On Brendan Shanahan’s tight ship and Dave Nonis’ future as Maple Leafs GM

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Photo Credit: Jerry Lai/USA TODAY Sports

As another wasted and difficult to watch Toronto Maple Leafs season stumbles zombie-like towards the finish line, general manager Dave Nonis’ job security remains something of an elephant in the room. 

Will the veteran executive be back with the club next season? It’s impossible to know and there isn’t much in the way of confident reports or credible rumblings out in the ether to help guide us. What’s left is expectations, conjecture and tea leaves, and perhaps that’s by design.

In his weekly column on Sunday, Ottawa Sun columnist Bruce Garrioch shared his belief that Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan will do what many expected he would last spring, and clean house. On the topic of whether that forthcoming spring cleaning effort will include replacing Nonis though, Garricoh is agnostic:

Expect the Maple Leafs to make sweeping changes. The belief is the time has come for Brendan Shanahan to put his stamp on the organization after only changing the assistant coaches and assistant GMs last year. Interim coach Peter Horachek hasn’t gotten the job done and the jury is out on whether GM Dave Nonis returns.

That Horachek is likely on his way out after this season is a surprise to precisely no one, considering the club’s atrocious record since he replaced Randy Carlyle in early January. Nonis’ status is a bit harder to figure out, as Garrioch admits, but surely no changes can count as ‘sweeping’ so long as the architect of the club’s misguided, calamitous summer of 2013 remains.

While Garrioch waits for his jury, there are those in the Toronto market who are reading signs and suggesting – quite convincingly, I might add – that the club’s underlying posture is hinting at Nonis remaining in place as the general manager of the Maple Leafs.

“All indications are that Dave Nonis is going to stick around,” explained TSN’s Darren Dreger during an appearance TSN 1050 on Wednesday. “They’re going through the planning meetings as they would coming to the conclusion of any regular season. They’re looking at coverage for the under-18s, they’re looking at the draft… 

“Those meetings are under way, they’re continuing, Shanahan is actively involved in that with Dave Nonis. That doesn’t sound to me like a relationship that is about to severed.”

No, it really doesn’t.

It’s also difficult to argue with the reasoning in this column addressing the issue from the Toronto Sun’s Mike Zeisberger:

If Nonis was on the chopping block, critics have wondered why he would be allowed to architect the trade deadline deals last month that are seen as being key to the rebuild of the Leafs franchise?

And if Nonis’ days were numbered with the organization, why would he reportedly be part of the organization’s strategy sessions that have also included team president Brendan Shanahan and other management types?

Until a formal announcement is made, nothing is etched in stone when it comes to a Maple Leafs organization that seems to produce more sidebars — and side shows — than any other franchise in the league. Still, at least looking at the entire situation as a whole, there certainly are enough signals to allow observers to conclude that the Leafs are leaning toward bringing back Nonis to run the show one more time.

Another potentially relevant data point is that Nonis was out scouting a playoff matchup between the Erie Otters and the Sarnia Sting this week. So as far as anybody can tell Nonis remains intimately involved in shaping and informing the club’s direction in some capacity.

That’s worth something, but we’d do well to remember that things can change in a hurry in this industry. Perhaps the signs that Dreger and Zeisberger are interpreting are noise rather than signal. Maybe Nonis will still be treated to the old ‘Colangelo shuffle’ – in which he’s replaced as general manager but invited to remain with the club in some capacity – after all. 

With roughly 10 days remaining until Maple Leafs players clean out their locker room and one of Shanahan or Nonis (or possibly both, which would tell us everything we need to know) face the microphones and the accompanying music, the near radio silence on confident reporting about Nonis’ future is almost unnerving. 

Or it would be if it wasn’t consistent with Shanahan’s usual modus operandi. Think about it: when Shanahan was the NHL’s disciplinary Tsar how many times did the details of a particular Shanaban leak prior to the @NHLPlayerSafety account tweeting the news?

This general air of inscrutability has carried over into Shanahan’s Maple Leafs tenure too. The dearth of information in recent months has been almost jarring, frankly, in comparison with how Nonis and his predecessor Brian Burke conducted business in Toronto. 

In March, no reporters got anything close to a sniff of the Nathan Horton for David Clarkson deal before it was officially announced. It took hours after the passing of the trade deadline for anyone to get the details of the Korbinian Holzer trade.

Compare that to the play-by-play we were treated to in the wake of the aborted Roberto Luongo for Ben Scrivens deal at the 2013 trade deadline…

In recent years Shanahan has proven in a variety of executive roles that he runs a remarkably tight ship, and we would do well to remember it and be wary of reading too much into anything regarding his offseason plans. We’ll know what’s next for the Maple Leafs when he wants us too. 

  • CMpuck

    Honestly I couldn’t be happier with whats happened since shanahan has been here, and i trust him to make this team great a few years down the road. its gonna be a long time then, but I trust him to fix this.

  • Jeremy Ian

    Not sure we should even expect any news till it is all over. Shanahan would be mad to send out smoke signals. And journalists in Toronto who complain about the lack of news have only themselves to blame. Good for Shanahan. If you are paying Nonis at least use him. When the season is over then create your complete management team. For now, these are still early transition days.

  • Jeremy Ian

    No reason to cut Nonis. Just use him as the figure head and for his NHL contacts. He isn’t a dumb man and if everything gets approved by Shanahan prior to final decisions being made by him why cut him loose with 4 years remaining on his contract and no one fit to replace him?

    Sure the results on the ice haven’t been there since Shanahan took over but everything else has been positive.

    • Jeremy Ian

      Sadly Skill I’m convinced that Shanahan is in the same position of another great winner, hall of famer Ken Dryden was doing Shanahan’s job. Oh sure he was paid big bucks he was a figure head with no authority as it truly appears the M.L.S.E. board will never give up their desire to interfer with daily hockey operatins on the ice.

      Nonis obviously has buddies on that board and that is why he got the contract extension. It is just the way the leafs are run and we all know how successful that has been the last decade.

      • TGT23

        I might agree with you if not for my unwillingness to allow myself to give Nonis credit.

        If they are still in control then they get credit for trading Clarkson, signing high ceiling college/international players, getting solid value for rental players…

        I am just unwilling to give them that credit. Not the old boys club.

        And considering a lot of them don’t know what an analytic is and prescribe to the thinking that once led the organization to trading Jason Smith for nothing because they didn’t like the way he skated (Jason Smith, future 1000 game playing captain of the Oilers), trade Tuuka Rask, sign Clarkson for his “grit” and “intangibles”, get Bolland for the same reasons… I don’t really want to give them any credit… For anything
        ..

        So, I believe Hunter, Shanny, and Dubas ARE the heads of this. They were brought in AFTER the roster was set and are now in control of ripping it down and rebuilding it. It is the only thing that makes sense to me.

        Also, I think Shanny is too proud to be a figure head. He’d have to have control.

        • glgbill

          I sure hope you are right T.G. I think most of us thought Dryden would have the power but he wasn’t able to do anything in his tenure. But then again he showed his true colours as a politician. Maybe despite being a Toronto guy. The lawyer and political side of him just over whelmed and he took the money and ran.

  • TGT23

    I would suggest to you that ownership of the relatively successful teams, you know clubs that make the playoffs 6 or 7 years in a decade would likely be in the 75% plus range of firing Nonis. But this is the leafs and well things are different as we know over the past 48 years.

    I mean it does appear that Hunter and the whiz kid assistant G.M. are doing a fair amount of scouting but the architects of disaster over the scouting over the past 10 years are still there with Nonis huddling away on who they think the leafs should draft. Obviously their input will be considered.

    Oh sure it appears the first pick is an almost can’t miss prospect. But let us remember that unless the leafs make a deal at the draft they do not have a second round draft pick. The third round pick will be around the 54th pick. That being the case the leafs scouting staff and management just has to start having a much better tract record of selecting players 50 plus in the draft selection.

    The fact that this scouting staff and Nonis has a good chance of sticking around really suggests that the M.L.S.E. board still have their oh so long sticky fingers in the actual selection of the coaches, G.M., scouts, and players.

    You have to understand that the old boys net work has been around for decades and these guys are loyal to each other. No doubt the leaf board which most of the guys would be in their sixties obviously are chummy with with certain Guys. Morrison, Fletcher, Watt Etc. How loyal, well 80 plus Cliff Fletcher is still giving fatherly advice. Who could forget his giving up two draft picks to be able to move up to the 5th pick and thus select an 18 year old pylon in Luke Schenn.

    Nobody is better at window dressing than the leafs it is time that the ownership actually starts putting something in the window for the public to buy.

  • glgbill

    Here’s an angle that doesn’t get much play…

    Nonis wasn’t behind the misguided decisions of 2013 and 2014, he was simply instructed to execute them. By Tim Leiweke. Ego Man arrived with great bluster and fanfare, announced his impatience, and charted the course. Nonis is no idiot and he saw what happened to Colangelo. So he pursued Leiweke’s vision.

    No idea, of course. But if this is closer to the truth than any of us know, you can bet the right people inside are aware, including Shanahan.