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Ex-Kings executive Tim Leiweke adapts to hockey as life in Toronto

'Here in Toronto, the hockey team is everything,' says Leiweke, now a Maple Leafs chief executive. He expects to feel strong emotions when his former team comes to town.

December 09, 2013|Helene Elliott
  • Peter Holland celebrates a goal with his Toronto Maple Leafs teammates during a game against the Boston Bruins on Sunday. The Bruins defeated the Maple Leafs, 5-2.
Peter Holland celebrates a goal with his Toronto Maple Leafs teammates… (Frank Gunn / Associated…)

Tim Leiweke, the chief executive of AEG and No. 1 Kings fan for 17 years until his surprising departure last March, has learned some important lessons since he became president and chief executive of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment last April.

First, tradition must be respected. He discovered that when, after what he called "one of my very bright, brilliant moments here," he suggested removing photographs of past Maple Leafs greats from the hallway outside the team's locker room at the Air Canada Centre and replacing them with current photos.

"Everywhere I went, guys in elevators, people in restaurants, it was like, 'What the hell are you thinking about?' I'm like, 'All right, my bad,' " he said. "So the good news is we made it a topic of conversation for the players, but the bad news is we made it a topic of conversation for everyone else as well. And we accomplished our mission, which is getting everyone to understand our goal is to win a Stanley Cup, but I probably didn't choose a very good path."

Second, hockey isn't part of life in Toronto — it is life.

"It's very different just trying to understand the 100 years of history and tradition," he said. "I now understand. We had a great run in '62, '63, '64 and '67 and haven't won a Cup since then, so there's a lot of pressure on us because this is what they think about. This is what they do. This is what they dream of and it's just so amazing because here in Toronto, the hockey team is everything.

"And that's not saying anything bad about L.A., it's just acknowledging it was a very competitive sports market for the Kings and they always had the Dodgers and the Lakers and they were probably living in their shadow a little bit at times."

Third, that Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi did an excellent job in building the team from rubble and in adding Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, the final pieces that led to the Kings' 2012 Stanley Cup title.

"The experience that I went through in L.A. and watching how Dean built that team," Leiweke said, "not only do I probably admire him more now than I should have then, but I also understand how much work we still have to do here to get to where we have to get to."

Leiweke expects to feel strong emotions when his former team faces his current team Wednesday in Toronto.

He said he watched Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and others grow up, and "you do not detach yourself from those kinds of relationships and friendships." And his experiences with the Kings showed him that it's a process to build a successful organization and that the Maple Leafs, thinned by injuries, still aren't deep enough for one big trade to dramatically enhance their Cup chances.

When Leiweke sees the Kings on Wednesday, he expects his feelings to be bittersweet yet hopeful.

"It will be hard to see all of them and realize that you're not a part of that anymore," he said. "But that said, there's not a day that goes by that there's not a challenge and a buzz within our organization from the work we've got to do, and so we keep ourselves busy, that's for sure."

Could Great One return to the fold?

Wayne Gretzky always responded politely when asked why he wasn't involved with the NHL after he resigned as the Phoenix Coyotes' coach and director of hockey operations in September 2009.

He wanted to take a step back. Enjoy his family. Follow his kids' sports exploits. All of which were true — though maybe not the whole truth.

Gretzky felt burned by the NHL, which for too long didn't help him recoup the more than $7 million he lost when the Coyotes went bankrupt. The league made plenty of money off him. It should have done more to get him the money he was due.

He and the NHL reached agreement last week for the league to pay him what he was owed, paving the way for Gretzky to become involved with a team as an investor or ambassador, or with the league on a promotional level. The Kings would be a logical match — they've previously reached out to him — but other teams are said to be interested too. Wherever he goes and whatever role he takes, it's just right for him to be associated with the NHL again.

A spokesman for Gretzky said that if the right opportunity presented itself he would be willing to look at it. But until then he's spending time with family and working with corporate partners.

Slap shots

The NHL's Board of Governors, meeting in Pebble Beach, approved a 12-year, $5.2-billion Canadian broadcast and multimedia rights agreement with Rogers Communications. The deal will begin next season. The governors were given projections for next season's salary cap, which could hit $72 million. The cap is $64.3 million this season.

Tim Murray, assistant general manager of the Ottawa Senators, was scheduled Tuesday to interview for the Buffalo Sabres' vacant GM job. Nashville's Paul Fenton and Pittsburgh's Jason Botterill are also believed to be candidates….Condolences to the family of Art Kaminsky, an agent who represented many NHL players and the 1980 U.S. Olympic team. He died in New York last week at age 66.

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