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Shanahan tasked with ending years of collapses

Aug 25, 2014, 4:07 PM EDT

Brendan Shanahan; AP

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ collapse will haunt Joffrey Lupul until the day he dies. He’s not the only player to be scarred by the team’s shortcomings.

“It doesn’t get much more embarrassing than that,” Leafs defenseman Cody Franson said after a particularly devastating late season game. “It’s one of those situations right now where it seems like no matter what we try to do it’s just not working. We’re having a tough time getting through it right now.”

The thing is, neither of them were discussing the 2-12-0 tailspin Toronto endured at the end of the 2013-14 campaign that ripped a playoff berth that seemed all-but secured away from the team. Lupul was talking about the Maple Leafs’ Game 7 collapse to the Boston Bruins in the first round of the 2013 playoffs and Franson’s quote was from March 2012 after the Maple Leafs lost 7-1 to the Flyers, which dropped Toronto to 5-17-3 in its last 25 games following a 28-19-6 start.

So when Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president and CEO Tim Leiweke, who will step down, promised in April that the Leafs are “never going to have to go through this sort of thing again,” you could forgive Toronto fans for being skeptical.

After all coming up short — sometimes in defiance of the odds — seems to be a tradition for the Maple Leafs and while there are nevertheless reasons to be optimistic about the team’s future, the question remains: Are they losing in part because it’s become deeply ingrained into the team’s culture or is this purely a matter of the talent not yet being in place? Or to put it another way: Is there a psychological aspect of the Maple Leafs’ problems?

“I definitely sense that we lack an identity,” Lieweke conceded this summer. “Right now we’re a team that lacks a direction. And we want to change that.”

Given that he’s moving on, Lieweke won’t be the one to see that change through to the end. That task will instead fall to team president Brendan Shanahan. Since his appointment, he’s resisted the push to make dramatic changes by calling the idea of stripping Dion Phaneuf of his captaincy a “cop-out” and giving head coach Randy Carlyle a contract extension.

The Maple Leafs have made some roster moves over the summer, but they didn’t react to their latest collapse by pulling the trigger on a blockbuster trade or free agent signing. That’s in line with Shanahan’s belief that building through the free agent market is a bad habit.

Instead, the changes in Toronto have been a bit more subtle, or at least as subtle as is possible in the hockey hungry market. They changed Carlyle’s assistant coaches and brought in 28-year-old Kyle Dubas to serve as an assistant general manager. The latter move is particularly noteworthy given Dubas’ support of advanced statistics, which is something the Maple Leafs had previously been criticized for dismissing.

Combined with the fact that Shanahan himself is a recent addition and its fair to say that the Maple Leafs are starting to look different at the top. It remains to be seen if that will have a trickle down effect or if their recent history of pain will continue.

One thing we have learnt is that Shanahan has a vision for how he wants to see the team operate and while he hasn’t held his current position for long, he’s certainly acted as someone that won’t deviate from his preferred course in an attempt to alleviate fan or media pressure.


Under Pressure: Randy Carlyle

  1. polegojim - Aug 25, 2014 at 4:17 PM

    He’s the right man for the job. Tough but fair and instills confidence.

  2. bsaures - Aug 25, 2014 at 4:27 PM

    The new PHT drinking game!!! take a drink everytime the leafs late season fall in the standings is mentioned. 2 drinks when someone says it wont happen again. Three drinks when someone blames reimer for the collapse.And chug your drink when someone claims the leafs are just as good as the contending teams despite completely ignoring all the advance stats that say the team is one of the worst in the league.

    • beergold - Aug 25, 2014 at 4:32 PM

      You calling Dooman a drunk?

  3. beergold - Aug 25, 2014 at 4:30 PM

    I personally think that if there is anyone that can remake the Leafs it is Shanahan, but it won’t come quickly! They are still low quality and gutless on the ice with their Burke acquired (Nonis reendorsed) “franchise leaders” Phaneuf and Kessel but perhaps Shanahan also has a plan to fix that in the future as well. Here’s hoping!

  4. vancouversportsbro - Aug 25, 2014 at 6:46 PM

    Well leaving David Clarkson stranded in north Alaska would be a start

  5. jinx21fan - Aug 25, 2014 at 8:50 PM

    A problem with the franchise for a very long time is too many visions coming from the top – Harold Ballard was the original Jerry Jones. After that, ownership groups have used the franchise for personal power struggles causing turmoil at the very least. Part of that was cluttering up the front office with everyone wanting their guy in at some capacity – see Ken Dryden era. Most of what the press is attributing to Shanahan are decisions that he should have nothing, or very little, to do with. The vast majority of sports fans would be hard pressed to tell you who the President of their team is – with good reason. (Obviously discounting the dual roll of GM).

    In the roll of President, Shanahan should have say over the hiring/firing of the GM. The day-to-day responsibilities of the team should fall to the GM after that. Coaching staffs and team Captaincies are subjects the President should have no comment on or defer to the GM. If Shanahan believes he is the best man suited for the job, fire Nonis and assume the roll. He seems to be maneuvering himself to a position to accept any credit, and deflect any criticism.

    • dueman - Aug 26, 2014 at 12:58 AM

      Actually, it’s just the media painting that picture because it gives them something to write. It’s better this way though because it allows Nonis to do his job without being bothered by the media as much himself. Toronto though, like most NHL teams make most of their decisions as a management group, in which I’m sure that Shanny has a say. As a professional though, I’m sure that he fully allows Nonis to do his job as a GM.

      • jinx21fan - Aug 26, 2014 at 5:03 PM

        Actually, for once the media is not to blame. Old Shanny, likes to be in front of the cameras giving quotes. Maybe, as you say, he feels the need to shelter Nonis from the media. If that is the case, he is the only GM in hockey not up to the task. He should be reassigned within the organization or fired, dealing with the media is a pretty basic responsibility of a NHL GM.

        Shanahan seems to enjoy the spotlight. Which is fine, but giving contradictory statements at the end of NHL videos is one thing, does he have any qualifications in a hockey ops role for a team? Even Ron Francis and Stevie Y lowered themselves to be understudies within an organization before accepting GM positions. I tend to believe old Shanny is more akin to Kevin Lowe.

        Ironically, a link on this page shows Shanahan updating the media on possible roster dealings.

  6. blomfeld - Aug 26, 2014 at 12:46 AM


    The bottom line is that Shanahan has even less of a chance saving the Maple Leaf’s from complete ruination than Felix Steiner had of saving Berlin back in April of ’45. For as fellow historians will know, Steiner commanded the ‘last’ serviceable German army formation, which on April 15 1945 was positioned some 100 kilometers west of Berlin near the Elbe River. However ‘overwhelming’ Soviet forces quickly encircled Berlin proper, thus negating any chance of a breakthrough by Steiner from the west. So suffice it to say that the Maple Leafs are now ‘finished’ and that Monsieurs Nonis, Shanahan, Dubas, Carlyle, Booth and Reimer will all have been ‘dealt with’ by Christmas … 😦

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