Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brendan Shanahan spoke for only 21 minutes Monday afternoon, one day after he took a pressure washer to the team’s front office, but kicked every crutch out from underneath his organization and dispelled almost every myth under which it has operated for years.
It’s great when you have the support of the board of directors to do and say what Shanahan has done and said over the past couple of days, but it was refreshing nonetheless. Shanahan made it absolutely clear, with no grounds for any reasonable doubt, that the rebuild is on in Toronto. Nobody has ever had that kind of latitude before and Shanahan plans to use it.
“Sometimes people here try to suggest that the reason why this can’t be done is that the fans of Toronto don’t have the stomach to endure what truly needs to be done,” Shanahan said. “I don’t believe that. I think they’re dying for it to be done. Some people blame (the media). I think that’s a cop-out as well. I think it’s on us to have the determination to stick with the plan and do this the right way.”
So there you have it. Can we now put to bed, hopefully for eternity, that there are unique challenges to playing and performing “in this market”? (I swear if I never hear those words again it won’t be long enough.) Truth is, there are no more unique challenges to playing hockey in Toronto than there are to playing sports in a lot of other major cities in North America and the world. Good on Shanahan for finally being the one to put that notion out to pasture.
It will now be time to put some players out to new pastures, and for most of them who get moved, they will be greener ones. When the Maple Leafs broke up an hour or so before Shanahan spoke, they all, to a man said they want to come back. Dion Phaneuf wants to be back. Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, Jonathan Bernier – all say they’d be happy and proud to wear the blue and white again.
Phaneuf has six years remaining at $7 million a season remaining on his deal, but there’s little reason to suggest he’ll become the first man since George Armstrong to retire as captain of the Maple Leafs. He has a limited no-trade clause that allows him to submit a number of teams each season to which he’d agree to a trade. “I signed here to be a Toronto Maple Leaf,” Phaneuf said. “But that can change. I understand the business.”
But if Shanahan’s words have any validity to them whatsoever, that will not happen. That cannot happen. Without naming names, Shanahan called out his team’s leadership group when he said things such as, “We need to have a team with greater character,” and “I haven’t been satisfied with (the level of character). They have to all look in the mirror and probably agree as a group it didn’t get done,” and then the doozy:
“I don’t think what (fans) can understand is people who go out and give half efforts and don’t appear to enjoy playing here. You have to give the effort and at least show happiness in being a Toronto Maple Leaf, and the enthusiasm. Even if the record is the same record, I think that we just have to be able to play differently and approach this game differently in this city. And I think that’s what had most people so upset this year.”
So that takes us to the roster. Well, did Kessel give a full effort every game and appear to show happiness being a Toronto Maple Leaf? Did Phaneuf, who was a major player in the decision to blow off the fans by not saluting them, appear to enjoy playing here? Did Joffrey Lupul, van Riemsdyk and Jonathan Bernier embody the kind of spirit Shanahan is talking about?
All of which brings us to the future of this organization, which in the short term, is bleak. The Leafs face a massive rebuild, one that has to go deep and dramatic. As Shanahan pointed out, this will be done the right way and sometimes the right way takes a long time. He will have to hire a GM and coach and give them the job security they need to execute that rebuild, even when the Leafs go on a 10-game losing streak and the fandom is calling for their heads.
“The challenge in Toronto is not to come up with the plan,” Shanahan said. “The problem in Toronto is to be able to stick to it.”
They need someone who has been through it, which is why Los Angeles Kings assistant GM Mike Futa makes more and more sense as a serious candidate. One source said yesterday he believes the Leafs will reach out to the Kings to speak with Futa, who has three years left on his deal with the Kings. There are some obstacles to him coming to Toronto, but nothing that can’t be overcome.
The Leafs do have some merit in their on-ice talent and do have some capable people in their front office. (Although, it would be interesting to get a list of the people who are currently being paid by this organization to not work here. It would probably make your head spin.) Nobody doubts the credentials of Kyle Dubas and Mark Hunter and their input will be key. But Dubas has nowhere near the experience it requires and Hunter is missing a key piece of what it takes to build a team at the NHL. His experience is with the London Knights, an organization that has had every advantage in getting players it has ever wanted. Right around the same time, Futa was building the Owen Sound Attack into a contender, despite having players go to the Knights who would not even give the Attack the time of day.
And, most importantly, Futa fits exactly what Shanahan is seeking. He has been a major contributor to a team that was in disarray and built into a Stanley Cup champion, a template for the rest of the league and a powerhouse (this season notwithstanding) in the Western Conference.
Shanahan has so far fired two coaches, six assistant coaches a media relations staff and a whack of scouts. When it came to players, it was lesser light Peter Holland who had the most insight into what to expect next season when he said, “You can only shoot so many generals before some soldiers have to go.”