For months on end, people have approached Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan everywhere he went with advice about his team, and although everyone says it to him in their own special way, they’ve all said the same thing:
You’ve got to do something, Shanny. We can’t take it any more. For Salming’s sake, do something. Do anything.
And in approximately 11 months on the job, Shanahan has done something. Rather than just coming in and firing everyone on the payroll, he evaluated the situation at length. He could’ve just thrown bodies overboard, as if he were in a pro wrestling battle royal and not selecting crew members for a deep and lonely submarine journey. And as part of that process, he’s fired his head coach and has almost completely revamped Toronto’s front office. He’s presided over a process that has shipped out former Leafs Cody Franson, Mike Santorelli, David Clarkson and Daniel Winnik. And, most importantly, he’s got team ownership on board with a long-term, basement-to-chimney rebuilding program that has never been seen in modern franchise history.
But still, he hears it from the You Gotta Do Somethings and the That Don’t Impress Me Muchers.
It’s about culture change in the dressing room, Shanny. It’s about making the players accountable. What you’ve done is a start, but c’mon, do something about that. And hurry up, already.
On Wednesday morning, Shanahan spoke to reporters after doing something about that – namely, sitting out center Nazem Kadri for at least the next two games (after he already had been scratched for Monday’s tilt against the Isles for being late for a team meeting). Shanahan was frank when he said Kadri had a “history” behind this latest incident that caused management to act as it did:
In essence, Shanahan, GM Dave Nonis and the organization were sending a shot across the bow not only of Kadri – whom Shanahan stressed remains a big part of the team’s future – but of the entire Leafs roster. We don't know the specifics of his troubles, but we do know the Leafs have grown impatient with Kadri's progress away from the ice, and they've decided he no longer deserves the luxury of having all his dirty laundry cleaned behind the scenes.
Here is your culture change, Shanahan said Wednesday morning. This is what setting expectations for players looks like.
And do you know what happened after Shanahan did that? Those same complainers who were wearing their You Gotta Do Something t-shirts peeled them off and revealed they were wearing another shirt underneath it that said, “Maybe You Should’ve Kept This In-House” and "Why Didn't You Do This To Phil Kessel?".
Do you see why management in this city eventually blocks out everyone but those in whom they trust? You can’t win with a lot of people, especially if they’ve been embittered by the nearly five full decades of losing that have hung in the air over Toronto like an atomic stink bomb. Nothing will ever be quite good enough. The changes won't come fast enough. The names traded won't be big enough. And if change comes fast and the names involve are big in the off-season, the problem with Shanahan will suddenly be he was too rash and should've held on to the current core.
This isn't about Shanahan and Leafs management scapegoating Kadri. If Shanahan wanted to throw anyone under the bus, he could've picked a number of other players and avoided this scenario with Kadri, but he tackled head-on what he perceives to be a serious problem. This doesn't spell the end of Kadri's time with the Maple Leafs, but there are no guarantees in the Shanahan Era. Kadri can stay, grow, and be part of the solution, or he can refuse to meet management's expectations and be moved out of town this summer or sometime next season.
As Shanahan showed with Carlyle, he's willing to give people a second shot. But in suspending Kadri, he delivered an unmistakeable message: the players ultimately aren't going to call the shots in Toronto anymore.