Tim Leiweke, the President and CEO of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, has locked up him man once again with the appointment of Brendan Shanahan as the new President of the Maple Leafs as well as the alternate governor (here's a piece that explains who they are). Fresh off of, in his words, fixing the Toronto Raptors (3/4 of a good season after clearing out the executive office) and Toronto FC (3 wins in 4 games after clearing out the executive office and spending $100M on Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe) he has now set his sight on the smouldering remains of the Toronto Maple Leafs' 2013-14 season in order to revive a team that 'inexplicably' fell flat on its face after its first playoff appearance in nine years. Since he retired from the NHL, Brendan Shanahan has held a number of head office jobs including Vice President of Hockey and Business Development and was most recently the Director of Player Safety.
What Happens To The Disciplinary Process?
Elliotte Friedman reported that Stephane Quintal will be handling those duties through the playoffs until the NHL can determine who will succeed Shanahan on a permanent basis.
What Will Shanahan's Role Be?
According to Chris Johnston, Shanahan's role will be above the day-to-day of running the Maple Leafs:
His duties are expected to be wide-ranging and include involvement in business, marketing and other league-related matters. In other words, he won't be negotiating contracts or helping manage the salary cap.
Who will be handling the quotidian duties? Well, it'll be a general manager and for now it looks like it will be Dave Nonis for the foreseeable future. Obviously, I'd have like Shanahan to ride into the Leafs' executive offices astride a bomb waving a cowboy hat over his head but as Greg Brady noted, these things tend to take some time. Shanahan will likely make all of the right noises about evaluating the organization from top to bottom and not making any hasty decisions. However, his role has to involve making those difficult decisions and not, as Leiweke seems to imply, providing more 'leadership'. The last thing the Leafs need is someone to supply more confidence to a group that already sees itself as the smartest guys in the room as opposed to walking punchlines.
The 98 days that Brian Burke took to determine that Jay Feaster wasn't the GM to carry the Calgary Flames forward would put us sometime around mid-July. That is far too long to evaluate a front office that has been together since 2010. The timing of the move is crucial as there needs to be a clear philosophy in place for the team in time for the draft in June and the launch of free agency on July 5th. There is no point in having a lame duck GM controlling those decisions or in having a demonstrable failure at contract negotiations like Claude Loiselle being allowed anywhere near a pen and paper. As for Dave Poulin, well a careful reading of a transcript of any of his radio appearances throws up enough red flags to want to ensure that his key fob to 40 Bay Street is deactivated.
The downfall is that there may be potential candidates that are still involved in the playoffs for all of the front office roles and for all of the coaching positions but it seems like organizations are willing to allow subordinates to interview for jobs that would represent an increase in role. If Shanahan is not interested in having to make draft choices or sign UFAs to say nothing about dealing with the team's internal UFAs and RFAs then he will need to have his new GM in place as soon as possible. As you can probably guess, I'm a big advocate of Shanahan starting with a tabula rasa. He doesn't need to take an actual flamethrower to this organization but a figurative one should cleanse the stain of this group's failures and unconscionable arrogance.
As for Randy Carlyle, we'll have much more of a evisceration of his record as the Leafs' coach but the main crux of the argument - that his tight systems were a massive improvement over Ron Wilson's - do not stand up to even the simplest of reviews. His assistants are demonstrably as clueless as he is - highlighted first in the summer in their now-infamous MLHS interviews onward through their comments during the season - and should all get soaked as Shanahan makes it rain pink slips. Leiweke made a huge show at a buzzword-filled pre-season season ticket holder event of repeatedly emphasizing the concept of accountability. As is so often the case with the Mouth From The South-type leaders it is now time to put up or shut up.
If there’s one market where you want your top executive learning in the job it’s in Toronto for the Leafs— David Danforth (@mlse) April 10, 2014
"Today on TSN: Why do Canadian teams stink? But first, reaction to the hiring of guys who've never run teams as presidents in VAN and TOR."— mc79hockey (@mc79hockey) April 10, 2014
@mlse "This guy who has never been involved in management of a hockey team would be great to manage the most expensive hockey team on Earth"— BT (@actualBT) April 11, 2014
"Ok let’s see, how did I win in Detroit…ok let’s sign a bunch of future hall of famers and spend the most money" "uhhh brendan…" "what?"— David Danforth (@mlse) April 10, 2014
Why Won't This Work Out?
MLSE has gambled on unproven executives which turned out to be unmitigated disasters - JFJ with the Leafs, Rob Babcock with the Raptors, and Tom Anselmi with Toronto FC all leap to mind - and they've thrown oodles of money at highly touted executives with years of experience and success and had them fall flat on their faces - Brian Burke with the Leafs and Bryan Colangelo with the Raptors - so you can find examples for any argument that you want to make.
Brendan Shanahan has no executive experience with an NHL team. In fact, he's never managed a team at any level. The prevailing ideas behind why he will succeed are that he spent a long time in the Detroit Red Wings organization after he forced a trade from the Hartford Whalers. Nice character and leadership there. The hope is that he learned by osmosis from being in the NHL's premier franchise of the past two and a half decades. Whether he succeeds or not will depend on whether he learned the right lessons from his time with the Wings. It doesn't take much imagination to think of a laundry list of elite players and players from successful franchises that either demonstrate their total lack of insight into hockey by their failures in management or every time they open their mouths on television. At the end of the day, Shanahan's long history of championships in the NHL and internationally may provide nothing more than the sheen of competence.
At this point, Shanahan represents a blank canvas upon which one can project whatever they want to happen but there's no way of knowing if Shanahan will have any skill at developing a philosophy, evaluating which parts of the current organization have a future with the franchise, disseminating that chosen philosophy throughout the team from top to bottom, and identifying qualified front office personnel that can build a team that can make that philosophy a reality. That is a heavy responsibility to give someone with zero experience in a similar role.
Why Will This Work Out?
There are some aspects of Shanahan's background that have been identified as being potential harbingers of the talents that will be needed in order to suceed in his new role. Unlike when Burke and Nonis were hired, there isn't a direct track record to give us an idea of what he may bring to the role. He didn't directly cut his teeth under Ken Holland and Jim Nill like Steve Yzerman did but he also will not be handling the nitty gritty details of managing the Maple Leafs. His role will be more integral to developing the tone for the organization and the hope is that during his time in Detroit he learned that the key to success is to be the fifth or sixth best person in the organization and go along for the ride.
All joking aside, there are two main experiences that may have given him the foundations for success in Toronto. One thing to keep in mind is precisely what I mentioned above: your mileage may vary in determining the potential effect that these experiences will have on his time with the Leafs. The one that I think provides the greatest ray of hope is the Shanahan Summit which brought together various stakeholders during the 2004-05 lockout to develop a list of suggestions for the improvement of the NHL as well as the competition committee that would continue that mandate. The list wasn't entirely adopted but it hopefully demonstrates a recognition that hockey is changing and that the old paradigms no longer apply. The structure of the summit also suggests that he recognizes that it is important to draw upon varied forms of expertise in order to surround himself with the necessary tools to provide the tangible success to Leiweke's florid expressions of imminent glory.
The second experience is his time as the head of player safety. As Wyshynski noted, the videos were innovative and provided a clear explanation for his decisions. Were they always right? No, but a closer look suggests that they were more consistent than he is given credit for. The good is that he came into a position with an established approach and decided to update it much in line with his work with the competition committee. The bad is obviously that he never seemed to go far enough to satisfy the fans. The former is a good sign, the latter could be an issue if he isn't innovative enough in his new role.
Shanahan strikes me as a smart guy + demonstrated communicator who has spent the past few years thinking about the NHL game + its evolution.— Thomas Drance (@ThomasDrance) April 10, 2014
FWIW I met Shanahan last month and asked him if he thought there was still a place for fighting in hockey. He said no, which is encouraging.— Danny D (@dannyd1976) April 11, 2014
In some ways, Shanahan is the architect of the modern NHL; hopefully he can figure out how to compete in it.— Peter Lynn (@Peter_Lynn) April 11, 2014
So What's The Conclusion?
Make no mistake, this move is a gamble. While you can tease out reasons for optimism going forward, there are just as many blank spots on his resume to give one pause. Will his approach comprise a sincere evaluation of the entire organization along with a vigorous move towards addressing problem areas? Will he expand the base of the team's approach beyond making Colbert-like gut decisions? Or will he follow the path trodden by so many ex-pros and hold on to the concepts which are becoming increasingly extinct? Most importantly, will he ensure that the full financial heft of MLSE, an advantage unmatched in the NHL, is brought to bear upon the goal of winning a Stanley Cup?
Unfortunately, all we have now is our hope that things will break the right way. As Leafs fans, most of us have been conditioned to know that hoping for the best is not a strategy. However, as Leafs fans we also know that all we tend to have to hold on to is hope. Maybe this is the time that we will be rewarded.