Howard Roark is a guest writer at lakingsnews.com. As always, we thank Howard for his contributions to the site.
By Howard Roark:
Recently, Kings Governor and de facto Chief Executive Officer gave an extensive interview to Rich Hammond. This is the first time in quite a while that Leiweke has gone public. Content for many years to allow Dean Lombardi to run hockey operations and Luc Robitaille to manage the business side of the club, Leiweke has remained in the background, at least publicly, and focused on his role as an NHL Governor. This interview with Rich Hammond was comprehensive, thought provoking and worthy of some independent analysis on a blog that is not connected with the team in anyway.
Let me start by saying that I personally like Tim Leiweke. I have been fortunate enough to meet him several times and have found him to be personable, direct, passionate about the Kings and not afraid to put his neck on the line. While many fans can rightly question AEG’s ultimate commitment to the Kings, I believe that Philip Anshutz and his hand-picked CEO have put this organization on firmer footing than any previous ownership group, an objective fact which cannot be disputed.
In the past, I have had two problems with Leiweke that I have to point out. The first was his meddling in hockey operations during the Dave Taylor regime. I believe, and have been told by some insiders, that Taylor’s power was severely constrained during this time, and that Leiweke played an outsized role relative to his narrow knowledge of the game. While I question whether Taylor was ever the right man to lead the Kings to a Stanley Cup, I think he deserved the opportunity that Dean Lombardi has been given, to run the club with an unfettered hand. Secondly, Leiweke has been prone to excessive spin when it comes to promoting the team to the fan base in order to sell tickets. This resulted sometimes in the over hyping of certain players who were going to come in and play roles they were not capable of performing. Perhaps the worst manifestation of this unfortunate tendency has to be the lead up to the 2003-2004 campaign. The fans were told by Leiweke almost up until the opening game that Jason Allison and Adam Deadmarsh would be ready for the regular season. In reality, both players did not play in a single game. While I hesitate to call anyone a liar, I believe the fans were misled about the health of these two key players in order sell tickets. Trust is a precious commodity, and Leiweke and AEG lost quite a bit of it over this incident.
Now let’s analyze the interview. There were some real positives that can be gleaned from it. Leiweke acknowledges that mistakes have been made over his tenure, and for the most part accepts personal blame rather than trying to shift it. This is something that I admire. In addition, he clearly understands and respects the patience of the long suffering fans during what has been a painful rebuild. While not coming out and saying so, I think it is fair to surmise that Leiweke thinks Dean Lombardi has earned at least a two year contract extension to complete what he has started, something I argued for in a previous post. Leiweke is happy with the state of the organization Lombardi has put in place, but, thankfully, has very high expectations as to what the team can accomplish on the ice. Moreover, by making the playoffs, Leiweke seems comfortable in making commitments to keep key members of the core together for a long time. He clearly stated he is favor of locking up members of the nucleus. Look for Wayne Simmonds, Brad Richardson, and possibly Jack Johnson to get contract extensions. Drew Doughty may be in line for a lifetime contract. As for bringing in an additional piece to put the team over the top, Leiweke was more coy but emphasized that he has never told Dean “no” when it came to player retention or acquisition.
Leiweke discussed several business issues at length. Ticket prices will be going up modestly, but given the team’s improvement and where they sit relative to other teams, this seems fair. In addition, he mentioned but, more importantly, refused to dwell on the team’s financial losses. This is important because while the Kings themselves may be losing money, AEG with its development of Team LA and the real estate surrounding Staples Center are likely coining money, and the hockey club has played a big role in this. I have always believed that the team can be a loss leader as long as they attract people downtown to shop at and eat with all the tenants that are paying AEG exorbitant rents to draw these crowds. There was a lengthy discussion on the Fox television contract. Leiweke probably wanted to use this interview as a ‘shot across the bow’ of Fox Sports to pressure them to televise all the Kings’ games. He did not pull any punches here.
With regards to his role as a governor and member of the executive committee, Leiweke gave some interesting insights in the workings of the NHL. He hinted strongly at the severe financial problems the four teams in the southeast and Phoenix are having. I suspect strongly that having this many teams in trouble is unsustainable and that we will be seeing some franchise movement if contraction is off the table. With a strong Canadian dollar, it makes sense to increase the number of teams in that country. While Leiweke takes pain to note that he is not always on the same page as Gary Bettman, this is something I have always known. Readers of this blog know that I have no respect for Bettman competence as Commissioner, and I am not surprised that a clever businessman like Tim Leiweke would take issues with League policy. While Leiweke points to differences regarding ESPN, reading between the lines, he has much deeper differences with Bettman and is not a vote the Commissioner can count on when it comes to his retention. It would be interesting to know where the other differences lie.
While I applaud Leiweke for giving this interview and his relative candidness, I take issue with one thing he said. Evidently, he read the questions in advanced and jumped in at one point to interrupt Hammond regarding the role of Luc Robitaille. While I was not the person who asked the question, I will say whoever posed whether Robitaille was qualified to be President of Business Operations was not only entitled to do so but was also correct. Leiweke is just plain wrong here. Just as a hockey player undergoes years of training to reach the pinnacle of his profession, business leaders must do the same in both schooling and acquiring the proper experience. Luc, as popular as he is, does not have a college degree, let alone and MBA, and is not qualified for this position beyond the fact that he is a admired ambassador for the team. I doubt the guy knows the difference between a balance sheet and an income statement. This is bound to make me out of favor with some people, but it is an insult to the many fine men and women who have devoted their careers to sports management to have an unqualified, though respected former player moved to the top of the organization.
In closing, my main impression is that Leiweke, though clearly happy with the progress the team has made, is still unsatisfied. While Dean Lombardi may have bought some more time, he does not have an open-ended commitment. The same goes for several players as Leiweke seems to acknowledge we may lose some players after July 1, an indication that Alexander Frolov may not be coming back. Perhaps the most heartening part of the interview is how often Leiweke mentioned Phil Anshutz’s commitment to the team. I have always been an Anshutz guy as I prefer owners who take a low profile rather than trying to use their team to bring undeserved glory upon themselves. This rebuild has been long and painful, but ownership has suffered through it along with the fans and provided the necessary resources for drafting and player development. It is heartening to know that Leiweke and Anshutz are going to continue the current course for a while.
Categories: L.A. Kings News