Danny B’y: hockey mogul?

Robin Short
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Marc Crawford, the former St. John’s Maple Leafs coach, used to joke — he was kidding, right? — that us media scoundrels loved to throw crap at a wall to see what would stick.

We call it speculation.

There’s been lots of speculation on Confederation Hill lately, with Danny Williams going out at the top of his game, like Ken Dryden.

As opposed to Guy Lafleur, who hung around too long.

So, the tongues are wagging. What’s next for Danny B’y? Federal politics? Not likely, apparently. A nosedive back into business, where there’s more money to be made? Definitely.

Dipping a big toe into the hockey waters? Well …

There is no basis for this commentary, no interviews or even casual chats — neither on the record, nor off the record — just a peek into the crystal ball that’s rolling around on a barren hockey landscape.

Williams likes hockey and still plays a bit — a gritty forward in the mould of Bobby Clarke, sans the skill. He was on the St. John’s Maple Leafs’ first board of directors, a fixture around the team before his leap into politics.

Like many, Williams believes a thirst still exists in St. John’s for the pro game.

He was a big wheel in the construction of Mile One Centre, so Williams, more than anyone, knows the importance of an anchor tenant in the 6,200-seat rink.

So consider this: Williams, as we all know, is flush with cash. Would he consider buying an AHL franchise and moving it to St. John’s?

It would be right up his alley. There’s no denying he has the ego and passion to drive the ship. A mini-Steinbrenner, if you will.

Of course, owning the fastest and hottest car money can buy is no good if there’s no road on which to drive it.

Owning a slick Armani suit is one thing; finding a dance partner is another.

In other words, is there an NHL team out there willing to partner up with St. John’s again?

The convenient excuse is — and always will be — travel; that far-flung Newfoundland is a backwater to highfalutin Toronto, Chicago or Houston. Never mind Los Angeles is hooked up with Manchester, N.H., on the other coast, San Jose is affiliated with Worcester, Mass., Anaheim with Syracuse, N.Y.

Never mind that St. John’s is considerably closer to many eastern AHL teams than Abbotsford, B.C. is to its nearest rival, Winnipeg.

But wait, there’s another potential twist in this little theory.

How would the Leafs look, back in St. John’s again?

The big news out of Toronto this week — other than the fact the Leafs can’t score goals, and Ron Wilson can’t coach that team — is Rogers Communications’ potential interest in purchasing a controlling interest in the Maple Leafs’ empire for a staggering $1 billion.

The deal would include the Leafs, Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC  soccer team and the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.

The Marlies, of course, were once the St. John’s Maple Leafs until John Ferguson Jr., then the Toronto Maple Leafs’ inept GM, opted to move them to Toronto for “developmental reasons.”

That would include more practice time and easier access to players for recall. And, in today’s salary cap world, juggling a team’s payroll is almost as important as juggling the lineup.

Anyway, the Marlies are locked into a long-term lease at Ricoh Coliseum, and while the Toronto Maple Leafs could care less if the farm team draws flies to the old barn, it has to be disconcerting to see the team average 3,769 (announced, by the way) fans in the 8,240-seat building.

But back to the Rogers deal. Should the communications giant seal the deal, shareholders would see their stock increase. And guess who’s a major shareholder in Rogers?

As part of his deal to sell Cable Atlantic to Rogers, Williams took a backload of stock as part of his payment. We can only assume he has held on to those shares.

Whether this has any bearing on the Marlies coming back to Newfoundland, who knows. Maybe it’s all a figment of the imagination.

But put it this way: you’d figure if Williams was so inclined to consider a transfer of the Marlies back to St. John’s, he’d have an in through the boardroom doors, whereas the rest of us wouldn’t get past the secretary.

Then again, maybe his idea of more hockey is a few more games at St. Bon’s Forum.

Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email rshort@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL, Rogers Communications Toronto Raptors Cable Atlantic

Geographic location: Toronto, Newfoundland, Chicago Houston Los Angeles Manchester, N.H. San Jose Worcester, Mass. Anaheim Eastern AHL Abbotsford

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