge and coach Randy Carlyle on the job a full calendar year, the Leafs are over the hump, even if it was a shortened 48-game season.
Anselmi acknowledged it was a tough call on the eve of the new season.
“I think Burkie deserves some of the credit for what’s happened this year. Burkie brought in two-thirds of the roster. He built the race car, now David and Randy are driving it. It’s a really good group of players that has come together.
“I’m just really happy for the fans, they’ve been so patient. It has been seven seasons and nine years overall.”
Burke, now working for the Anaheim Ducks, marked the Leafs accomplishment with a tweet on Monday: Congratulations to Dave Nonis, Randy Carlyle, Dion Phaneuf and the rest of the Leafs on reaching the playoffs!
Expect those jilted supporters to flood the streets around the ACC after Saturday’s regular-season final against Habs, in particular Maple Leaf Square.
Built next to the rink a few years ago with the intention of hosting many playoff parties, it has never seen one such event. And Leafs TV, which didn’t really get up and running until after the last playoff trip, has had nothing to show in the spring but old highlights of the 1993 run.
“To see the crowds in the square and around the Real Sports bar will be amazing,” Anselmi said. “Now it’s hold on to your hat time. A deep playoff run will make it even better.”