- The Washington Times - Friday, December 9, 2011

There’s no franchise in the NHL more valuable than the Toronto Maple Leafs. They’re Canada’s team more than any of the seven clubs north of the border, worth $521 million, according to Forbes Magazine, despite not winning a Stanley Cup since 1967.

So anything that happens to the Maple Leafs is a big deal, including business dealings that have more to do with dollars and, well, millions of dollars, than hockey. The sale announced Friday morning of 75 percent of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment from the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan to telecom rivals Bell and Rogers fits that bill, but it’s something everyone was talking about around the team later in the day despite limited on-ice impact.

“To be completely honest, I don’t think it affects us as players,” Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said. “The teachers did a great job when they owned the team. We’re excited about the new ownership, but as players, it’s the business side of the game that is out of our control. We’re excited about the new ownership and what they’re going to bring.”

New ownership won’t guarantee a Stanley Cup or even contention beyond what general manager Brian Burke and Co. have been working toward in recent years.

“As a hockey club, there’s no change,” Burke said Friday morning at Verizon Center. “Ownership issues are something that are beyond our control. I just told the players you’re not going to see a difference short term or long term. Our job is still to win hockey games.”

Toronto is 15-10-3 with 33 points going into Friday night’s game at the Washington Capitals.

But by being so popular, the Maple Leafs play a little bit of a villain role around the NHL, similar to Notre Dame or the New York Yankees. However, defenseman Luke Schenn doesn’t think animosity will increase when Bell and Rogers assume control.

“I think if anything Leaf Nation will probably grow a little bit,” he said. “You’re definitely not going to be hiding at all especially with the two big companies taking over.”

Rogers and Bell are rivals in TV and internet services, and each company has its own network. Split allegiances and airtime will be a business matter that players aren’t concerned with.

What coach Ron Wilson wants is simpler.

“I’m secretly hoping for some free cable or something like that,” he joked, “because the cable bill is pretty steep and the internet bill to go with it.”

That’s not far-fetched, but from a hockey perspective the Leafs were thrilled that team president Larry Tanenbaum will remain involved and even added to his interest in Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment.

“I’m glad Larry Tanenbaum is still involved,” goaltender James Reimer said. “He’s the guy that really cares about this team and what’s best for the team. He’s treated us really well.”

The sale won’t become official until the end of the season, and players bought into Burke’s idea that nothing will change much around the Leafs.

“Things have been great around here; I have no complaints,” Reimer said. “I’ve got nothing but good things to say about the past and the future.”

A future that Bell, Rogers and the Leafs hope will include a Stanley Cup.

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