Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Toronto Lister Leafs

I am having difficulty deciding what I have been more annoyed by these recent weeks: the continuing saga over Hamilton's Lister Block or the poor play of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

For those not in Hamilton, the Lister Block is a decrepit, old building that has blighted the landscape of downtown, having sat unoccpupied for more than a decade. The misty-eyed heritage crowd have decried any suggestion of removing the building, replacing it something more functional, or at least less of an eyesore. Apparently the Lister Block has some sort of historical, architectural merit. However, the type that loves to look at boarded up old buildings seem to only be prepared to see such buildings maintained (or rot, in this case), provided that it is on someone else's nickel, preferably that of the taxpayers of either the City of Hamilton and/or the Province of Ontario. Currently, the property is owned by an outfit known as LIUNA (Labourers' International Union of North America) who, in addition to being entitled to 7 million dollars of provincial tax money to restore the building, expect the City of pony up an outrageous amount to rent space in the building if and when it ever gets redone - 37 dollars a square foot at last count.

While LIUNA holds a knife to the throat of city and provincial officials, armed with the persisent moan of the inexplicably-influential architectural fetish crowd, all common sense appears to go out the window. Keep a stupid building standing at all costs, no matter how much it makes our decaying core resemble downtown Havana at an alarmingly increasing rate.

Which brings us to the current plight of the Toronto Maple Leafs. About two weeks before the mainstream media began writing articles about it, I noticed how the team was beginning to resemble the lowly lot of the Ballard years of the 1980s; a crappy team on the ice, an inept owner/group of owners, and an entirely dysfunctional staff of coaches and managers. The Chairman of the Board of Directors suggest publicly that it was "a mistake" to hire such an inexperienced general manager. The general manager tries to fire the coach, but is overruled by the Board of Directors. By all indications, the players have given up on all of the above as evidenced by their play of late. As this is written, they are second last in the Eastern Conference, and third last in the entire league.

Financially, however, business has never been better. In reality, this organization could field a pee-wee house legaue team and sell the same number of tickets and merchandise as ever. This was something Harold Ballard picked up on when he owned the team. He did sweet f-all to improve the team, traded the best players away as a function of petulance and still made a wad of cash. And the team seems to be basking in the new salary cap era where there is an added incentive to not improve the team. Either that, or John Ferguson Junior is just a really bad GM (probably the latter). To mix to metaphors, if Harold Ballard were alive today, he'd be laughing all the way to the bank.

So, here's my idea. The two situations above present the potential for a match made in heaven. And Hamilton gets an NHL team to boot! The Toronto Maple Leafs should move their operations to Hamilton and play their home games out of a refurbished Lister Block. They can use additional space in the building to rent to the City of Hamilton. The team is awash in cash. The building in Hamilton needs a wealthy suitor. In addition to an awful product on the ice, overpriced merchandise, and a crappy TV station that shows little else of quality other than...well...awful Leaf games, the team should be looking at other avenues to bilk people. And who better than the City of Hamilton?

Desperate for an NHL team and seemingly indifferent to the principals of fiscal responsibility, particularly when there are constituencies to placate, such as the hockey in Hamilton and the building preservationist lobbies, this would be an opportunity they should not, nay, must not pass up. They might even be persuaded to pay 47 or even 57 dollars a square foot for space, provided that season tickets for City Councillors are included. All of this provided, of course, that the facade of the building is preserved. Minus the broken windows, doesn't the Lister Block on its corner location bear a striking resemblance to the old Maple Leaf Gardens at the corner of Church and Carlton in Toronto? They could even wear old Hamilton Tiger throwback jerseys to mark the occasion.

The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Lister Block. A match made in heaven.....or was I thinking of the other place?

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