TORONTO – Word that Richard Peddie would accompany the Toronto Maple Leafs on their California road swing this week raised eyebrows with the NHL club once again struggling with only two wins in its last 10 games.
But the reality, according to the CEO and president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, is that it was a trip he had planned in consultation with Leafs GM John Ferguson a long time ago.
“I like to travel with both teams (NBA’s Raptors) for an extended trip every year,” Peddie told The Canadian Press on Monday. “In looking at the schedule, I said to John way back in October, ‘How does that trip and timing work for you?’ And we booked it way back then. With everything we’re doing here I have to book way in advance. That was the reason.
“The very fact that we’re not playing very well right now is only coincidental.”
The Leafs, 2-6-2 in their last 10 games, play Wednesday night at Anaheim, Thursday night at Los Angeles and Saturday night at San Jose. Peddie also has a planned meeting with AEG, the parent ownership group of the Los Angeles Kings and Staples Center.
“The other attraction for me on the West Coast is that AEG is doing a lot of the same things as us,” said Peddie. “They’re into soccer (MLS), they’re into condos, music, they’re a lot like us. We exchange information all the time.”
While the team flew out to Southern California on Sunday afternoon, Peddie won’t join them until Wednesday.
“That’s not very productive use of my time if I go now so I’ll grab a plane Wednesday morning and get in in time for the game that night and then stay with them until we get back in here Sunday morning,” Peddie said from his office Monday.
Regardless of why Peddie actually planned his trip, his presence in California nonetheless comes at a critical time for his floundering club, the Leafs sitting 13th in the Eastern Conference at 16-18-8 although still only four points from a playoff spot before games Monday night.
“I talk to John regularly, I’m around the team,” said Peddie. “But I’ll have the chance one of the nights, we’ll all go out for dinner… Listen, the ultimate measurement for all of us is what happens in the end.”
The job security of Ferguson and head coach Paul Maurice continues to be a never-ending topic on local airwaves as the team struggles to put together some wins, especially since the injury losses of star defenceman Bryan McCabe and starting goalie Vesa Toskala. The latter could be back in net during the road trip.
“What I’ve said all along is that these guys are under contract and they know what’s expected of them,” Peddie said of Ferguson and Maurice. “And I know they’re doing their darnedest to deliver on that. They’re as disappointed as many of us are, as our fans are. And they’re working their butt off to try and turn it around.”
If the losses continue to mount, so will the speculation on the future of captain Mats Sundin. The 36-year-old star centre is having a fantastic season with 48 points (20-28) in 42 games and a plus-11 rating. He is slated for unrestricted free agency July 1 after signing a US$5.5-million, one-year deal last summer. If the Leafs are out of the playoff picture come the Feb. 26 trade deadline, there will be tremendous pressure on Ferguson to convince Sundin to waive his no-trade clause in return for assets than can help the team rebuild.
The theory is that Sundin could return to Toronto if he wishes on July 1. Doug Weight and Keith Tkachuk did much the same with the St. Louis Blues over the last two seasons, agreeing to trades and then returning as free agents.