It’s probably fair to say this summer has seen a debate arise about how, on the surface, the way the Leafs are operating seems to be making a shift. Their moves are contradictory, not at all like a year ago, and now it feels as though, for the first time under Shanahan’s watch, this management team, filled with big voices, is becoming a kitchen with too many cooks.
Maybe others’ read on the situation is different, and everyone’s entitled to that. But there’s a real sense among plenty of folks that it’s not all rosy at the top. For that reason, I think it’s likely that over the next year or so we’ll see some key cogs moving up and others moving on. Such is the business.
Mark Hunter was promoted to assistant general manager on Monday. It’s been initially played off by Lamoriello as a change in title only, but there has to be some further reasoning behind it. From the angle that it puts up a bit of a roadblock to other teams being able to poach him, it’s a tidy piece of business. But I’d wager it’s also to put him in the conversation for Lou’s job eventually and conciliate concerns about that role being handed to Kyle Dubas. I can say with a high degree of confidence that both those guys want that job badly when it comes about, and one will eventually emerge to take it. The promotion of Hunter formally puts them on level ground, and that’s notable.
Personally, I think the Leafs would be best off with Dubas running the show in the long term. I’m not sure I have the same confidence in Hunter, as much as I respect his draft work. But my opinions aside, the thing is, I thought the path for the former was nearly a foregone conclusion, the succession plan in place. I don’t feel that way anymore. And as much as Shanahan has assured everyone that the whole group is contributing to the build, this offseason it’s felt like the decisions have fallen in line with older school thinking. There’s been noticeable change, and that’s undeniable.
Hiring Lamoriello was a solid move, and his trade negotiation skills were apparently sorely needed, but there are some beginning to believe he’s quickly gone from just another part of the group to gaining typical GM autonomy since his hiring, and that’s created a situation that’s less-than-ideal.
All this is admittedly dosed in some speculation, but not unsubstantiated. Toronto’s management has been able to keep things quiet on player signings and such until there’s pen to paper, but when their overall approach shifts and their behaviour seems to indicate a rift, there’s likely more to it.
The Leafs will have to be careful here. A little while ago I wrote that teams will likely start circling around Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe soon, given his winning track record. My opinion on that hasn’t changed, and I think the same will happen with Dubas if the AHL club has another strong season. If some of the whispers out there are accurate, that Lamoriello and others are starting turn their ears away from the numbers-heavy guys and drifting back into dated habits, other progressive front offices will get ready to scoop up that kind of talent. Look no further than the overhaul of the Panthers these past few months.
This is why the next 12 months or so are particularly interesting for the team in this regard, with the summer of 2017 putting Lamoriello one season away from his contract expiring. Will Shanahan then go the route of the Blues, for example, who made it clear that Mike Yeo would succeed Hitchcock after a year under his tutelage, and make a similar determination for one of Dubas or Hunter? Clearing that air ahead of time might be smart.
And who knows, perhaps this will all work out fine in the end and everyone will stay aboard forever, but I just think Hunter’s promotion isn’t meaningless, and shouldn’t be looked at as such. As for whether everything’s fine in the organization on the day-to-day, that depends on who you talk to, but from my end I think JP NIkota at PPP probably summed things up well with this: “…anyone who doesn’t have certain misgivings about the way the Leafs are being run right now isn’t paying close enough attention.“