Leafs Want All The Things


In typical fashion, Tim Leiweke is swinging for the fences on behalf of the Toronto Maple Leafs. No, this isn’t another article about Steven Stamkos (we did that yesterday). We’re talking about the 100th anniversary, and the things that he wants the team to do off the ice in 2017. On the list is, well, everything.

The Draft. The Winter Classic. The All Star Game. He even wants the World Cup Of Hockey. From the horse’s mouth: 

“It’s not a splash. I just think Toronto—it’s our 100th anniversary, and this is the greatest hockey city on Earth. I think we owe it to our fans. And we’re telling the league that they owe it to our fans,” Leiweke said. “They don’t disagree, but we’ve got to go through a process to win it. I think we’ll win it. I think we’ll get there. But we got to go bid on it.”

The Montreal Canadiens had their 100th anniversary in 2009. When they did it, they hosted the draft. They picked Louis Leblanc, because he was the best french player available and that was for some reason important to them. The Leafs picked noted Habs fan Nazem Kadri because he was the best pick available that would happen to infuriate Brian Murray. It was a fun draft.

They also hosted the All Star Game. The fans voted in as many Habs as they could to the starting lineup, which meant that children years from now will think that Mike Komisarek was once awesome. Also, that the Leafs would think that he was awesome when he signed his albatross of a contract. Whoops. He also somehow took a penalty in that game. But it was fun, with the skills competition featuring the end of the Ovechkin/Malkin beef (that probably only existed in fan eyes) and the plateau of the “Happy Ovechkin Era”.

I’m waxing nostalgic a bit too much here. But the main point is this – the Habs got two marquee events to go with their ceremonies, along with wearing about 16.8 million retro jerseys, which was odd given how long they’ve worn the same setup. 

In this case, one could argue that Toronto is due for both events. Not every team lines up to host the two events, and by 2017, it will be 15 years since the Draft was hosted in Toronto, and 17 since the All Star Game. Only two drafts have been hosted in Toronto since 1985, and just one all star game since the NHL switched from “Cup Winner vs. the best of the rest” in 1969. 

My concerns are more with the Winter Classic and the World Cup, personally. Looking at the Winter Classic first, the game shouldn’t ever be played in Toronto. Full stop. Toronto can be the road opponent on occasion (like this season) to drive up merchandise revenue, but the entire point of the Winter Classic is to drive up television ratings and general interests in the United States.

Lets be real about this. If the Leafs are having a classic game for their 100th Anniversary, no team should be facing them other than the Montreal Canadiens. That’s an amazing matchup, but an amazingly bad one for NBC. The Heritage Classic, on the other hand? It’s got a nicer name, and it’s main TV base is CB…sorry, Rogers. It’s previous venues, on average, are also smaller and less famous than the Winter Classic locations, which fits in nicely with the idea of playing in an expanded BMO Field. Besides, the Winter Classic is overly repetitive as it is. No need to put the Leafs in the pile of 6 or 7 teams that are always playing.

The World Cup of Hockey idea is interesting too. If they keep the tournament in North America, which might happen to increase immediate revenue, I can’t think of a better place than the richest hockey market with the biggest hockey media hub on the planet. But why be so short sighted?

If I’m the National Hockey League, the next World Cup of Hockey takes advantage of its name. Pick some relatively close together countries that aren’t traditionally hockey countries, but have at least one arena that can host a well attended hockey game. Make them shared hosts, and really showcase the sport to the rest of the world. The NHL should be focusing on becoming a global brand; something that the NBA has seen massive success.

In the mean time, MLSE dreams of having them all. Lets see what actually happens.

    • I don’t know about Germany – yes, they are a relatively small market, and a wealthy market at that, but I think Leon Draisaitl does a lot to grow the game on his own in Germany. What about a more Southern or Western part of Europe like France or Italy, or how about an Asian city – Seoul might go for it, in advance of the 2018 Winter Games…

        • Now I’m thinking about possible Chinese cities for a hockey team. I mean, they could probably convert some of the relics from the Beijing Olympics for a one-time event, but that’s short-term thinking. There isn’t really room in either Beijing or Shanghai for a rink, is there? But there are also few major cities up North, where it actually, y’know, gets cold in the winter.

          Japan’s a lot easier – go North, young man. You’ve already got a ski-crazy community around Nagano and Hokkaido’s great for winter sports in general. You’ve got so many potential great team names, too, if you draw from Japanese history and mythology. MAN do I ever wish Japan cared about hockey!

  • charlieocc

    As much as I’d like for the NHL to be as globally recognized as a brand as the NBA, I don’t think it’s realistic. Basketball is something that can be played anywhere, by pretty much anyone, whereas hockey has a much more specific demographic. You need ice, for one thing, along with all the equipment (even just skates and a stick are expensive).

    So, unfortunately, I really don’t see hockey becoming a globally popular sport, even if the World Cup were played somewhere in Europe or Asia