Monday Mailbag: Who Needs a GM?

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I’m back for another week! Thank you, @Jeffler, for relinquishing the mailbag for a second time to my highly-undeserving clutches. 

Anyways. 

The draft is just under two weeks away, and the Leafs have made it fairly clear that they’re totally fine with going into the draft GM-less – so long as they have someone in charge by the start of next season. I think this is a pretty godawful way of approaching the first draft in your umpteenth rebuild, but I’m like many of you – still clinging to the tiniest plausible deniability that Shanahan is incapable of making mistakes. We’ll see. 

@RFlores91: I want to know why the Leafs are the ONLY pro sports franchise that thinks it’s a good idea not to hire a GM any time soon?

This was the first question I got after making my breakfast this morning, so naturally I asked my roommate (who covers college sports and has a healthy obsession with baseball):

“Colin, are there any sports franchises that you can think of that don’t have GM’s in place within the first two weeks after dismissing their last one?”


Apparently, the Atlanta Braves don’t have a general manager – just a restructured management hierarchy that sees the president of baseball ops and the assistant GM work in tandem to fill the role left by an empty seat in the front office. Since we could argue that the Colorado Avalanche do something similar – just with their head coach serving in this format – it’s possible the Leafs could look at rolling with this for a while longer before the wheels fly off the wagon.. 

Look, I’m not saying I don’t have plenty of problems with this anyway – most notably that if it seems like Kyle Dubas is ready to take on a higher management role, don’t bring in someone else just for the sake of following good politics. 

If the team actually plans on giving a high level of decision-making power to whomever serves as Nonis’ successor, though, I’m unable to explain why they think it’s a good idea to enter the draft and free agency without a GM. 

 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

@JSBMjeanshorts: How long before this “GM by committee” thing stops being cute and starts hurting the rebuild effort?

I actually think that a ‘GM by committee’ is more likely to be effective than the coaching-by-committee tire fire in New Jersey was last season, so I won’t say it’s going to hurt the rebuild. As for bringing in a significant voice to the management group post-draft and free agency, though? See above. 

@FranklinSteele: Thoughts on who a good fit for the GM would be? 

Mike Futa, George McPhee, James Gorton… all three have been tossed around as potential GM’s in the last few weeks, although the Leafs seem hesitant to allow the Gorton rumors to flourish. 

You have to assume that Futa, who has a somewhat plausible reputation for understanding scouting and roster composition, is going to take over as a GM somewhere in the next handful of seasons – so I wouldn’t be all that surprised if it’s in Toronto. Giving him a pass for Thomas Hickey, he’s drafted some of L.A.’s most valuable players in recent years – and although the club dealt away Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn for Mike Richards, imagine what the Leafs would be with a Drew Doughty to supplement their current blue line? I’m still convinced the job is Dubas’ within the next handful of seasons anyway, so I’d go with Futa for now. 

@BenSmith1027: Will Babcock bring his F150 to Toronto with him, or buy a new one?

Leafs Ford

Never trust a coach that won’t color-coordinate his ride to his new Original Six team. 

Combining two questions here: @Tortacular asked “At what point in this rebuild (will they really?) do you look at trading Kadri?” then @Asmae_t asked “Is Phil Kessel finally ready to come home and apologize to Julien?”

The Toronto Maple Leafs would be remiss, in my eyes, to fail to protect Nazem Kadri moving forward. The kid slept through practice, got scratched, ended up getting scratched a few more times, and rounded it all out by trying to stick his elbow through Matt Fraser’s face. It happens. He seems fine now.

Ultimately, I think that Kadri has more all-around value for his age than Phil Kessel – so I think if you’re truly trying to rebuild, you keep Kadri around. 

As for Kessel, most of his current accepted trade list has nowhere near the adequate cap space to take him on. Contrary, Asmae, I believe that Kessel has no intention of ever donning the black and gold again (and thank God, because I can’t find my St. Patrick’s Day Bruins Kessel shirsey and I’m too poor to buy a new one). TLN’s own Ryan Fancey raised an interesting point when he argued that Kessel’s current accepted trade list looks like one of a player trying to force his team’s hand into keeping him – and I’m in agreement. 

@JDylanBurke: Who would you personally take with the fourth overall pick? 

This is the first person who’s asked me this. Thank you, J.D., for valuing my opinion, even if you are a Canucks fan

This all depends on what the Coyotes do, obviously – and, as some of you may know, that’s a team that I’m somewhat invested in

I’ve been huge on Mitch Marner for a while, because I’m a shameless London Knights fan and he’s exciting as hell to watch play. You have to assume the Coyotes will take one of him or Dylan Strome, though, and you assume it’s going to be Strome donning the Sedona Red in Sunrise in two weeks because centre depths reasons – and between Marner and Hanifin, I’d probably go Hanifin. I love a ton of the Toronto forward talent in their prospect pool right now, but don’t love their defensive corps all that much – especially since you have to assume the window for the club to fall in love with Jake Gardiner is starting to close.

Then again, Marner has one thing that many of Toronto’s top scorers currently don’t – a surprisingly well-developed sense of defensive responsibility. He’s got a good 200 foot game for a high-scoring winger, and Toronto could benefit from that for years to come. 

Either way, the fourth overall pick is going to bring in a hell of a player, regardless of who they take. They could even bring in Mathew Barzal and probably be well-served for it. 

@SebNoren: Does Nylander already have the best hair in the organization?

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Christ have mercy. 

  • silentbob

    ” TLN’s own Ryan Fancey raised an interesting point when he argued that Kessel’s current accepted trade list looks like one of a player trying to force his team’s hand into keeping him – and I’m in agreement”

    I hope this isn’t the case, if that is his motivation for the teams on his list and it works & managment and the coaches are stuck with a player they want to trade and 8 million on the books they want to spend else where, and he costs this team future assets for his own selfish reasons….. NOTHING good will come of that.

    • Since I wrote this (last night) I’ve seen one or two people suggest that he could know that one or two teams on the list would be *maybe* able to take him, which forces the team’s hand in a more specific way.

      there’s also his ability to re-submit his trade list on June 30th, which is the day after teams can begin offer-sheeting kids. Buckle up, this off-season is gonna be SO MUCH FUN

    • Gary Empey

      So are you saying for our own selfish reasons we wish to break the contract we signed with you in good faith and send you to a city/team you do not wish to go to?

      • silentbob

        Trading a player isn’t breaking a contract. Trading a player doesn’t imply it wasn’t signed in good faith.

        First, they can’t trade him a team/city he doesn’t want to go to. So that won’t happen.

        Second, when a player doesn’t have the trade protection (personally I’d be happy if the Leafs just stopped giving that out) its still not breaking a contract. Players know their contracts can be traded to any of the 29 teams pretty much at any time. It’s part of being a pro-athlete. There are lots of benefits to the job, one of the draw backs is you often don’t have control over where you work.

        What I’m saying is IF the Leafs want to trade Kessel, want to spend that money elsewhere and want to use him to increase their future assets and IF Kessel is only going to accept a trade to teams he is certain won’t take him…..that is a very bad situation and nothing good will come of it.

        • Gary Empey

          ” Players know their contracts can be traded to any of the 29 teams pretty much at any time.”

          This used to be true years ago. Today star players take less money for more control of their employment. As in not being sent to the minors without being waived.

          eg-Full no trade anywhere.

          Limited no trade(Kessel). The reason for this type of contract is: Some teams are known to have very bad management, not nice cities to live in(40 below Portage and Main), etc.
          In Kessel’s case he took less money to have some control of where he will play and live.
          If the Leafs do make a deal with a team not on Phil’s list then I am sure his agent would renegotiate his contract.

          PS
          Kessel has over 30 million saved. He never has to play another game of hockey if doesn’t want to.

  • Hey Cat. You mention that you’re unable to explain why the Leafs brass thinks it’s a good idea to not have a GM in place before the draft, but then you dont list any reasons as to why it’s a bad idea. Can you list those reasons?

    • Hey Dan!

      Glad you asked, since I find it hard not to write entire articles for every mailbag question.

      One thing that I remember hearing critics say in defense of Randy Carlyle was that he was given a team to work with that was built for a different coach and GM’s system. The same was said in defense of Nonis – and while Nonis obviously made some HELLACIOUSLY bad calls when it came to tweaking the roster down the road, the argument was that it’s much harder to be expected to adapt your coaching/management style to a roster built for someone else than it is to build the team yourself.

      Obviously, there’s the sense that this is Dubas’ team in a handful of years, but that doesn’t change the fact that the team is going to be built before Shanahan has picked a manager. That either means they’ll build a team without much direction (with the idea being that the new GM will more finely shape his roster once he arrives) or that, like with Carlyle/Nonis, a GM will come in to a team built without his say.

      Could it work? Sure. It’s not a kiss of death. But if it’s been a problem before, I won’t endorse it until I see a better outcome this time around.

      Hope that answers your question 🙂

      • Brooksterman

        I think the management committee might become an issue if like you said is true and Dubas becomes the GM as Shanahan is still the boss so who ever the GM is will just be putting his plan into action and Shanahan has said Hunter is in charge of the draft and will have the final decision on who they pick. So it could be an issue if Hunter is drafting players that Dubas doesn’t necessarily like or feel fits with the way he sees the team playing. Then there is the idea that most hockey people are speculating that Hunter is the GM in waiting but Shanahan doesn’t want to take him away from his current duties and would like to keep him in the junior rinks scouting. But no matter who is named GM, it will be GM in title only as they won’t have any power anyways as Shanahan has final say so in trades, Hunter has final say so in drafting, and Dubas has final say so with the Marlies. That doesn’t leave much for the GM to have power over. They will hire a GM but behind the scenes it will end up as them having 4 assistant GM’s that all answer to Shanahan. The GM of the Leafs will just be another voice in the room.

      • silentbob

        I see where you’re coming from, but I don’t think it will be an issue IF they hire the right GM.

        The biggest difference between then and now is that the GM won’t be “THE” guy making the decisions, he’ll be 1 cog in the machine. Shanahan, Dubas, Hunter and Babcock are not going to take a back seat to the GM, the GM will have to fit in with and work with that group (this come up when chiarelli was fired, the situation here wasn’t what he was looking for). Whoever they hired as the GM is going to be on the same page as Shanahan and co.

  • The Shanaplan

    Af far as having someone wearing the title of GM before the draft, everyone is creating a problem where none exists. Shanahan has decided to create a new management model which has many benefits first and foremost, it offers certain insulation from the vultures known as the media for those individuals involved.

    With the intelligent people being added continually to the front office, I personally think it is a better scenario than having Captain Blowhard and his 5 year plan, or Mr Nonis thinking his team was a contender and signing Robidas and Clarkson after they nearly beat the Bruins with smoke and mirrors.

    Name a better candidate, with more knowledge of players, who is also available immediately for no compensation, who is suited to work within the new structure who is better than Hunter/Dubas/Pridham/Pellerin/Paliafito/Keefe/Babcock/Shanahan and possibly McCrimmon.

    Nonis, Burke, Fletcher, JFJ… It has been a miserable 13 years since Pat Quinn was fired… Ken Dryden, Fletcher’s first go, Floyd Smith, Gordon Stellick, Gerry Macnamara, Macnamara with Imlach… How much more pain will we need to suffer?

    People, let’s stop with the panic and negativity and throw our support behind Shanahan and Co. So far so good. It is articles and attitudes like this that attempt to force those in charge to do it the “Right way”
    Brendan Shanahan knows what he is doing and he has my total support for now and the foreseeable future.

    In 5 years if there is no improvement and If he screws it up, it certainly won’t be our first and probably not the last disappointment for Maple Leaf fans.