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Keith Pelley makes a bold statement in first interview as MLSE CEO


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Ryan Smitheram
April 7, 2024  (6:47 PM)
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New MLSE CEO Keith Pelley
Photo credit: Steve Russell Toronto Star

New MLSE CEO Keith Pelley made some very strong remarks about making changes to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Earlier this week, Keith Pelley officially began his role as the CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment after he was named CEO of MLSE back in January. Pelley left his position at the European Golf Tour, one that he held since 2015, to join the organization, who oversees the Maple Leafs, Marlies, Raptors and more. Although not directly with MLSE, there is a great familiarity with Pelley's direct reports, the board members of Bell and Rogers as Pelley had worked for both telecommunications giants in the past.
On Friday, Pelley spoke with the media for the first time as an employee of MLSE and made a very bold statement about the organization.
"We're not afraid of change; if you're afraid of change, you risk the possibility of falling behind, and we're not going to fall behind.

The worst thing you can do is change for the sake of change. However, all businesses need to be evolving ... we want to win."

As we discussed earlier this week in a previous article, the ownership structure of the Leafs is likely going to see a significant change in the coming years and with Leafs President and Alternate Governor Brendan Shanahan now reporting to Pelley, the changes Pelley was referring to may not be limited to the on-ice personnel if the Leafs face another early exit. There could be changes for Leafs upper management as well.

Is Pelley hinting at Shanahan's departure?

Pelley's comments about not being afraid of change sound like the opposite of what the Leafs have been doing under Shanahan. While they have changed the pieces surrounding the likes of Morgan Rielly, William Nylander, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews, nothing significant has happened to suggest any major culture shift in the organization. Year after year, the first question from reporters during the end of season media day for the Leafs has always been about the "Core 4" returning and the answer has been the same from Shanahan. He intends to keep the core together as long as possible in hopes of winning a championship.
This past off-season, it was clear that there was friction between former Leafs GM Kyle Dubas and Shanahan in terms of the direction the club should go, which ultimately led to Dubas' shocking departure. With Shanahan entering the final season of his contract, and with Pelley's comments about making changes, Shanahan could see the same fate as his former GM if the Leafs do not have success in the playoffs.

Will another quick exit from the playoffs send shockwaves through the organization?

The Leafs have but one playoff series win under Shanahan, and while he could be the first to go if the Leafs flounder again, Pelley's reach could extend down to the coaching staff and players. Yesterday on Headlines, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman noted that Pelley isn't afraid to spend money and make changes and that Shanahan had lots of freedom the past few years without having a direct report. Shanahan has been afforded the opportunity to speak directly with the board in the past, but will that change now with Pelley running the show? It very well might.
The key to Friedman's point is the money factor. MLSE has plenty of it and if Pelley wants to make changes, like firing the coaching staff and other members of management with time left on their contracts, it sounds like he will have no pushback from Bell or Rogers about paying people to not work.
Shedding large contracts and retaining salary will make those contracts much easier to move and frees up much-needed cap space. Not to say that Tavares or Marner will be traded, but with the emergence of Pontus Holmberg, Bobby McMann, Matthew Knies and even Easton Cowan and Fraser Minten, players like Calle Jarnkrok and David Kampf could now be considered expendable. The cap savings will give the organization plenty of money to spend to address needs elsewhere on the roster, such as the blueline, for example.
We will have to wait until at least the summer to see the kind of impact that Pelley will have on the organization and what changes he plans to make. One thing is for certain, though: it will almost certainly be a very busy off-season for the Leafs, win or lose.
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Keith Pelley makes a bold statement in first interview as MLSE CEO

Who will be the first to go under new MLSE CEO Keith Pelley?

Shanahan32167.9 %
Keefe10522.2 %
Tavares337 %
Marner143 %
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