It’s been just a year and a handful of days since Brendan Shanahan was introduced to a throng of media as the newest Toronto Maple Leafs President and Alternate Governor. He faced the same throng again on Monday afternoon, explaining why he fired practically half of his staff a day before.
One would think that, due to the Leafs being terrible and the need to fire several senior hockey executives, Shanahan probably had a pretty bad season himself.
Not true. It was beautiful.
For once in Toronto’s sad existence, someone had the foresight to say “this is crap” and “this crap is not working” and most importantly “this crap will not work ever.”
It was a refreshing change of pace for Leafs fans, and lead to three events executed by Shanahan over this past season that unapologetically pushed this organization in the right direction.
More past the jump…
Firing Randy Carlyle
If there was one perceived mistake that Shanahan made, it’s that he extended Carlyle and didn’t just fire him sooner. The truth, whether you like to believe it or not, is that these things do not happen overnight. The blogosphere may have been ready to move on from Carlyle ages ago, but it was the responsible thing for Shanahan to understand what he had before he decided where he wanted to go. If he wanted to take a half season to see things for himself, that was Shanahan’s prerogative.
Carlyle’s new contract meant absolutely nothing. At most, it represented some financial security for a veteran coach, but certainly didn’t offer any job security. A coach’s contract doesn’t count against the cap and, for a team like the Leafs, certainly doesn’t hurt their wallet. If you have a problem with the Leafs paying Carlyle a salary over the next couple years, you need to get over that.
An Excellent Trade Deadline
Smart teams get maximum value out of their expiring assets whenever possible. Sure, contending teams don’t unload upcoming free agents just before Cup runs – that’s understandable. But it’s the bad teams who recognize they are bad teams and turn their trade pieces into futures that turn things around the quickest.
Shanahan didn’t waste any time in maximizing his assets when it came to the trade deadline. In the past, we would have seen the Leafs stand pat, or maybe even try to add a piece or two in hopes of making a run and sneaking into the playoffs. Instead, the Leafs cleared contracts and created flexibility when they sent Carter Ashton and David Broll to the Tampa Bay Lightning, then shipped out pending free agents Mike Santorelli, Cody Franson, Daniel Winnik, Korbinian Holzer and Olli Jokinen for picks and prospects.
Sure, Toronto could have done more. They didn’t trade David Booth, so they might lose out on some value there (though, it couldn’t be that significant). They also didn’t trade Roman Polak, but you can imagine he’s a prime candidate to fetch you a pick or prospect at next year’s deadline. And no, they didn’t trade Dion Phaneuf or Phil Kessel or James van Riemsdyk or Joffrey Lupul or Tyler Bozak, but there will be plenty of opportunities to do so later.
I would be remiss to not mention the David Clarkson trade, which is obviously an insanely huge win for Toronto, though I’m hesitant to give too much credit to Shanahan for that deal. After all, reports suggest that it was Columbus’s idea all along.
Still, Shanahan mandated that everything not nailed down be shipped off for a good number of future assets. That’s what smart, rebuilding teams do.
Firing Dave Nonis (And A Bunch Of Other People Too)
This just happened, so I won’t spend a lot of time talking about it.
The most important thing here is that Shanahan recognized that his management and coaching staff (save Mark Hunter, Kyle Dubas and Steve Staios) just wasn’t cutting it anymore, and that he was completely justified to canning every last one of them.
Nonis had made too many mistakes over the course of his stewardship, and after spending a year working with the man, learning how he works and understanding his vision for future of the Leafs, Shanahan decided in good time that he wasn’t a fit. Pretty much everybody agrees on that, so credit where credit’s due to Shanahan for actually being in touch with reality and making the call.
Everything You Could Ask For
If you asked Leafs fans at the beginning of the season – those who knew the team wasn’t quite good – they’d tell you that their ideal year would see Carlyle and Nonis gone, and a strong focus on turning veterans into assets. Essentially, they wanted a rebuild. They absolutely got it.
Of course, fans will remain cautiously optimistic. The Leafs are about to enter a period that prioritizes drafting and development over on-ice success and, unfortunately, there’s no guarantees it will work. Over the next few months, Brendan Shanahan will restaff his front office, hand select a new coaching staff, draft at least one high-end prospect, and start fleshing out his 2015-16 roster.
Mistakes will inevitably be made, but there certainly weren’t many made in Shanahan’s first year in Toronto.