On Friday, April 11th 2014, CEO Tim Leiwke of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment announced the hiring of Brendan Shanahan as the Leafs next president. The announcement signaled the beginning of a new era in Toronto; one where fans finally knew that there was going to be no more BS, no more mediocrity, and where Toronto was finally going to let go of the title of the laughing stock of the NHL. The announcement happened to fall on my birthday, and it felt like I was given a gift from the hockey gods. The hiring gave me and the millions others of Leafs Nation the hope we so desperately needed, as proper change had finally come.
Fast forward a year later, and those who were a part of the Brian Burke/Dave Nonis era have all been let go. Shanny knew that this was his franchise to run, and he was going to do it his way. For a Leafs fan, every move he's made has been praised because each new decision made seems to be better than the last. His approach at the start was to wait and see, giving the Leafs some time before he made any drastic decisions. Each choice he's made has given fans hope and excitement for whats to come.
Here is a chronological order of positive events that occurred under the rule of Shanahan:
July 1st 2014, Free Agency: Letting Dave Bolland walk
As much as Bolland was a fan favourite and a hometown boy who's dream was to play for the Leafs, fans were (for the most part) happy to see him go. The reason being his ridiculous contract demands, where he wanted north of $5 million a year. The Leafs at the time were right at the cap ceiling, and having David Clarkson's giant contract didn't help. Re-signing Bolland, a 3rd line centre I might add, for more than $5 million a year would have put the Leafs in salary cap hell. Shannahan and co. realized the potential problems of such a big cap number for a mediocre player and decided to let another team screw themselves by giving Bolland the money he wanted (i'm looking at you Florida).
Tuesday, July 22nd: The firing of Poulin and Loiselle; and the hiring of Dubas
The first members of Leafs management to get the axe by Brendan were assistant GM's Claude Loiselle and Dave Poulin. He decided to keep GM Dave Nonis, but the firing of his assistants seemed to foreshadow Nonis' own eventual downfall. Shannahan immediately hired "boy wonder" Kyle Dubas, who at only 28 years old was the General Manager of the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Dubas had an amazing understanding of scouting, management, and analytics, and was all but sure to get hired by an NHL team (but no one thought this early in his career). Shanny decided to scoop up one of the best up and coming management personal out of the junior ranks before he was gone, and the praise for his decision to do so was evident. One simple quote Brendan said about Dubas speaks volumes about where the club was headed at this point:
“he’s not tied to any old ideas.”
The cheer from Leafs Nation was probably heard in all corners of the globe. In just those 7 words, Leafs fans knew that proper change had begun, and the old ideologies of mediocrity and quick fixes were now gone. This is the moment where the hiring spree of management from the Canadian Junior ranks had begun.
Tuesday, October 21st 2014: The hiring of Mark Hunter
With only one more assistant GM spot left to fill, Shannahan went out and hired one of the best junior hockey GM's in Mark Hunter. Hunter had been with London in the OHL and was the one who built the juggernaut Knights of the past decade. He was given the title of assistant GM and director of player personal of the Leafs, and was brought in for his great scouting and drafting knowledge. He is currently spear-heading the Leafs at the draft on June 26th, and his knowledge of player development is sure to land Toronto some studs.
Tuesday January 6th 2015: Firing head coach Randy Carlyle
It seems the big hirings and firings happen on a Tuesday for the Leafs, and on January 6th coach Randy Carlyle was given the boot for being too inconsistent with his team. This comes months after Toronto had signed him to a 2 year contract extension, and obviously this was Shanahan just giving himself time to judge the coach properly. Even though it's the GM who fires the coach, many at this point speculated that Shanny was the one pulling the strings and Dave Nonis was just his puppet for the time being. Under Carlyle, the Leafs seemed to always be outshot and outplayed, and you can't rely on your goaltenders too much in this sport. They were consistently giving up 30+ shots a night, and it soon caught up to them in the form of a massive 2nd half season collapse. Peter Horacek was named interim head coach immediately after Carlyle's firing, and it was at this very point when the Leafs started to sink and enter the McDavid sweepstakes.
Sunday, February 15th 2015: Leafs trade Franson and Santorelli
At this point in the season, Toronto had long known that they were going to be sellers at the 2015 trade deadline. The Leafs sent Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to the Nashville predators for Olli Jokinen, prospect Brendan Leipsic, and Nashville's 2015 first round pick. Only a few weeks before this trade, Shanahan had gained the consent from his bosses at MLSE for a scorched earth rebuild of the club, and this trade was the beginning of it. Toronto has gone on record many times stating that they will be building through the draft, and in order to do so, they need to get their drafting expert Mark Hunter as many pics as he can get. Nashville's first rounder is 24th overall this year, and they may have the chance to find a great prospect in this deep draft. Along with the pic came a solid prospect in Brendan Leipsic, who is projected to be a feisty 2nd or 3rd line forward. Good trade for a re-building club.
Thursday, February 26th 2015: David Clarkson traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets
Shanahan literally pulled the impossible off. Everyone regarded David Clarkson and his massive contract 100% immovable, but Brendan found a way to get rid of it. The trade was Clarkson for Nathan Horton, where Columbus received a healthy player and Toronto managed to clear cap room. By having the injured Horton on long term injury reserve, his salary doesn't count against the Leafs cap. Essentially, the Leafs freed up $5.5 million in cap space, because they are paying Horton not to play. Columbus is a budget team, and they couldn't afford to pay someone this kind of money to not be in their lineup, so the trade was made for Clarkson because the Blue Jackets might as well be paying for someone who can play. Shannhan took advantage of Toronto's endless amounts of cash and flexed the organizations financial muscles to trade for a player that will most likely never play again. He wanted to get rid of Clarkson so bad that he was willing to receive and pay for a player who could never see the ice again. In reality, it was a genius move.
Sunday, April 12th 2015: Shanahan's "bloody Sunday"
One day after my birthday again, I seemed to have gotten another birthday surprise, exactly one year after Shanahan was hired. Literally everyone associated with the old regime was let go. General Manager Dave Nonis, interim head coach Peter Horachek, assistant coach Steve Spott, goalie coach Rick St. Croix, Chief scout Steve Kasper, countless other scouts in their system, and many others were given the axe by the president. The NHL has never seen this massive of a firing before, with so many personal let go in one day from an organization.
It obviously had to be done, as it took one year for Shanny to decide that this organization needed completely new thinking in its scouting, coaching, and management. The Leafs had a shallow prospect pool, and part of that was because of their abysmal drafting record under the old regime, and the trading of picks/prospects away for short term fixes. Under the new team of Shanahan, Dubas, and Hunter, the Leafs will now think about the long run and what will make them better in the future. Everyone who thought otherwise and everyone who contributed to the mediocrity of past seasons had to be gone for this too happen. Amen.
Wednesday, May 20th 2015: Leafs strike oil
Mike Babcock. Mike freaken Babcock. Every Leafs fan (and every hockey fan for that matter) was blind sided with the amazing news that the best hockey coach in the world decided to run the Toronto Maple Leafs over others. No longer could people make fun of this team. No longer were people making fun of Toronto for the season they just had. The hiring of Babcock brought immediate respect to a franchise that for so long had been the joke of the NHL. Nobody saw this coming, as many thought the Leafs were long out of the running for his services. Babcock said on record that one of the reasons that he chose Toronto was because Shanahan was relentless in his pursuit of him. Mike asked Brendan questions and Brendan told the truth to him for every single one. Babcock liked what he saw in the president, liked what he saw in the new management, and most importantly liked the direction the team was going in.
Monday, June 8th 2015: Leafs hire Sheldon Keefe to coach the Marlies
Never has the hiring of an AHL coach received so much attention. Toronto went out once again to the junior ranks and wanted to get a coach who has NHL potential and put him in their system. They did exactly that when they hired Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds coach Sheldon Keefe to be the bench boss of the Toronto Marlies. The move allows the Leafs to groom a future NHL coach, one that teams will have to surrender a 3rd round draft pick to Toronto if they want to hire, as per the new CBA. Smart move by Shanahan and co. as they are using their farm system to develop the next NHL coach, along with their prospects.
Tuesday, June 16th 2015: Leafs hire DJ Smith as assistant coach
Once again, from the Canadian junior ranks, the Leafs hired Oshawa Generals head coach DJ Smith (fresh off his Memorial Cup win) to be an assistant beside Babcock. Why does this matter? One reason and one reason only: defence. That word seems to be non existent in Toronto as the Maple Leafs have been one of the worst defensive teams in the past decade; but Smith will set out to change that. He is a master of defence in the hockey form, as evident in his playoff series against Connor McDavid and the Erie Otters. His defensive systems shut down the mighty offensive power of the Otters which featured McDavid, Dylan Strome, Nick Baptiste, and many others. He will bring to the Leafs some much expertise in shutting down the opponents top line. Awesome hire.
And there you have it. One long article showing the smartness, awesomeness, and expertise of Leafs president Brendan Shanahan. He found the best coaching and management talent in the Canadian Junior ranks and hired them before any other NHL team were even thinking about doing so. Dubas and Hunter built the juggernaut Greyhounds and Knights (respectively), Sheldon Keefe coached the Greyhounds to greatness, and DJ Smith lead his team to a Memorial Cup.
Under Shanahan, Toronto got rid of everyone from the old regime who still carried the ideologies of the Burke/Nonis era. With that course of action, Brendan has now begun to implement his own philosophy: building a winning culture. Every move he's made has slowly but surely made the Leafs better from a management perspective, and at the same time gave fans hope of a bright future.
With the management 99% set, it's now time to move onto the core players.
Thanks for reading, feel free to comment your thoughts.