Leafs Completely Justified in Firing Pretty Much Everyone

It’s not often that you see a team fire essentially half of its front office and coaching staff in one fell swoop, but then again, it’s not often you see a professional hockey team as bad as the Leafs.

As has been expected for a while now, the hammer came down this morning. The Toronto Maple Leafs have fired general manager Dave Nonis, coaches Peter Horachek, Steve Spott and Chris Dennis, and goaltending coach Rick St. Croix. 

And also Director of Pro Scouting Steve Kasper and Director of Player Development Jim Hughes.

Steve Staios was one of the few non-Brendan Shanahan hires to survive the personnel changes, while Mark Hunter and Kyle Dubas will handle all interim GM duties. 

For most, this is a positive change. For some, the wrong people were blamed.

Ok, deep breaths, people. Let’s break this down. More after the jump…

It’s fair to say that Leafs players underperformed this season, perhaps none more so than Phil Kessel. 

Kessel was 6th in NHL scoring last season and dropped to 47th this year with 61 points in 82 games. He’s a supremely talented player who didn’t live up to lofty expectations. That’s ok. That happens.

The rest of the core wasn’t much better. Dion Phaneuf endured probably his worst season ever, both offensively and defensively. Joffrey Lupul barely played, and wasn’t effective when he did. Tyler Bozak is, well, Tyler Bozak

Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner, James van Riemsdyk… All good, young players, but none of them really took any significant steps forward in their development.

The goaltenders, Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer, could barely be called average. It’s hard to imagine that both are in the Leafs’ long term plans, but it’s hard to tell right now if either of them deserve to stick around.

Simmons has a point that many members of Toronto’s management and coaching staff were let down by the players mentioned above. 

But, Simmons forgets to mention though that these were the men who built this team, trusted these players, signed them to expensive contracts and handcuffed the organization.

Let us please acknowledge the fact that Nonis had a large hand in assembling this core and signing them to significant, long-term deals. You can argue until you’re blue in the face as to whether or not Kessel and Phaneuf are worth their contracts, but at the end of the day, Nonis believed in them. 

The most glaring mistake Nonis made was likely signing David Clarkson to an insanely rich, insanely long, and insanely dangerous contract. It was a miracle that Columbus not only found themselves in a worse position with Nathan Horton’s uninsured contract, but that they recognized a way out of it, and essentially handed the Leafs a Get Out Of Cap Hell card. 

If you want to feel sorry for the second biggest fish to get friend today, Peter Horachek, I can get behind that.

Horachek had a solid resume coming from Nashville (and briefly Florida), and Leafs fans were largely happy to have him. But when Carlyle was fired and Shanahan decided to take the organization in a new, brighter direction, Horachek was put in a very uncomfortable and thankless position.

Horachek became the interim head coach of a team that seemed unable to play responsible hockey. Not only that, but the few players who did provide the team with some spark this season – Cody Franson, Mike Santorelli and Daniel Winnik – were traded away. Furthermore, Roman Polak and Stephane Robidas were both shut down for the season early. While neither of them were world beaters in any sense, Horachek could have certainly used them.

That being said, we need to acknowledge the fact that there were still some talented pieces left on the Leafs roster, and Horachek and Co. seemed unable to grab their attention and point them in the right direction. Horachek was always going to be fired, but before he was this morning, he didn’t do a whole hell of a lot to leave a lasting impression.

Nonis. Carlyle. Poulin. Loiselle. Farrish. Cronin. Gordon. Spott. Horachek. St. Croix. 

All good people who built a terrible hockey team, and were fired accordingly.

And to the apologists, don’t worry. The players will answer for their roles in this soon enough.

  • Benjamin

    Great news for the future. Only thing I’d add is I feel bad for Spott.

    He has a great 1st year as a pro coach with the Marlies, immediately gets thrown into the fire as Carlyle’s lame duck assistant, and is tossed aside after everything goes belly up.

    Now I know Spott didn’t run a good powerplay or whatever. But ffs this was just his second year out of the OHL. Bit harsh.

    • silentbob

      I think both Horachek and Spott will be fine. Horachek should find an assistant coaching job with an NHL team and Spott will be back in the OHL as a Head Coach next year.
      I just hope that they hire a new GM before replacing any members of the coaching staff.

  • STAN

    I must say, I’m impressed with Shanahan’s decisiveness. I thought he’d dither.

    Still a long, long way to go, but this seems like the sensible thing to do. mean, it’s only money (buying out Nonis’ final 36-months). After all, Nonis has already cost the Leafs more than $50M in boneheaded mistakes.

    So this was Shanahan’s ‘Etch’a’Sketch’ moment. Shake, clean the slate and start again.

    Now, (as I have boldly predicted on these pages several times) Nonis and family will be looking for a lovely place in Calgary, as Teliving hires Nonis as an assistant/consultant/VP of something.

    He may be GM, but I’m sure he was told by Burke that as a condition of his employment, when Nonis was sacked for his utter incompetence in Toronto, he’d have a soft gig with the Flames.

    As a long-time Calgarian, may I recommend Mount Royal or the Kensington area.

  • Jeremy Ian

    Right moves. There are important decisions ahead, and the new team has to make them. The old team would be too vested in their earlier decisions.

    Simmons is a moron. If players can “let down” their managers, doesn’t that say something about failed management?

  • Jeremy Ian

    Some people would say lock the doors of the dressing room and keep guys like Steve Simmons out. I say NO! Let Steve Simmons come into the dressing room….then quietly sneak over and lock the door…

  • Jeremy Ian

    Ontario must have lost a couple of trees with all the pink slips flying about. Justin could you confirm whether the old boys club of scouts, Morrison, Penney, Watt etc. also got rightfully FIREDDDDDDDDDDD.

  • Jeremy Ian

    Kessel. Van Riemadyk. Phaneuf. Lupul. Kadri. Gardiner. All good men let down by a management group that believed paying millions to watch Clarkson, Bolland. Komarov and zrobjdas decompose would take the team forward, and that recapturing “the magic” of 2013 meant overpaying for the fourth line to come back after they du ped the 2nd line for nothing

  • Jeremy Ian

    To answer my own question, apparently the vast majority of the scouts were also given the heave ho out the door.

    Make no mistake that the head honchos of M.L.S.E. are squirming big time. The reason being that for the first time the invincible leaf money boat began to take on water. Oh sure gazillions still went into the loomis trucks after a game. But that Loomis truck wasn’t filled to the brim like in the good old days. No one will know how much M.L.S.E. bled after January lst as hundreds of thousands of leaf fans reinacted the infamous movie scene from Network where the late Peter Finch sticks his head out the window and states I’M MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE.

    M.L.S.E. took it on the chin in reduce sales in all the incredulous list of merchandise offer, obviously the electronic market suffered and although the building was basically sold out those missing bodies were not buying the over priced ice cubes that M.L.S.E. sells.

    Thus the formula of lets clean the ship.

    Hopefully it will work.

    Probably the most shocking aspect of so much of the rot in leaf management is that a lot of them had been there for years. Competence didn’t matter as long as the gravy train was flying full speed ahead.

    Amazing how a little lost revenue even gets the attention of the squirming M.L.S.E. board.

    • TGT23

      I agree!!

      And am also very confused….

      You seem to hate the old boys club… A club who notoriously made decisions like “Jason Smith skates funny” and “We need an established NHL goalie, Tuuka for Raycroft?” and “big and strong and truckulance is always better. Spend a 1st on Gauthier and sign Orr/McLaren to two year deals”…

      Which makes sense. The old boys club way of thinking is obsolete. The vaunted eye test has been proven time and time again to be flawed. Biased by preconception and can lead teams to disaster if not properly supported with other tools.

      But if I went into another thread, any other tread, you’d also be shredding, insulting, and belittling the younger analytics community who would have the team use tools other than the eye test to support the decision making process. Believing that more information is the key to making am informed decision.

      So… In your opinion… How does one properly scout and evaluate talent if not by using what they see or what the stats tell them?

  • silentbob

    management and coaching put together a very flawed team that, even during their one playoff apparence in 6 seasons, never looked like a team that could be considered a legitimate cup contender, while also committing a lot of money for a long time to that team.

    However very few people thought this team was as bad as they were in the second half of the season, and the core of this team absolutely let the management, coaches and fans down.

    This overhaul should surprise no one and is for the best. Let’s hope over the next few months the roster gets a similar “gutting”