Do you ever wonder what hockey executives do deep into the offseason?
You’ve made your signings from Europe and North America and missed out on a few others. You’ve made your draft selections. You may or may not be signing Jimmy Vesey, but that’s still a few days away. The Ivan Hlinka Tournament is on, but you’ll just catch the highlights and get your scouts to fill you in, honestly. So what do you do with your time?
Well, Brendan Shanahan might have an answer to that question, or many answers, really.
Shanahan recently went on The Players Tribune to respond to fan questions about a variety of topics. While the whole Q&A is worth a read, here’s a few of Shanahan’s best and most relevant quotes from the mailbag in context:
Talkin’ leadership and the front office
Shanahan spoke on fans’ tendency to immediately react, and potentially overreact, to personnel moves. Two that could come to mind are the way the majority of Leafs Twitter reacted to the Roman Polak signing and Matt Martin signing…
I sometimes see fans who question certain signings or the addition of certain players who maybe don’t measure up based on some metrics. And I think what they overlook is that it’s not necessarily the superstar on the team that imparts the most knowledge to young players who are developing. There are guys who can make a huge, franchise-changing difference with the leadership they provide off the ice.
The most interesting thing from this quote is that it continues with the idea reinforced by this franchise that you can’t solely construct a roster based on a statistical model.
Not every move the Leafs have made in Shanahan’s tenure has always made “common statistical sense”, but it sounds like there’s always a greater motive in certain player acquisitions that may not always be apparent at the point of the trade or signing.
Shanahan continued on this note, talking about the leadership roles of veterans on the team:
I think people want to assume that you learn everything from NHL All-Stars, but when you look at the Matthews, the Marners and the Nylanders, you don’t really know who’s going to say the right thing at the right moment or provide an example that will put your young players on the right course.
Shanahan also discussed the Leafs’ usage of information and talent evaluation. Despite knowing the people in the Leafs’ quite packed front office well, often times we don’t really know what exactly is going on. Shanahan likes it that way.
I don’t think anybody should know precisely what any club is doing to evaluate talent. Whatever you want to call information — whether it’s traditional or analytics — it’s only as valuable as the people who dissect it. To me, all information is good information, and to turn a blind eye to any of it out of some sort of bias towards “old school” or “new school” would mean you’re not doing your job.
He continued to talk on the Leafs’ front office, and how they work together as a whole:
I really believe in fostering a group dynamic that is open to a lot of ideas. We try to get as much information from a diverse set of perspectives, but then yes, whoever is responsible for a particular decision must be the final say. All organizations will make player personnel mistakes at times. It’s inevitable. For long-term sustainable success, what’s more important than the actual decision itself is the process by which you determine it.
This does make a whole lot of sense, seeing as to how many cooks the Leafs have in their kitchen. Do we ever really know what the process is behind any specific move? Not really, but there’s been a tendency in recent months to jump on certain acquisitions as a “Lou move” or a “Dubas move”.
Whether that’s the case, we’ll probably never know, due to the closed nature of the leadership group, but it’s unlikely that opinions are being silenced and autocratic decisions are being made in any capacity.
On his own career, and how he learned his leadership style:
I think it’s a combination of utilizing certain skills that I acquired during my days as a professional athlete, and then combining those with everything I learned in my five years at the National Hockey League. While working for the NHL, I was able to study all 30 teams and just what a challenging job it is to run an organization.
Whether you agree or disagree with Shanahan (or the entire Leafs front office) is one thing, but perhaps the most important takeaway is that the Leafs will probably not make you happy with every move they make.
Talkin’ bout the future
Shanahan also touched about the future of the Leafs, the NHL, and the game as a whole.
He spoke the status of the rebuild:
I would say we’re somewhere between where we hoped to be and a little further along. Those are all off-season judgments though… we have a group that is very young and that has shown some potential, but that potential doesn’t mean much unless it’s fulfilled.
One sensible takeaway here could be landing the first overall pick, and ultimately taking Auston Matthews in the draft as the “little further along”.
Shanahan commented on the future of goalies in the NHL, and the equipment they wear:
Essentially, we want the best, most athletic goalies to be recognized and rewarded for their talents, rather than the size of their equipment.That being said, it’s a balance. Nobody wants a goalie to get hurt because we’ve restricted their equipment size.
Skill> size for Brendan, always and forever. Even in net.
Fittingly, he then touched on the speed of the game as a whole:
Players are not going to get slower. You can’t unteach the skills that are being developed at every level now. My view is that regardless of what rules are instituted, the game will continue to get faster and the players will continue to get fitter.
It’s not saying much we’re not used to, but perhaps it’s confirmation that the Leafs will continue to mostly look at acquiring and utilising players for their skill.
While the Q&A may have been catered/ filtered a bit to portray Shanahan in a positive light, it’s clear that when he needs to, the Leafs’ President can certainly talk a good game.
Is he “faking it”? Is he just saying blank rhetoric to inspire fans, or does he really believe every word he’s saying? Will the Leafs’ moves turn out well in the long run, or are the critics right in that there’s no value to certain players, despite whatever type of locker room presence they may bring?
Like Shanahan said, we’ll have to wait and see how things go on the ice.