Brendan Shanahan had a Fantastic First Year

It’s been just a year and a handful of days since Brendan Shanahan was introduced to a throng of media as the newest Toronto Maple Leafs President and Alternate Governor. He faced the same throng again on Monday afternoon, explaining why he fired practically half of his staff a day before.

One would think that, due to the Leafs being terrible and the need to fire several senior hockey executives, Shanahan probably had a pretty bad season himself. 

Not true. It was beautiful.

For once in Toronto’s sad existence, someone had the foresight to say “this is crap” and “this crap is not working” and most importantly “this crap will not work ever.” 

It was a refreshing change of pace for Leafs fans, and lead to three events executed by Shanahan over this past season that unapologetically pushed this organization in the right direction.

More past the jump…

Firing Randy Carlyle

If there was one perceived mistake that Shanahan made, it’s that he extended Carlyle and didn’t just fire him sooner. The truth, whether you like to believe it or not, is that these things do not happen overnight. The blogosphere may have been ready to move on from Carlyle ages ago, but it was the responsible thing for Shanahan to understand what he had before he decided where he wanted to go. If he wanted to take a half season to see things for himself, that was Shanahan’s prerogative.

Carlyle’s new contract meant absolutely nothing. At most, it represented some financial security for a veteran coach, but certainly didn’t offer any job security. A coach’s contract doesn’t count against the cap and, for a team like the Leafs, certainly doesn’t hurt their wallet. If you have a problem with the Leafs paying Carlyle a salary over the next couple years, you need to get over that.

An Excellent Trade Deadline

Smart teams get maximum value out of their expiring assets whenever possible. Sure, contending teams don’t unload upcoming free agents just before Cup runs – that’s understandable. But it’s the bad teams who recognize they are bad teams and turn their trade pieces into futures that turn things around the quickest.

Shanahan didn’t waste any time in maximizing his assets when it came to the trade deadline. In the past, we would have seen the Leafs stand pat, or maybe even try to add a piece or two in hopes of making a run and sneaking into the playoffs. Instead, the Leafs cleared contracts and created flexibility when they sent Carter Ashton and David Broll to the Tampa Bay Lightning, then shipped out pending free agents Mike Santorelli, Cody Franson, Daniel Winnik, Korbinian Holzer and Olli Jokinen for picks and prospects.

Sure, Toronto could have done more. They didn’t trade David Booth, so they might lose out on some value there (though, it couldn’t be that significant). They also didn’t trade Roman Polak, but you can imagine he’s a prime candidate to fetch you a pick or prospect at next year’s deadline. And no, they didn’t trade Dion Phaneuf or Phil Kessel or James van Riemsdyk or Joffrey Lupul or Tyler Bozak, but there will be plenty of opportunities to do so later.

I would be remiss to not mention the David Clarkson trade, which is obviously an insanely huge win for Toronto, though I’m hesitant to give too much credit to Shanahan for that deal. After all, reports suggest that it was Columbus’s idea all along.

Still, Shanahan mandated that everything not nailed down be shipped off for a good number of future assets. That’s what smart, rebuilding teams do. 

Firing Dave Nonis (And A Bunch Of Other People Too)

This just happened, so I won’t spend a lot of time talking about it.

The most important thing here is that Shanahan recognized that his management and coaching staff (save Mark Hunter, Kyle Dubas and Steve Staios) just wasn’t cutting it anymore, and that he was completely justified to canning every last one of them.

Nonis had made too many mistakes over the course of his stewardship, and after spending a year working with the man, learning how he works and understanding his vision for future of the Leafs, Shanahan decided in good time that he wasn’t a fit. Pretty much everybody agrees on that, so credit where credit’s due to Shanahan for actually being in touch with reality and making the call.

Everything You Could Ask For

If you asked Leafs fans at the beginning of the season – those who knew the team wasn’t quite good – they’d tell you that their ideal year would see Carlyle and Nonis gone, and a strong focus on turning veterans into assets. Essentially, they wanted a rebuild. They absolutely got it.

Of course, fans will remain cautiously optimistic. The Leafs are about to enter a period that prioritizes drafting and development over on-ice success and, unfortunately, there’s no guarantees it will work. Over the next few months, Brendan Shanahan will restaff his front office, hand select a new coaching staff, draft at least one high-end prospect, and start fleshing out his 2015-16 roster. 

Mistakes will inevitably be made, but there certainly weren’t many made in Shanahan’s first year in Toronto.

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  • MatsSundin#13

    One of the things that Shanahan has going for him is that he watched a lot of hockey. The OPS watches every game. Shanahan had the opportunity to see what was really going on in the NHL. Most hockey fans are primarily interested in their own team. I would really encourage Leaf fans to closely watch the playoffs this year. We need to see what it takes to win in this league. Pay close attention to Chicago. They are a phenomenal playoff team. I think LA is also but their regular season precluded a playoff appearance. We should be thinking what will it take for the Leafs to reach that level. I think the most important decisions Shanahan has taken this year is in building up hockey operations.

    Not just Hunter and Dubas but also Steve Staios, Manager of Player Development. Those are the hires that will determine the future of this team. Shanahan got rid of a bunch of useless scouts. He will spend MLSE’s money building a great scouting network. I was thrilled when MLSE hired him and am even more excited now.

  • MatsSundin#13

    i believe in the shanaplan because that’s all there is for a leafs fan. it’s our only hope. it’s the last hope for a good team otherwise we’re crap forever. all we have going for us is eternal optimism 🙁

  • MatsSundin#13

    I want to see Shanahan continue to bring in “new” people into the organization and not recycled management pieces. Meaning more Kyle Dubas’s and Brandon Pridham’s, and less Peter Chiarelli, and Peter Deboer’s.
    New guys with new ideas

    • silentbob

      New doesn’t always mean better. 10 years ago Rob Babcock and John Ferguson were supposed to be “new guys with new ideas” and both were total failures as General Managers.

      Of course they were then replaced with Brian Burke and Bryan Colangelo, two experienced and very well thought of GM’s and both were failures as well.

      I think its more a case of getting the right people regardless if they are “new” or “experienced”. Personally I’d like to see a mix, some “new guys with new ideas” along with some experienced guys who have “done it” before and know how the league works and how to get things done.

        • TGT23

          People trash you because of your fundamental lack of respect towards youth, growth, and new ideas.

          People trash you because you make things up. People, opinions, facts, and then insult other people for having opinions they don’t have.

          People trash you because you are wrong. No matter how you delude yourself into believing you have the answers, you are wrong.

          YOUR ideas appear to be to bring in people like the people the team has already removed (people you insult for having the same views you do) and hope they completely ignore stats, facts, and information.

          All things that appear to frighten you.

      • TGT23

        As for your post, I somewhat agree.

        I think it is note important to bring in the right people than just one side or the other.

        I want the young analytic crowd, but the one’s willing to allow for more than the numbers. The ones smart enough to know not everything is quantifiable.

        I want the people with experience who have learned to embrace new thinking. People who have a good eye for talent and don’t ignore evidence, stats and facts.

        Those people are hard to come by, as what’s48 proves with every post. It is easy to get stuck in your ways. To pretend the game is still as it was in the 70’s.

        But if you can find the special old hockey guys who can embrace new hockey ideas, and new hockey guys who can allow for wisdom of an experienced gut, then you’ve found something special.

        That’s what I want. Special.

        A special mix of people for a franchise who used to be special.

  • silentbob

    My only complaint about Shanahan’s first year is the “wasted” season.

    We didn’t really learn anything about Carlyle or our players (Phaneuf, Kessel, Lupul etc…) that we didn’t know last year.

    I like that our core players days appear to be numbered & I’m excited to see what Shanahan does in regards to the coaching staff, scouting staff and GM before the start of the next season and I’m thrilled with the direction the franchise appears to be going. I just wish he had made those changes in the spring of 2014.

  • MatsSundin#13

    Shanahan has done a real good job and contrary to the previous Director of Hockey operations he does not feel the need to announce his every decision to the media. My question is this, there has been a lot said about our drafting failure, but could it be the Leaf prospect development failure(as witnessed by all the players(prospects) the Leafs had given up on and traded away that are now productive front line players?