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Building a Perennial Winner

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
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In a wide-ranging interview, Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment Chairman of the Board Larry Tanenbaum has scotched any notion of hiring Steve Yzerman, re-affirmed his personal drive to make the Leafs winners and said fans would not trade a handful of losing seasons for one Stanley Cup victory.

Tanenbaum is rarely quoted so when he sat in the stands at Leafs practice Thursday, he was not alone for long. And nothing that he said will spark debate more than the notion that Maple Leafs hockey fans would not want one Cup at the expense of several more losing campaigns.

“If you asked us if you were to pay for a Stanley Cup team this year but you would be lousy for the next five years, would you do it to pay for a Stanley Cup team this year?” he mused.

“The answer would be, from an ownership point of view, absolutely not. We want to see it consistent, strong winning team over the long term. If it takes us two or three years to rebuild this team, let that happen, to know that it’s going to be a strong contending team for 10, 15, 20 years after.”

It was put to Tanenbaum that that scenario had more or less unfolded for the Toronto Blue Jays and fans are content to remember World Series victories in 1992 and 1993.

“I don’t buy that. It would be an interesting survey,” Tanenbaum said. “We would win a Stanley Cup and then go from first to worst. Would they like that or would they like a Detroit Red Wings scenario, competing every single year. I think the Detroit model is a very good one.”

Tanenbaum said he felt general manager Cliff Fletcher had done an excellent job since succeeding John Ferguson last spring, but still viewed Fletcher’s tenure as a stopgap designed to find time to net the right long-term candidate.

“It was never the intention of Cliff to be on a long-term basis here. Cliff was an interim general manager, that’s exactly what it is. We’re waiting, again, for the right individual for us to be able to hire for the long term. The long-term for us is the five to 10 year type of timeframe.”

Tanenbaum excluded one of the most attractive managers in training, the Red Wings’ Steve Yzerman, from consideration.

“Steve needs still to be a general manager someplace,” he said. “We don’t want a rookie.”

The notion that ownership and upper management were driven by a drive for profit instead of winning rankled Tanenbaum.

“We truly care. I care as an owner.

“This whole corporate entity b.s., that’s exactly what it is, b.s. This is about ownership caring about and having passion for this company and we truly, truly have passion for it.”

The plummeting U.S. economy, Tanenbaum said, would mean tougher slogging for the Maple Leafs as well as every other sporting team.

“I think there will be a real impact in our industry because of the economic woes. People will be thinking about issues, do they buy that jersey for their kids or buy a ticket to a game? It’s going to be a difficult time. Sponsors are generally going to be looking at cutting back. Advertisers as well.  It’s going to be challenging times.”

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