The Toronto Maple Leafs season began with optimism, but ended up being crushed under the weight of new-age statistics that were against them the whole time. Even last season, proponents of hockey analytics feverishly pointed out shortcomings on the roster that weren’t immediately convincing as Toronto was one game away from knocking Boston out of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Today, no one believes this team isn’t broken and in need of new inspiration. There’s no one who doesn’t believe this team needs to adjust its hockey business practice by doing things such as being more open to modern ideas and treating the draft with greater delicacy.
And it seems the Maple Leafs franchise will get just that type of infusion in a high place. Damien Cox of the Toronto Star reports Brendan Shanahan will leave the NHL as early as Friday and join the Toronto, most likely as president.
"There has been much conjecture about what role the 45-year-old Shanahan would have, particularly after another ex-star, Trevor Linden, was named president of hockey operations of the Vancouver Canucks.
However, it’s believed Shanahan will have an even more senior role that will extend beyond over-seeing general manager Dave Nonis and the hockey department. Being named president, as opposed to president of hockey operations, would mean he would be involved in other business and league matters, such as the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Leafs."
Shanahan hasn’t worked in an NHL team front office, but he has worked as the NHL’s chief disciplinarian since 2011. He’s forged relationships in all corners of the league and carried over his reputation as a good teammate from his playing days to his office days.
Not just a good teammate, Shanahan has proven to be a great innovator open to new and controversial ideas through his involvement in creating a new standard of rules enforcement after the 2004-05 lockout that improved scoring, speed and skill. This “Shanahan Summit” spawned the competition committee that maintains guard over a decline into Dead Puck and overlooks a superior game.
If it’s true more moves are coming to Toronto’s front office this summer – whether it’s a change in coach and/or GM, or additions to supplement the front office – Shanahan appears a trained and proven choice. His resume suggests he is capable of building a managerial team that will bring a positive change in philosophy and personnel for a rich long-term payoff.
But he still needs to prove himself in a team office before a Leafs reform is as believable as those analytics have become. While Shanahan will arrive to many positive reviews, he’ll also naturally arrive with grand expectations.
Brian Burke came to Toronto in 2008, but had been in the team’s sight before that. He brought a loud, Cup-winning confidence to the Leafs and the city of Toronto and when he hired Dave Nonis as his assistant, the anticipation built further. But by the time Burke left, the Leafs couldn’t get rid of him fast enough and now Nonis can’t be 100 percent secure. Even with all that “umph” Toronto’s fortunes didn’t turn. These things can go sideways before you know it.
Or, they can go extremely well. Ken Dryden was Toronto’s president from 1997-2003 and oversaw a Golden Age, as far as Maple Leafs hockey is concerned. The team reached the conference final twice and were cut off by a suffocating New Jersey Devils team in two second round matches.
The Leafs need new ideas and a new way of doing business because despite all their resources, the franchise still seems to be playing from behind. They’re not known as a team that gets ahead of the curve or moves a step before anyone else and that perception of hopelessness needs to disappear. Just last month Tim Leiweke talked to the Toronto Sun about eliminating this culture of losing that has become expected and almost acceptable.
Shanahan is the start.
Leafs fans hope the Mimico boy will be the one to finish, finally.