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There are different rules for Brendan Shanahan

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Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Arun Srinivasan
1 month ago
There are different rules for Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan. In a summer that will be defined by long overdue accountability and an evaluation of an eight-year era, Shanahan will continue to operate with carte blanche which has clearly been afforded to him by his new boss, MLSE CEO Keith Pelley. Shanahan’s Shanaplan has been in action for a decade, it’s been a resounding failure and yet the Maple Leafs’ president evidently gets to skate by based on his pedigree as a player.
Shanahan boasts a Hall of Fame resume but he likes to operate as a recluse, the Maple Leafs’ version of John Swartzwelder. He rarely makes himself available, by design, to insulate himself from criticism or on a more basic level, questioning of his 10-year static regime. Treliving is at least affable to reporters, the departed Sheldon Keefe made good faith efforts to explain himself, even if he ran out of answers by the end, but there are different rules in place for the team’s president/emperor.
“The ultimate responsibility is on me,” Shanahan said during Friday’s end-of-year media availability. “The accountability is on me. Our playoff results haven’t been good enough. That’s on me. The results we’ve had in the playoffs, our players know, we know, they’re unacceptable. They’re unacceptable to our fans. They’re unacceptable to all those that support the Toronto Maple Leafs.”
What does accountability even look like? Keefe certainly paid the price for failing to elevate a scorching offense during the playoffs and admitted as such during a touching video to the fans, media and other interested parties Thursday. It was richly ironic that Shanahan thanked Keefe during his opening remarks, citing his five seasons with the team and his willingness to address the media twice a day, while he is effectively safeguarded until he presents himself, using the Ford Performance Centre and Scotiabank Arena as personal fortresses. He’s an inflexible leader and is operating the NHL’s most visible franchise — if not the most valuable — with autocratic control.
Pelley made his first public appearance as MLSE CEO on Friday and stated that he generally wants to give management room to operate freely but had to attend to make it clear that the Maple Leafs’ playoff failures are a serious matter. By itself, it would be indicative of a directional shift. Pelley then made it clear that Shanahan wasn’t going anywhere and seemed to be wowed by the presidents’ anecdotes about winning Cups with the Detroit Red Wings.
“Brendan Shanahan is the President of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’s a champion,” Pelley said.
After summarily dismissing Kyle Dubas last year in a press conference that still reverberates through the organization, I compared Shanahan to Real Madrid emperor Florentino Perez, with no parallel to anyone in North American sports. In retrospect, the comparison falls flat: at least Real Madrid wins competitions with their unparalleled resources, there is no Joselu equivalent on the Maple Leafs to save the day when their headliners come up empty. He’s swayed and swindled a largely amorphous board that is now headed by Pelley, who seemed to fawn over Shanahan’s Cup-winning resume as a player.
Shanahan went into boilerplate mode when asked about the possibility of trading Mitch Marner or John Tavares. If you want to take the vantage point that nothing of circumstance should be said at these things, fine, but it was only last year that Shanahan read Dubas’ vulnerability and the proceeding events verbatim back to a room full of shocked reporters, before hand-selecting Brad Treliving as the new successor. And much like Perez, Shanahan will certainly throw Treliving into the fire before meeting with Pelley and the board if the Maple Leafs come up short in the playoffs, next fall. He is completely insulated.
How can you promote accountability, then duck measures of transparency? Shanahan refused to comment on his contract negotiations, with his current deal slated to expire at the end of the 2024-25 season.
“I wake up every day with the goal of trying to make the Toronto Maple Leafs better,” Shanahan offered. “My last contract was not renewed until a month before it expired. It wasn’t a distraction to me then, and it won’t be a distraction to me or the team now.”
Of course it will be a distraction! Shanahan is the lone constant of the past decade, he’s been around longer than Auston Matthews or Mitch Marner and will now oversee his third different head coach since taking office. He has tied himself to the Core Four and has refused to deviate from this top-heavy structure. When asked about the Core Four’s rote failures, Shanahan’s remarks proved to be disingenuous.
“Without getting specific, I’ve said earlier, it’s not our intention today to single any one individual out or any small group of this team out, we’re talking about the whole team. What we are saying is, it has certainly become evident that we have to assess all of those things. We have to assess whether or not we have to make some very difficult decisions to make the team better.”
Shanahan should be the individual singled out during this press conference. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, John Tavares, Morgan Rielly, Max Domi, Tyler Bertuzzi and Ilya Samsonov met with the media Monday. Samsonov took responsibility for the series and whether you were inflamed by his comments or not, at least Marner spoke his truth about his self-belief — he’s also readily available to speak publicly throughout the regular season. Keefe lost his job. So what does accountability look like?
You would think the ice would be getting thin but Shanahan operates with a different set of rules. It was extremely unlikely that Shanahan would get fired, especially with the way the week has been outlined by the organization. In preaching accountability without specifics, it’s an empty presentation from Shanahan. Rules for thee, but not for me! We’ve learned the Shanaplan is a one-man show and if widespread changes are coming, we’ll need to see it to believe it. A decade’s worth of history has suggested otherwise.

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