A new era for TheLeafsNation.com: Justin Fisher steps down as TLN managing editor

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This weekend marked a new day for the Toronto Maple Leafs, winners of the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery. It also marked a new day for TheLeafsNation.com. Effective immediately TLN will be under new management.

The life cycle of a hockey blog isn’t unlike that of a contemporary NHL team. Your budget is capped, you try to be efficient wherever you can, finding talented young contributors is key and the identity of the team itself ebbs and flows over time.

TLN is a branch of the Nation Network. And though we cover the Maple Leafs, we can’t operate the way they do. We don’t generally get to retain our stars.

The site has been fortunate to have three enormously talented formal managing editors in its existence: Cam Charron, Steve Dangle and Justin Fisher. Charron, a searing and compelling critic during the Dave Nonis/Randy Carlyle era, has gone on to work for the Maple Leafs in a hockey research role. Dangle, a multimedia triple threat, is crushing it for the rights holder these days, though he’s still kicking around these parts in podcast and LFR form. (In Pog form, too)

And today we’re sad to say goodbye to Justin Fisher, who has crushed it managing TLN for the past two seasons. Fisher is taking his social media savvy and promotional know-how and moving into the private sector, where we know he’ll be enormously successful. We wish him the best and are sad to see his tenure with the Nation Network come to a close.

We have to move forward though. It’s a new day at TLN. And as hard as that is for us, we’ll reboot, rebuild and continue to do the best job we can in bringing you insightful, irreverent, independent Maple Leafs coverage.

Before we commit to turning the page, I just want to spend a graph or two (or three) talking about Fisher.

In my time with the Nation Network, I’ve worked with site editor’s who excel because they’re absolute workhorses. Ryan Pike at FlamesNation.ca wrote 70 posts a month for years, helping to build that brand.

I’ve seen other site editors who excel because they manage to carve out a consistent editorial narrative that undergirds their work: Charron would fit into this with his critiques of Carlyle’s and Nonis’ outdated thinking, and so would a writer like Rhys Jessop, who was calling for a rebuild in the Vancouver market even as the Canucks were stringing together a 100 point season.

Fisher is the first site editor I’ve seen at the Nation Network who excelled because he was, in addition to being a smart hockey fan and a talented writer, an excellent leader above all else. Justin built a loyal team, empowered a vast ensemble of writers and got the best out of them. Under his watch TLN was the most organized site at the Network. His methods – he was an early adopter of Slack, for example – were eventually adopted Network wide, forever changing the way we do business on a day-to-day basis.

Having a manager with the level of passion, commitment and people skills that Justin brought to his role made my job easy. And there’s no sugarcoating it; replacing him will be extraordinarily difficult.

In addition to Justin’s departure, several of your favourite TLN contributors including Antonella Lombardi, Jon Steitzer, Tom Hunter and Bobby Cappuccino will also be leaving us. You can follow them and still engage with their work at thebloggerstribune.com, their new project.

Losing this group is significant, to be sure, but we’re excited about what the future will bring.

To begin with, effective immediately, Jeff Veillette – the Nation Network’s resident swingman, but a long-tenured TLN man at heart – will become the fourth managing editor in the history of theLeafsNation.com. And he’s committed to assembling a new, young, diverse cast of writers to carry the TLN banner into the future.

I’ll throw the mic over to your new TLN overlord now, and let him tell you about some of his plans:

I’ve enjoyed a pretty crazy journey here at The Leafs Nation over the years. What started as a weekly Marlies column in early 2012, turned into me moving my work from my old sites (LeafsHQ & MarliesHQ, if you remember them) and writing non-stop on this platform. Under the watchful eye of our previous three editors (Cam, Steve, and Justin), I’ve had the opportunity to learn from some talented people and rethink how I see the game. Their advice and instruction have helped me take this hockey-writing thing from a hobby to a job and I can’t thank the three of them enough for that.

Through all the bouncing around I’ve done over the past year, and as much as I love talking about some of the other teams we cover on the network, TLN has been my home for nearly half a decade and I’m incredibly excited to take the reins of this racehorse.

With everything considered, we decided against trying to directly replace the contributors that have left us. It wouldn’t have been fair to anyone to attempt to move on with business as usual. Instead we’re going to try and take a new approach here.

Some of our new contributors are up-and-comers, who are all but certain to make waves in the industry sooner than later, some are critical thinkers who will examine tough, perspective-changing questions, some are on the quirkier side and know how to make the game fun, and many are a combination of all of these things. We’ll be expanding the depth of our coverage and the scope of our collaborative efforts. It’s a bright staff with a brighter future, and I’m happy to have them in the mix.

The silver lining is that this transition will let us re-evaluate how we approach covering the team; a Leafs-like rebuild, if you will, and we’re confident that the result will be the beginning of a special new era for the site.

Among our new contributors will be author and sharp analytics mind @DragLikePull, who will be writing a weekly analytics-focused column. We’re also pleased to welcome former TLN contributor and current Hockey News writer Dom Luszczyszyn (@omgitsdomi) back into the fold. Katy Tearle is also joining the team and will be writing about the Maple Leafs and doing some reporting on the Furies once the next CWHL season gets started this fall. Jennifer Chesson (@JentheLeaffan) and Ryan Hobart (RiversonLeafs.blogspot.com) are young, hungry up-and-comers with a lot to offer and they’ll be joining the team this week. And we’re going to feature some fun hockey writing from Heather (@wraparoundcurl), whose strong writing voice and sense of humour we’re sure you’ll enjoy.

And that’s just a start. We’re going to be adding more writers to the site and if you’re interested in contributing or collaborating, feel free to e-mail Jeff (jeffler@gmail.com) and myself (thom.drance@thenationnetwork.com). We don’t need a formal resume, but include a portfolio of past written work and a brief overview of your past experience as a writer, media person or even just as a Maple Leafs fan engaged in the digital space.

So there you have it. One TLN chapter ends, and another begins. It’s bittersweet, but ultimately an exciting time and we hope you’ll come to love what the TLN 4.0 era has to offer.

Fists fly forever.

  • Gary Empey

    I was just about to say anyone but jeffler. looks like I’ll be reading that other site more often. not sad to see bobby go as I always skipped his stories. sucks to see jon go. he always brought humour and his leafs rankings always made me laugh. all we’ll see now is endless, Harry Potter novels for articles and rambling with too much information instead of getting to the point. good to see drag like pull on here and Dom. I like their work. hope someone will bring some real humour with them not like bobby when he tried too hard and became annoying. he used to produce good stuff until he became insufferable. now that jeffler is editor, I hope this means he edits his own work as it’s often rushed with spelling errors, incorrect grammar and too convoluted where you either don’t read it, stop reading it or take in so much info that you don’t even know what the point is/what you just read. all I ask is that the analytics and charts are broken down for those who aren’t well versed in it beyond the definition of corsi. just sharing what I want to see as a long time reader. hope to see some exiting work for the 100 anniversary and Matthews era!!

  • CMpuck

    Not a lot of places on the net not destroyed by up tight moderators, Justin let this comment section be salty, one of the many reason I’m addicted to this site.

    Happy trails Justin, I assume you’ll be running NXT sometime in the not too distant future.

  • SEER

    Skeptical, to say the least, about how these new “writers” were brought on board.
    But hey, it’s your site – good luck…
    Let’s all keep an open mind and see how it goes.

    • I’d genuinely like to know what you mean by putting “writers” in quotes. I think we’ve assembled a stellar group of new contributors who all have a track record of quality content that is likely to only get better as they develop.

      • magesticRAGE

        well, since you asked…

        One of them posted a mantra “lips, hips, wits, and tits” on her twitter page.

        If you consider that indicative of “stellar” so be it.

        • I consider Heather’s work as one of the most entertaining writers in the early days of the Toronto hockey blogosphere to be indicative of stellar. I consider the fact that she was doing the quirky and fun social media stuff on hockey twitter that everybody loves about 5 or 6 years ahead of the rest of the field to be indicative of stellar. Heather was a superstar in the Barilkosphere before TLN was even a thing. That’s indicative of stellar. You’d be hard pressed to find anybody else who follows this team who can do what she does as well as she does.

          If we’re judging people based on Twitter bios, I have an egocentric Drake lyric in mine as my descriptor. We’re going to stick to believing that our additions are stellar because they’ve proven themselves to be. This goes for her and everybody else that has come on board.

  • Gary Empey

    I think the criticism of the writers, past, present and future is unwarranted. This is a sports blog. One should not be looking for perfect grammar or riveting prose. There is a necessity to quickly write articles covering actual games. A knowledge of hyper text markup language, gifs, video capture, and at least half a dozen software programs to make it all work, is part of the trade.

    While major change is always unsettling, and often comes as a surprise, it seems a constant in life.

    For those who feel there should be more depth to the articles, I suggest you use the comment section to post interesting views.

    For those who are moving on I sincerely wish you the best, in all your future endeavors.

    For those new folks coming on board, I look forward to reading your opinions.

    For those masochists who are staying with the ship, “are you crazy ? ”