On Tuesday, Elliotte Friedman reported that Toronto Maple Leafs CEO Tim Leiweke would "soon" leave the organization to find a new challenge. The team and its CEO quickly denied the report, saying he was "committed" to all the franchises under MLSE's umbrella and was "looking forward to the end of the season with TFC, and the upcoming season with the Raptors and defending our (Atlantic Division) title, and getting the Leafs back in the playoffs."
On Thursday, Leiweke and the team announced he was in fact leaving the company.
Leiweke's intention is to remain in the CEO's role until June 30, 2015 or until a successor is found.
"Under Tim's leadership, MLSE has made a number of key moves to strengthen our organization on the path to championship success," said MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum. "We look forward to working closely with Tim to build on this foundation and further accelerate our momentum as we seek a new leader for MLSE."
It was a good time, not a long time, Leiweke spent in MLSE's head office. The former CEO of AEG, which owns and operates the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers, NHL's Los Angeles Kings and MLS' Los Angeles Galaxy, made a good amount of "culture" change inside Toronto's organizations. In the NBA, he brought in Drake as an ambassador, oversaw the team's return to the playoffs and made inroads towards getting the Raptors a new practice facility. For the soccer team, he oversaw an aggressive off-season that landed them a few big acquisitions, such as Jermain Defoe and now Toronto FC is third in its conference with a real shot at the playoffs. The Maple Leafs didn't make the playoffs under Leiweke's reign, but serious, positive change came about. Brendan Shanahan was brought in to institute a new, fresh, open-minded management core, which led to such hirings as 28-year-old assistant GM Kyle Dubas and the introduction of an analytics department.
Leiweke laid the groundwork for future improvement in each of these sports franchises and though he won't see it to the end, he leaves the organization in better shape than it was when he arrived.
For that, Toronto sports fans should be grateful.
"It's an honour to lead MLSE, a world-class organization in a city and a country so passionate about sports. But with new opportunities on the horizon, it's time for me to begin the transition from sports and entertainment executive to entrepreneur," Leiweke said. "Right now, my total focus is here at MLSE and I look forward to working with the Board and MLSE team to continue strengthening our franchises while ensuring a smooth transition to a new leader.
As for Leiweke's s successor, many candidates are on the table.
Tom Anselmi, who worked within the organization for 17 years and stepped down from his role as president when Leiweke was hired, has been suggested as a potential replacement. All indications are he left the company on good terms, but another former MLSE CEO, Richard Peddie, told TSN's Rick Westhead "you can't go home again."
Current Leafs president Brendan Shanahan has also had his named mentioned among the potential replacements, but the sense is he would lack the business experience necessary to run a $2 billion-plus company. Besides, his strengths are in hockey operations.
The chief executive of the Canadian Olympic Committee, Chris Overholt, is another main candidate. He was hired by the COC as a marketing director in 2010 and eventually became its CEO. According to a source in Westhead's story, Overholt would "have to be considered a frontrunner."
Also in the conversation is outgoing CFL commissioner Mark Cohon, who has also worked with the NBA in the past.
Whoever is the next CEO of MLSE, they have a tough, albeit short, act to follow. Leiweke started the sports franchises of MLSE down a promising path, but there's still years of work ahead to take them to their full potential.
Maybe the next CEO will preside over Leiweke's planned Stanley Cup parade route.
...emphasis on maybe.