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Dryden Heads Into Politics

Tuesday, 25.05.2004 / 10:54 AM / News
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Dryden Heads Into Politics
By Ken Dryden
May 17, 2004

(TORONTO) -- Good afternoon, everyone. I am glad you are here. I am here today to tell you that I will not be continuing on with the Toronto Maple Leafs. And I also want to let you know that I will be seeking to be the Liberal Party candidate for the riding of York Centre in the upcoming federal election.

I had wanted to separate these two announcements. To be able today just to talk to Leafs fans and to the people here at Air Canada Centre that I've worked with these last seven years. The stories that came out late last week, however, have not allowed that to be.

I had wanted to separate them also because they are not entirely connected. Twenty-five years ago when I retired as a player, when people asked me why, I told them it wasn't to practice law as they had assumed, but simply because it was time to go. It was a feeling inside me that I just couldn't argue with. That's what it is like for me today. I have enjoyed very much these last seven years, doing what I've been doing. But I know it's time.

Ken Dryden was a part of the Leafs organization since 1997.
(Harry How/Getty Images)
I knew it about a year ago. I told people then that, almost certainly, this would be my last year. We had a new, young general manager, and a new ownership. Both would be finding their way. I wanted to help them through these two big transitions.

I took this job seven years ago because I wanted to help make the Toronto Maple Leafs what I believed the team really was, and what it could be. I said at the time, that because of the history and tradition of the team, and of hockey in Toronto, because of the relative wealth and size of the city, because of the number of minor hockey players and the infrastructure in place to support them, that there was only one team that could become the most important in the world, and that was the Toronto Maple Leafs. And as I've always believed, if you can be something, you have no reason not to try. And if you work for the Leafs, as a player, coach or manager, if you work in the offices at Air Canada Centre, if you're an owner, you have no right not to have that ambition.

I also believed that in Toronto, and probably no place else, we can have it every way and all ways. We can do good and do well at the same time. In fact, the more we do good, the more we'll do well. Financial return and competitive achievement can reside side by side. There is nothing in these seven years that has made me believe otherwise.

I knew my biggest job here would be to help to write a new Leafs story. The old story, the Cup-winning Leafs of the 1940's and 1960's, was too old. There was left in it no emotional connection to the present, nothing to lift us and make us better. The story of more recent years was too mucky, on the ice and off. Did the Leafs really want to win? Because the arena was always full, did we really care? And off the ice, what did it matter anyway?

It's hard to write a new story when the old one is always around ready to bite you. But little by little, not without setbacks, we have gotten better.

I have a lot of people to thank:

  • Brian Bellmore and Larry Tanenbaum, in that first instance for their friendship, encouragement and trust
  • Mike Murphy, for coaching a team that first year that wasn't good and wasn't going to be good, always trying, giving us time to get better
  • Mike Smith and Anders Hedberg for bringing us part of the way
  • Bill Watters, for bringing us further
  • Pat Quinn, for helping to reawaken the "never say die" spirit of the Leafs, the real true spirit of the Leafs
  • Steve Stavro, for being in his seat when every period began; for being out of his seat when every Leafs goal was scored; for loving the Leafs
  • Larry Tanenbaum, Bob Bertram and the rest of the Board of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, for being willing to learn and adapt, to do things that 5 years ago they would have thought unimaginable; for beginning to learn that successful sports ownership today requires, demands a balance of corporate discipline and personal passion. That job is far from done, but for most of the last seven years, we have made some progress
  • The people who work in the offices at Air Canada Centre, who know that you cannot win on the ice unless you win off the ice as well
  • The people who work in the arena, the ushers, concessionaires and others, who know just how special game night is, who get dressed up and proud, and add to the whole celebration

I have enjoyed these years. I have enjoyed watching games again. I've enjoyed watching, game-in, game-out, really good goaltending: the acrobatic, in-trouble, somehow-out-of-trouble Curtis Joseph; the no muss, no fuss, everything-looks-easy-even-if-it-isn't Ed Belfour. I've enjoyed watching Tomas Kaberle and Danny Markov emerge out of nowhere, watching Bryan McCabe begin his move from a good player to someone on the verge of more. Watching Steve Thomas become young again. I've enjoyed watching Gary Roberts in the corners, Alex Mogilny with the puck, watching Joe Nieuwendyk skate. And through all this, I've enjoyed watching Mats, in his deeply proud, generous, dignified way, lead the team.

And then there are the Leafs fans. The fans at Air Canada Centre; and the fans outside, their flags out their car windows, their houses all decorated. And the fans on the road, in Buffalo, where somehow we always seem to give them our worst games; in Ottawa where they defy strategies to keep them out and by the thousands cheer on their team. In Montreal, who would have imagined, in the Forum or Bell Centre, thousands of Leafs jerseys, chants of "Go Leafs Go" and "Ed-die! Ed-die!" and choruses of "Na na na na hey hey hey good-bye" in the last minutes of a Leafs win? In Montreal?! Who would ever ever have imagined?!

You make us know why we do what we do. You are the excitement. You are the fun.

Today, the Toronto Maple Leafs are a proud hockey team.

I want to thank you, the people of Toronto and all Leafs fans, for seven interesting, challenging, very enjoyable years.

This is where this announcement was supposed to end, where there was to be a 2-day pause before the next one -- not to be. As I said earlier, I will be seeking the nomination to be the Liberal candidate for York Centre in the up-coming election.

These are words I wasn't sure I would ever say. Even now as I say them, they sound odd to me. Like words that other people might say. Why am I doing it? When I was young I wanted to be a lawyer. I also hoped, that after many years as a lawyer, after I had done lots of different things, had lots of experiences, after my ideas and feelings about Canada, the world, about people, about how things worked and how they should be, had been tested and shaped, after I was much older, about 50 or so, if I had the chance I would like to go into politics. At that time, politics seemed to me anyone's ultimate career, if you got the chance.

Politics had a better reputation then. It seemed as if it was about helping people who needed help. And doing more through politics seemed like something new, seemed unexpected and good and promising and exciting. I was a teenager in the years of U.S President John F. Kennedy. I was a young adult in the time of Pierre Trudeau. As a hockey player, graduating from law school, writing books, as Ontario Youth Commissioner, working with the Leafs, through all these years, and despite the diminishing reputation of politics as this instrument of helping and good, I still had that same thought in mind -- that politics was anyone's ultimate career, if you got the chance.

Still, I wasn't sure I would ever get there. I'd had other chances, at different times, with other parties as well. It's not the right time, I'd say, until it seemed to me, and I'm sure to others, that it might never be the right time, maybe because now, deep down, I didn't really want to do it, maybe because now, I didn't really believe in it anymore. But still that feeling remained inside me.

Why now?

Because both our kids are grown up. They live away on their own. One is married; the other will be married this summer. Because that means two fewer people now with their lives so much affected by such a decision.

Because I like Paul Martin. Because I think he, and others, can help Canadians make Canada a better place.

Because I enjoy doing public work. Because I like to help people so they can help themselves. Because helping people makes me feel better. Because I've worked with charitable groups and community groups, tried to affect things by writing books and articles, giving speeches, by doing radio and TV interviews, because maybe, maybe I can do more inside government than I can outside.

Because feelings that stay inside you stay there for a reason. Because I always believed that politics was anybody's ultimate career, what you experienced for, learned for and trained for in all those years before. Because I want to do my best, and I want to find out what my best is.

So why now? Because, again, it's time.

How do I feel now, after all these years, finally being a candidate? Like I did when I had to go from kindergarten to grade one, when I had to move and change schools, when I got married, when I went to my first NHL training camp, when I played in the 7th game of a Stanley Cup final, and in the 8th game of the '72 series in Moscow, when I was a father for the first time, when I wrote my first book, when I was named Youth Commissioner, when I became President of the Toronto Maple Leafs -- excited, scared, nervous. Scared of a new life, scared at giving up an old one, scared of not knowing. But scared is OK. We never stop having that feeling. And taking on something new, over time I've learned this about myself: I don't know if I can do it. But I don't know that I can't either.

I look forward to what is ahead.

If I become the Liberal candidate for York Centre, if I win the election, I will be in Ottawa a lot more. Go Sens Go?

I don't think so!

Thank you.

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