Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Toronto Sports Media; Getting Personal


It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

It was easy to write stories about the Maple Leafs when they were toiling around the basement of the NHL. Good news doesn’t really sell these days (see RIM), so what’s one to do when things seem to be going okay?

The flip side to that, and this must be scaring the hell out of sports PR people, is what the hell happens when they lose control of the message. In the past GM’s and coaches would do interviews, host scrums etc. there was always a PR person around to kind of assist, to help with the message. With team personnel now taking to social media, the tables seem to have turned. There’s no more controlling the story, they now can lead the story or even better (worse?) instantly respond to it.

That brings us to what has become a deliciously interesting relationship between the biggest team in town and those in the media with the biggest names/followings. Patt Quinn refused to go PTS with McCown. Cito hated a few select media members. Things would be said on air and the discussion was always one sided. Suddenly there’s a response, and it’s direct to the fans. No intermediary needed. The result? Things are starting to get personal. Delicious for those of us who care about or follow this type of stuff.

First there was the exchange maybe not so direct between Damien Cox and Ron Wilson. If you haven’t seen it the fine folks over at PPP have captured it well here. It’s not a conversation but you can tell it’s most certainly reactionary. The highlight to me is Cox’s brillaint “All I can tell you is JP Ricciardi’s road outta town started with one ridiculously obvious lie.”

Things have turned up lately though in the feud between the Toronto Sun and Brian Burke. The bird cage incident last season seemed to kick things off. You remember, “”The Sun has great value if you own a puppy or a parakeet”.

Next came free agency day when Simmons wrote a pointed column that included :

“You don’t, if you’re running the Leafs, if you’re struggling to make a lousy team better, if you haven’t been in the playoffs yet under your watch — even if it is a Canada Day trip for the Canadian troops — go to Kandahar on July 1. You just don’t.”

Then there was the twitter exchange between Steve Simmons and Burke and Wilson on twitter:

“Simmons: Is Twitter big enough for Brian Burke? We’ll find out soon. You can follow him @LeafsBB20 Wonder who gets blocked first.

Simmons: So here’s the question: Is it really @LeafsBB20 Brian Burke on Twitter or is a team PR flak doing what he thinks is the right thing?

Burke: @simmonssteve And who on earth is Steve Simmons?

Simmons: Thanks to @LeafsBB20 for the morning mention. Now I’m over 17,000 in followers. Didn’t expect to be there.

Simmons: I feel special. Both @LeafsBB20 and @coachrw63 have blocked me on Twitter. #howsmallisthat?

Simmons: A Hall of Fame reporter told me years ago: If you get along with the people you’re covering, then you’re not doing your job.

Wilson: Amazing, I have not blocked Simmons, but I certainly don’t follow him, nor do I care if he follows me. #arrogance

Simmons: @coachrw63 If that’s true. explain why I don’t get YOUR Tweets. I get tweets from everybody else I follow.

Burke: To set the record straight, I have not blocked anybody. #getyourfactsstraight.

Which brings us to today (it’s only 10pm on the West coast).

“Burke’s becoming an embarrassment”

That’s the headline in today’s Steve Simmons story (which we know Simmons didn’t write).

This is from the story:

“And in this season of hockey revival, where all should be smiles and chuckles, he is becoming something of a local embarrassment.”

So, the story goes, as told by Simmons, Ron Wison tells the media that, “Jonas Gustavsson would start in goal against the Bruins on Saturday night. Then he started James Reimer.”

Ahhhhhhhh JP how we miss you so!

Personally I think this is much to do about nothing. I don’t really see how Burke is an embarrassment and if he is to whom? Who is embarrassed by him or his actions? The fans don’t care. Hell, most love that he takes on the MSM. Those who don’t hate him anyways.

Simmons and others have called Wilson out for lying. Perhaps, things would have been ok if Wilson just admitted it, in their eyes. Burke, in defending Wilson has thrown the gas on the fire, he’s made things worse; that’s the argument.

Now, if anyone in the USA bet on hockey, if vegas cared at all about NHL hockey we wouldn’t be having this discussion. The only reason we have complete transparency in the NFL on injuries and lineup changes is 100% due to betting on the games. No one cares about hockey so this matter is left up to the teams. Somewhere I read a quote from Bill Daly where he said something along the lines of we don’t like our teams to lie. We all know that the NHL policy on announcing injuries is about as serious as the long term viability of the Phoenix Coyotes.

Burke has said publicly that he has a great deal of respect for most of those in the Toronto Sports Media. He told me directly in our audio interview for this website that he thinks that vast majority do a great job covering the team. Like everything else in life, there are those in the minority who ruin things for the majority. While I don’t know this, I suspect that Burke would put Simmons in the small group of reporters who “ruin” things for those for whom he has respect. I asked Burke what he thought about the media reaction to being called out on Twitter for what they write, the response I got was short and to the point:

“What a disgrace that they think they are beyond criticism! They are way out of step with the fans.”

It’s going to be interesting to see how this all plays out. Both sides are going to have to live with each other and in some cases perhaps for quite a long time. Quinn lasted a relatively long time without going on PTS.

Cam Cole of the National Post has a great perspective on this whole thing:

“Oh, good grief. You think they need urging? Wailing about it only makes us look kind of petty and whiny, as a species.

Anyone who works as a reporter and has not been lied to, routinely — or simply misled, or misinformed, or had half the story given to him/her and the important part left out — is clearly covering something other than professional sports.”

All four of the parties here are bright, articulate men. Wilson, Cox, Simmons and Burke. Each knows exactly what they are doing and the ramifications of their actions. Burke and Wilson have to win. They have to meet the media and tell a story. Wilson tries to protect and motivate his players. Burke Will do the same with not only his players but also his coaches. Simmons and Cox battle to get the scoop. They work to get the angle, the scoop, the opinion; truth is it’s about one thing and one thing only; eyeballs/ears. No one cares what a boring scribe has to say. When news breaks we want to know what Cox and Simmons have to say. When either guys breaks a story there’s a degree of trust because they have earned the reputation. I don’t believe that any of the four men say or write anything without fully contemplating the ramifications. How many blogs, stories, hours of talk radio have been and will be spent talking about this story? The liar story is bigger than the Leafs losing two to Boston. Instead of some other news story tons of people are reading Simmons in the Sun to see first hand what he wrote. Orchestrated? No, I don’t think so. Calculated and premeditated by all parties independently? You better believe it. A sucker born every minute! Everyone is a winner. Especially us the fans.

Take a listen to Simmons with Cybulski and Co. Great stuff

Story you must read is from the New York Times on Derek Boogard. I thought the article in the first edition of the Sportsnet magazine was good; this is a great, must read.

So, you don’t have cable but want to watch the Leafs, Raptors or TFC on TV? Just buy an xbox; how cool

Haven’t seen this too often, ESPN, on ESPN’s firing of Matthew Barnaby. If only we knew his new cell number!


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