The Toronto Maple Leafs are set to unveil a shiny new toy to their fans on Monday morning. Sure they went 3-13-0 in their last 16 games of the season and dropped from 9th overall to 23rd overall in the NHL standings (an absolutely impressive feat), but here is a Hall of Fame player who won three Stanley Cups in his playing days. Forget about three straight horrific finishes in a row, or about the perilous cap situation the Leafs find themselves in. Rejoice, the saviour has arrived. Brendan Shanahan will become the new President and Alternate Governor of the blue and white. Basically, Shanahan is now the main man. He is now what Brian Burke was prior to his dismissal in January of 2013. Decisions only gets made with his approval.
Sarcasm aside, I’m actually not as down on this move as I originally was. Sure, Shanahan lacks experience. However, he has been involved directly with the game the past few years as he was the Head of Discipline for the NHL. The key for me is a point that Bob McKenzie made Friday night on TSN Radio: experience or not, the most important thing is hiring smart people. A smart person will surround himself with other intelligent people who are strong in the areas that the President is weak in. All signs point to Shanahan being this man. I’m happy with an individual capable of bringing the Leafs into the modern day without his head stuck in the past. I’ve had enough of listening to Dave Poulin and Claude Loiselle bring up what it was like when they played in the NHL as comprables to the current game. Like it or not, the game has changed. I’m sorry if that is something that you cannot accept. The days of the way the Leafs are doing things (one dimensional enforcers, slow defensive defenseman and overpaying for third line character players) is a thing of the past.
On the plus side, Shanahan identified the way the NHL was stuck in the past under Colin Campbell and revolutionized the way discipline was handed out. Shanahan brought that department into the modern age. He established transparency and surrounded himself with bright forward thinking individuals. As an angry and frustrated Leaf fan, this is really all I could ask for. I am curious to see how he will go about transforming the Leafs.
In the spirit of starting off the Shanahan era with a blank slate and giving him the benefit of the doubt, here are a few things I think he needs to do immediately in order to get his regime off to a great start:
It begins with Randy Carlyle. I believe Carlyle will not last the month with the Leafs. However, I think Shanahan needs to wipe the table clean and dismiss all of Dave Nonis, Dave Poulin, Claude Loiselle and Steve Kasper as well. These four men have all been members of the Leafs organization for over 5 years and the team that has disappointed is one assembled by them. The removal of Burke doesn’t absolve them of the current deficiencies.
The reality to me is, these are not Shanahan’s men either. Whether they are competent or not (and all the evidence points to them being out of touch with today’s game) Shanahan, like all new executives, wants his own men doing the heavy lifting. Shanahan’s reputation is on the line here and I think there is no way he lets it be determined by people he didn’t hire. Finally, he must do so quickly. There is absolutely no reason to waste time here. Start the new era off as soon as possible. Why waste time determining if these are people you want to keep in the most important departments of your hockey club? It doesn’t make any sense. The time has arrived for the Leafs to stop working backwards. They’ve twice hired General Managers who have absorbed coaches and have now hired a President who is absorbing a management group. It doesn’t work. Clean house, and do it now.
The next step after that is bringing in a progressive thinking group. Shanahan needs to find a coach that is aware that the current game relies on puck movement, possession and speed. Personally, I think toughness is still a big part of the game, but it needs to be accompanied by skill, defensive awareness and skating. Can’t have immobile guys on the team just because they’re tough. They won’t catch anyone to exhibit their toughness. Hiring a coach willing to play a full lineup and one that is willing to trust youth will be a refreshing change. Hopefully Shanahan feels the same way.
This forward thinking group also needs to walk away from Dave Bolland and his outrageous contract demands. Bolland is exactly what has plagued this organization and prevented them from moving forward: Toronto boy, who won Cups in the past and a player that the media loves. What he is in reality though, is an offensively limited centre who lacks foot speed (and that was before he suffered a severed tendon in his foot). I like Bolland a lot, but I don’t think he is a player the Leafs can afford to pay anything over $3.5 million for this summer. Conversely, Paul Stasnty is a UFA this summer and he is everything that people label Bolland as. Stastny is capable in all three zones and is a great fit for the Leafs’ top line. His defensive conscious will benefit Kessel and JVR and his offensive skill is on par with those two guys. Something the Leafs haven’t had since Kessel arrived here. He will be expensive, but he’s actually worth the money. If Shanahan begins to value competence and ability over sentimentality then he has a supporter in me.
The unveiling takes place on Monday. While the public relations part of the appointment is something that will immediately be a factor (primarily because it will shift the focus from the awful on-ice product to hope for the future), the necessary results won’t be seen until the playoffs have concluded. Shanahan has enough time to assess the organization and begin putting his fingerprints on this organization beginning with the draft in late June. I’m optimistic that Shanahan will be able to get the job done. Let’s hope he turns the page on the past fast and brings this team towards the future that so many of us long for.