New Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan knows the value of hard work and determination, which will help in his attempt to turn around an NHL organization in flux, writes CBCSports.ca's Mike Brophy (Chris Young/Canadian Press)
The mere fact that player after player met with the media Monday morning and insisted the Toronto Maple Leafs are a good team tells you a little something how delusional this group is. New team president Brendan Shanahan has his work cut out for him to try to turn things around.
Brendan Shanahan was just 18 years old and playing for the London Knights when I first met him.
He was one of the biggest stars in the Ontario Hockey League and his team was playing back-to-back games against the tough-checking and defence-minded Peterborough Petes.
The reason this stays with me even to this day is because in those two games he was shut down cold by checking centre Rob Murray of the Petes. That is not unusual; it happens.
What I recall though was speaking to Shanahan after the second game and how angry he was; not at being held off the scoresheet. He was thoroughly miffed that his coach did everything in his power to keep him away from Murray and as a result severely reduced his ice time.
"I wanted to play every shift against Murray," Shanahan huffed. "I love the challenge."
And that pretty much sums up Brendan Shanahan. Facing challenges head on is what made him a three-time Stanley Cup champion and Olympic gold medallist. It is what allowed him to stand up to pushy NHL managers when he had to suspend their players as a member of the NHL's head office.
You love a challenge, Brendan? Well, you are going to love your new job then.
Although it was announced last week, Shanahan was unveiled as the new president and alternate governor of the Toronto Maple Leafs Monday morning. Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, said in no uncertain terms Shanahan will be responsible for all hockey decisions. General manager Dave Nonis, who has four years remaining on his contract, will be retained and will answer to Shanahan.
Together, they will sit down and assess the rest of the organization and try to figure a way to get back to the playoffs and win the organization's first Stanley Cup since 1967.
The Maple Leafs are an organization in flux. They appeared to take a step forward in 2012-13 making the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons and then extending Stanley Cup finalist Boston to seven games before bowing out, courtesy of a third-period collapse, but they took a step back this season.
Toronto got off to a good start, winning 10 of its first 14 games, but coach Randy Carlyle, who knows a thing or two about winning, insisted the team was not playing the type of solid defensive hockey that is required for success late in the season.
He was absolutely right and yet he was never able to get his fancy-dan players to alter the way they played the game.
There will be no quick fix and Shanahan was very careful not to make promises he could not fulfill. He said it is going to take him some time to familiarize himself with his management staff and with the players in the organization. He also wisely said the foundation for success begins at the draft. In a recent issue of The Hockey News, Toronto's prospects ranked 29th in the NHL.
The mere fact that player after player met with the media Monday morning and insisted the Maple Leafs are a good team tells you a little something how delusional this group is. In fact, the Maple Leafs are not a good team. They are soft and showed no commitment to defence. They over-passed the puck and were outshot far too often.
They did, however, display at times a willingness to play Carlyle's more aggressive style and when they did, such as March 10 in Anaheim and three nights later in Los Angeles, they showed they could hang with the NHL's big boys. They just didn't do it often enough.
On too many nights, like when they lost 4-2 to Winnipeg at home, even though the Jets had already been eliminated from the playoffs and had nothing to play for, or when 30-year-old Drew MacIntyre made his first NHL start April 10 in Florida and his teammates hung him out to dry, the Maple Leafs simply did not show up. There was no pride.
"I thought a lot about coming in here today and this specific moment and it doesn't really matter to a lot of people where I'm from, how many championships I was able to be a part of as a player, the teams I played for," Shanahan said, a Toronto boy. "We're not here today for big speeches, big words, big proclamations. Today is my first day at work and there is a lot of work to be done."
That is an understatement.
Shanahan said this is a time for him to listen and learn. True enough. But when you are the head honcho, there are expectations of change.
The good news is Shanahan has never shied away from the limelight. As a player he was responsible for helping bring positive changes to the game that had become to defensive and downright boring. He knows the value of skill, but more importantly, he knows the value of hard work and determination.
There will be no freeloaders on Shanahan's watch. If a player doesn't toe the line, Shanahan will replace him. That's the beauty of having won before. You know what it takes.
Mike BrophyMike Brophy brings a wealth of hockey writing and broadcasting experience to CBC Sports, having covered junior hockey for 14 years before joining The Hockey News as its senior writer for 17 years starting in 1992. Most recently, the Burlington, Ont., native worked as a writer/commentator at Rogers Sportsnet and as co-host of The Power Play on SiriusXM. Mike has written four books, including My First Goal, featuring 50 players describing their first NHL goals.