The Surprising Summer Continues

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August 19, 2014 5:56 pm

I missed you and I hope some of you missed me. There is no time for that, though. It’s been a long time, and there is a lot of stuff to get into, so let’s get on with it. Last summer I wrote an article about the Leafs odd decisions. I was motivated to finally question what was going on once Dave Nonis was handed a 5 year extension after what was an admittedly 15 minute conversation between himself and Tim Leiweke. The Nonis extension was the cherry on top of an off-season that saw the Leafs buyout Mikhail Grabovski, lock up David Clarkson and Tyler Bozak to long-term deals, draft a projected third line shut-down centre in the first round, re-sign their two enforcers to multi-year contracts & acquire another goaltender instead of focusing on their major weaknesses at centre ice and on the blueline. The subsequent 2013-14 season was an absolute torturous one to watch. Even when successful, the Leafs were the second best team on the ice. There was a major problem with the blue and white and the men in charge were convinced that everything was going according to plan.

The main criticisms that I had with the Leafs had nothing to do with the people on the ice, but with the people building this team. The problems were glaringly obvious, yet executives like Dave Poulin, Claude Loiselle and Dave Nonis himself would insist the Leafs were hard done by due to injuries, suspensions, cameras in the dressing room, excitement over the Winter Classic and any other worthless excuse one could think of. The brain trust’s unwillingness to move forward with the game being played on the ice was the most frustrating thing for myself. The NHL is said to be a copycat league, but the Leafs management group were more interested in copying teams that won in the late 80s and early 90s than ones that have been successful in the 21st century.

While last summer was strange in a bad way, this summer has been strange in a way that has returned a smile to this Leafs fans’ face. Before I go into why I like the moves the Leafs have made this summer, I’ll state that there is absolutely a chance that these moves can turn out to be disastrous. Nobody is claiming the Leafs are on their way to turning everything around. The optimism (for myself, at least) emerges from the fact that the Leafs have hired forward thinking, progressive individuals to their organization. That’s all I wanted. Bring in a guy who looks at things differently and challenges the old boys club mentality. Nonis, Poulin, Loiselle and Steve Kasper (the Leafs’s Director of Pro Scouting) have been here making and influencing decisions since 2009. When Nonis was named General Manager (20 months ago) he said the team would continue along the same path it had been heading down for the previous 48 months. I think that path had run its course.

Change of Direction

Replacing Loiselle and Poulin with Kyle Dubas, Brandon Pridham, Cam Charron, Daryl Metcalf and Rob Pettapiece the Leafs have dramatically changed the way they do business. Yes, Nonis is still the GM. However, all final decisions are made by Brandan Shanahan and Nonis’ way of thinking no longer has the votes at the table to make things happen. I don’t know much about Pridham. What I do know though is that he was instrumental while working for the league when it came to CBA issues. He is in charge of contracts and the cap for the Leafs. Time will tell if he is capable of that or not. There could be nobody worse than the departed Loiselle.

As for Dubas, he is the epitome of what some wanted (myself included) in the Leafs front office. When Dubas speaks I don’t cringe. He is an articulate individual who thinks the game in a way that is different than the run of the mill. Again, the time to judge Dubas will be after he has been around and created change in the team. At first blush though, he is someone that makes me feel confident that the team I love is headed in the right direction. Here are a few Dubas interviews from The Macko and Cauz show on TSN 1050 (May 6th and June 24th) . These interviews were prior to him being hired by the Leafs. His ideas are like a fresh breeze on a stagnant day. There is a reason Dubas was so highly recommended to Shanahan and why it was a move that so many praised the Leafs for making.

Charron and Metcalf are two people whose work I respect greatly. Charron was, for my money, the most insightful and accurate writer on the Leafs the past two years. His ideas were always well thought out and well written. I am a more well rounded hockey fan today because of Cam. Whether you agreed with his premise or not, he proved it every single time he published an article. Dispute his ideas if you choose, but he always presented them in a way that demonstrated logic and dedication. I’m happy for him on a personal level and look forward to him being involved with the Leafs.

That kind of springboards into Metcalf (the man behind ExtraSkater.com). His website was the bible for so many hockey fans that I interacted with on a daily basis. It was a site that I visited multiple times a day and it is something that I am sorely going to miss. When Dubas was hired he was laughing about how difficult it was to track statistics with such a low budget in Sault Ste. Marie. Dubas said that he was looking forward to using the vast resources of MLSE. I think the hiring of Metcalf is the first of many steps for Dubas in that direction. 

As complimentary as I’ve been towards the Leafs in this article, I will once again say that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to turn this thing around. The Leafs still have major cap anchors in Clarkson and Bozak. If they aren’t the worst, they are among the worst in the centre ice position. The Leafs lack wingers scoring wingers beyond Phil Kessel, James Van Riemsdyk and the oft-injured Joffrey Lupul. As progressive as the front office hirings have been, the Leafs still employ an absolute dinosaur as their Head Coach and his impact will be bigger than the people pulling the strings behind him. While much heavy lifting is needed, I have finally begun to trust and believe in the men charged with that task. Hope is something that I have been accused of not having when it comes to the Toronto Maple Leafs lately. It has returned this summer.

This article was written by on Tuesday, August 19, 2014 at 5:56 pm. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
  • Zac

    Great article smoke, I have missed your articles. However, I have followed you on twitter, and it has been a much better off season than last years. I agree that this summer signings may not work out. I think the Leafs could make the playoffs with some puck luck and goaltending. Yet, they could also be a lottery team. We shall see. But I am with you. Shanahan has begun to turn this ship, to hopefully a better course of direction.

    • hope_smoke

      Thank you for the comment. Very nice to be back writing. Planning on having at least one more article up this week.

  • Welsh Leaf

    Yeah, good to have you back Hope!
    Someone on twitter mentioned that this coming season could be one for Nonis and Carlyle to be the sacrificial lambs.
    When the team doesn’t improve markedly (which I don’t think it will – we still lack the top end talent; Kessel, JvR, Lupul and Kadri aside) I think Shanahan will respond by firing Nonis and Carlyle to complete the cleaning out.
    And IF it does improve, he can argue the new methods are working and get rid of them, or at least keep bringing in his new people.
    All-in-all quite a satisfying summer as a Leaf fan after the Bolland bullet was dodged.

    • hope_smoke

      The clock is definitely ticking on Carlyle and Nonis. Even if they are competent (which I believe they aren’t) Shanahan, like all executives, wants his own guys in charge. I don’t think Carlyle makes it to December with the Leafs. Thanks for the comment.

  • simmsation

    Nice to have you back in the blog writing world and thanks for the article.
    The construction of the front office had to be optimized to support the new culture. The new culture that I see developing is one of optimized internal development. This is going to take years to unfold, but like you, I find this org chart being so much more aligned with that destination than the prior one. Good things.

    • hope_smoke

      I appreciate the kind words. Nice to be back. Being finally pointed in the right direction instead of having heads buried in the sand is a great step. Thanks for the comment.

  • PL

    What kind of on-ice changes to you think this new front office will do in the short and long term? Rebuilding from within, picking up dark horses? Seems like every year there’s only so many options out there.

    • hope_smoke

      I think the Winnick, Booth and Gardiner deals are all examples of what you can expect moving forward. I also think Tyler Bozak won’t be long for the blue and white. As I stated in the article, don’t expect success this year due to these moves. It takes time. Thanks for the comment.

  • Hammer22

    Nice article; I love your twitter work too. I hate to nitpick, but you might be using this name a lot this season: there’s no “n” in “Pridham”.

    • hope_smoke

      Ha, fixed. A mistake I won’t make again. I did say I didn’t know a lot about him. Thanks for the comment.

  • TP

    Great article – thanks!

  • Dom

    Couldn’t agree more. Great to see the Leafs waking up to the new reality of advanced stats..

    I am fairly new to checking sites like “Extra Skater” and understanding Corsi, Fenwick and all, but, in learning about these very focused and innovative stats, I have come to love this game more, not less.

    Here’s to the Leafs continuing their progressive ways for years to come!