In his job running the NHL’s department of player safety, Brendan Shanahan often had to make quick decisions. He would hold a hearing, make a ruling and shoot a video explaining a suspension all sometimes in a matter of hours.
Tasked in his new role as Toronto Maple Leafs president with fixing what ails a team that lost 12 of its final 14 games to miss the playoffs, Shanahan feels plenty of internal pressure to make some changes.
But he knows it won’t be an easy or fast process.
“I’m realistic that you can’t do everything overnight, that there are 29 other teams that are trying to accomplish the same goal and also covet good players,” Shanahan said in a phone interview Wednesday. “No one’s going to lay down for us because we’re the Toronto Maple Leafs and give us their assets.”
Shanahan, who took his time before deciding along with general manager Dave Nonis to extend coach Randy Carlyle for two more seasons and fire assistants Scott Gordon, Greg Cronin and Dave Farrish, seems willing to take a patient approach in remaking the roster to suit his style.
One month into this new challenge, the 45-year-old insisted it’s too early to even know how much change the Leafs need.
“You want to be ready to come out of the gates, we all know how important each game is, but I would say with most teams the team that starts a season isn’t necessarily the same team that ends a season,” Shanahan said. “For me, timing is less an issue as is the quality of the decisions. I don’t feel and I’m not getting any pressure from anyone in the organization saying this team has to look like this by this date.”
There may not be a firm deadline for major or minor changes to player personnel, but there are certainly mile-markers along the way.
Sometime in the near future the Leafs must replace the three fired assistant coaches, which will happen with input from Shanahan, Nonis and Carlyle. Then the draft and free agency provide the first real chances to reshape the team.
Shanahan will lean on the scouting staff as far as the drafting goes, but he won’t shy away from sharing his opinion. When it comes to making trades and signing free agents, he’ll begin the true process of moulding the Leafs in his image.
Given the talk about culture change and a lack of an identity from Maple Leaf Sports&Entertainment president Tim Leiweke on the day Shanahan was introduced and reports that captain Dion Phaneuf, defenceman Jake Gardiner and centre Nazem Kadri are the subject of trade talks, some significant moves should probably be expected.
Nonis is fond of saying even as he signs players to long-term deals that none of them include full no-trade clauses. Shanahan believes that gives the Leafs roster flexibility to make changes.
“I would agree with Dave’s assessment,” he said. “Absolutely.”
Shanahan wasn’t showing his hand on how quickly he might want to make moves, cautioning that he doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all theory on how to conduct business.
“I’m confident in my ability to make informed decisions when I think they’re right not on any timetable,” he said. “Basically we could be making decisions that would appear that we’re being hasty, but if the right decision is there and it’s there right now, we’ll make it. And if I feel that the strong decision and the strong move is to sit back and wait, then I’ll do that as well.”
In the short-term, there’s keen interest in what Shanahan does with a team that made the playoffs in the lockout-shortened 2013 season and fell short in 2013-14 following a memorable collapse. But beyond hinting that in-season changes could also be coming, he intends to look elsewhere in the organization for big-picture alterations.
“I know that what’s probably most interesting to fans and to people around the league are coaching decisions and player-personnel decisions,” Shanahan said. “But also I think it’s equally as important to devote time to your player-development staff, your scouting staff—just the entire guts and foundation of what makes a strong organization.”
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