On The Leafs And Brendan Shanahan


It looks like Tim Leiweke wasn’t kidding when he repeatedly stressed his preparation to take action in making the Toronto Maple Leafs a winner as fast as possible. Originally reported by Nik Kypreos and now confirmed by everybody else on the face of the planet, the Leafs have approached Brendan Shanahan for a high-rankings upper management role.

What Does This Mean?

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There are three positions that this could theoretically be for.

  • Team President
  • VP of Hockey Operations
  • General Manager

Of the three, I think that President makes the most sense. First and foremost, Shanahan isn’t in any way qualified to be a General Manager in the National Hockey League at this point. Lots of former players end up in that position, but still have to climb up the rankings. 

The last three to do so were Steve Yzerman, who had a VP role with Detroit and an Olympic GM appearance before “testing the market” and going to Tampa Bay as a GM. Garth Snow jumped in straight out of hockey, but at least had post-secondary background in administration and management. Even still, his tenure with the Islanders has been a mess. Marc Bergevin is the latest regular NHL player to make the leap, and he took no less than four different roles with the Chicago Blackhawks before the Habs hired him.

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VP of Hockey Operations is the next on the list. It’s the “sexy pick” for players new to upper management; Joe Sakic was a notable hire in this regard by the Colorado Avalanche last year, and Trevor Linden just accepted the same job in Vancouver. But to take this, Shanahan would have to replace Dave Poulin, who’s main public responsibilities are to manage the Toronto Marlies and talk to the media. Poulin is overseeing the AHL affiliate’s third consecutive division title, and he seems to have gained sufficient inspiration from Steve Jobs’ “reality distortion field”, becoming very good at saying the right things for the casual fan to hear to buy his organization time to improve things. That’s a positive to the team, and I can’t see any reason to scrap him.

So, President is the remaining job. What this would mean is that Shanahan would have the ability to fire Dave Nonis and Randy Carlyle if he saw fit and oversee their replacements. He’d have a say in some hockey decisions if he wanted to stick his neck in, and is basically there to be the boss of the bosses so Leiweke, who admits to not being amazingly hockey minded, doesn’t have to do it.

What Good Could Come Out Of It?

If Shanahan’s gig is the Team President one, I like the idea. It reminds me a lot of what Leiweke did while reshuffling the management structure of Toronto FC earlier this summer, hiring Tim Bezbatchenko as General Manager. In a league where the Salary Cap is so complicated that it makes the NHL’s look like Kindergarten math, Leiweke figured that the best person to hand a blank cheque to was the man who oversaw the rules for the league.

Bezbatchenko was the MLS’s Director of Player Relations and Competition, and also their untitled “capologist”. As such, TFC found a way for themselves to effectively own 5 designated players while only having 3 on the books, and squeeze every last penny out. They’re not quite an elite MLS team yet, but in just a few short months they’ve gone from bottom feeder to in the conversation.

Apply this to Shanahan. If there’s anybody who is going to understand the underbelly of the National Hockey League, it’s him. After all, Shanny is currently the league’s VP of Hockey and Business development, and the Director of Player Safety. He should have a firm grasp on what loopholes and caveats the league has in their rules. He should have ideas to execute in growing an individual team using unlimited resources at the off-ice level based on his role in growing the entire league. Plus, maybe he’ll know when to stay away from a player after having to watch him be involved in a handful of illegal plays every few months.

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Plus, he’s a former NHL player, a Hall of Famer at that. His Rolodex has to be overflowing, and Leiweke is huge on having a connection to everyone. 

Looking within MLSE again, this was the logic behind hiring Drake as the Global Ambassador for the Toronto Raptors. He recognized that Mr. Aubrey Graham of Forest Hill probably couldn’t offer much more than a fan in terms of basketball insight, but that the team had massive struggles in being considered a viable location by players and staff across the league. MLSE now has a guy who is friends with significant chunks of the league, and adds a cool factor to entice others to consider Toronto. It even worked beyond the Raps; TFC enlisted Drake in the recruitment processes for Gilberto and Jermain Defoe, and in convincing Dwayne De Rosario to return to the team.

Shanahan isn’t an entertainer that is going to make the Leafs cool (nor do they need him to be that), but he theoretically would have connections to staff that will strengthen the organization or at least be a helping hand.

This stuff also applies if it’s the VP of Hockey Operations position. If it’s the GM position, light this paragraph on fire.

What Do They Have To Lose?

Something that concerns me is this quote from Darren Dreger:

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The good news is, this leads you to believe he wouldn’t be coming as Nonis’ replacement, but his boss. Say what you want about Nonis, but in this regard, better the devil you know.

But, if he is coming in as the person the GM has to talk up towards, he needs to be imposing his grounds from the get go. The second you require the permission of the guy that you’re supposed to be controlling to proceed is the second that you become a figurehead. If that happens before we can even reach for the stop watch, then what’s the point? It’s just a distraction, another smoke and mirrors showing of “character” to shelter Leafs fans from the lack of result.

Speaking of character…

Shanahan, a Mimico, Ont. native, has held various executive roles with the League since retiring from hockey in 2009.

Mimico is a neighbourhood and former municipality located in the west end of the City of Toronto. (TSN)

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Okay, real talk for a second. How many of you even acknowledged the existence of Mimico this time last year? It’s a suburb of a suburb (Etobicoke) of a city (Toronto). For whatever reason, the Toronto Maple Leafs have decided that the fountain of courage, pride, and victory comes from this area that’s a couple of major intersections large. I can’t wait until the Leafs to give David Bolland eight more years, and I can’t wait for them to trade for Brendan and Reilly Smith to finish the collection.

I’m sick of Mimico, I’m sick of grit. I’m sick of characer. Of heart. Of soul. I want him in a position that isn’t over his head, but I want him to be doing stuff. I don’t want him to be scared of making a decision without the permission of somebody below him on the hierarchy. This can’t be about rhetoric anymore. Rhetoric is doing enough damage.

Whether the Leafs are chasing “Brendan Shanahan, man on a mission” or “Brendan Shanahan, cool name to hop on the radio and distract you.”

Either that, or have him do breakdowns of the mistakes the Leafs make on Youtube, like his suspension videos. That would be pretty sweet.

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  • The biggest pro of Nonis is his trades and the fact that he has not trade talented youths for veterans. I hope the president doesn’t force Nonis to trade youth (Kadri, Gardiner etc) in poor trades.

    The cons with Nonis aer he negotiates terrible UFA contracts, can’t reliably judge grit, character and skill, and doesn’t understand the team needs and weaknesses. I hope the president can remedy this.

    That is all.

  • Thanks for writing this article, when I heard the news on the radio today I wasn’t sure If I should laugh or start cheering. This clarifies it. Whether it’s a good/bad move or whatever remains to be seen but I’m starting to like this Tim Leiweke, more and more and what he’s doing for Toronto teams. The man certainly doesn’t sit on his hands waiting for change.

  • from what i saw at times is that the issue is how does a team continue to do the same mistakes repeatedly and until mid february looked capable of making a playoff spot, i think that the team is lacking in more than anything is a darcy tucker, brad marchant type of player, if they so decide they could can carlyle now maybe a more tempting ituation if they could get kevin dineen who i see returning soon to the nhl. they do have some young guys we all know about, i do not think that rielly or jake should be traded as they showed alot when playing together and according to reports get along well. for thinking that this does not count one thing that peverly and kelly said when coming to boston how well the players were friends and stuck up like they did for nathan horton.i believe that cheap shot horton in game 3 cost vancouver the cup boston destroyed them afterwards