Toronto Maple Leafs: Shanahan’s Change In Philosophy


Winning is something that Leaf fans have not seen a lot of lately so anything positive coming their way makes for great news.

“Defeating” the likes of the Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, St. Louis Blues, and San Jose Sharks to acquire the services of the game’s “premier” coach made a great consolation prize for the Toronto Maple Leafs as the third round of the playoffs was nearing completion.

May 21, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Toronto Maple Leafs new head coach Mike Babcock gestures as he speaks with club president Brendan Shanahan (left) during a media conference at Air Canada Centre. Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

On May 20th, Mike Babcock was introduced as the 30th head coach in the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs and said all the right things during his press conference. He spoke of “the plan” and the commitment from the board to “stick to it” through the bad and the good times.

Babcock continued that sentiment throughout the question period after the press conference and during interviews with George Stroumboulopoulos and Paul Hendrick. He then followed that up with an appearance on Toronto’s most popular radio show, Primetime Sports with Bob McCown.

Most of the content on the show was similar to earlier questions he had received and the answers never changed much. In the press conference when he was asked about the current roster, Babcock lead us to believe that he didn’t know much about them stating that he “intends to get to know them” before making any judgement’s.

Fair enough. That’s what any new coach would say on the first day of his hiring. If that’s ALL he had to say then we all would have accepted it with a smile on our face. However, during Primetime Sports, he added this:

"“I expect you to bring it everyday. Every single day. And I expect you to be a man when you don’t. And own your own stuff. Period. I believe the game’s honest. And if you’re an everydayer… and you’re honest about your approach and your professional with the way you eat, the way you drink, the way you live. The way you live away from the rink. It shows when you come to the rink and the fans appreciate who you are. If you don’t wanna be like that… if you don’t wanna be part of the Maple Leafs that’s fine too. All you do is you go see Shanny.” (Sportsnet)"

An interesting quote made by the new Toronto Maple Leafs coach but was it more than that? Was it a subtle warning by the new bench boss that he knows what’s going on in this dressing room and it won’t be tolerated? Babcock knows a lot more about this roster than he chooses to let us believe. No self-respecting coach would take a job without researching it first. Certainly not one with his pedigree.

How much of the quote fits Phil Kessel who has been criticized for being lazy, out of shape, and a “me first” kind of player?

How about Nazem Kadri who was suspended by the team this past season for disciplinary reasons?

Maybe Dion Phaneuf who, as reported by Nick Kypreos on April 9th, wants out of Toronto?

Babcock spent the better part of the day meeting with various media outlets and never strayed too far from mentioning “the plan” and how it influenced his decision to take the high-profile and high-pressure job here in Toronto.

So, what is this “plan” for the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Well, in late January, Brendan Shanahan met with the Board of Directors at MLSE and presented what came to be known in the media as the “scorched earth” plan. It took two weeks but on February 12th, that plan was approved and Shanahan was given the power to “blow it all up!” Of course, we’ve heard about “plans” before.

Most recently, Brian Burke’s “five-year plan” of truculence that, if you believe he wasn’t actually pulling the strings before he was actually named Leafs GM, ended after only 4 years with his firing in January of 2013. For that reason, Leaf fans can be excused for wondering why this is any different. So why is it?

Apr 13, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan enters the media room before talking to the press during a press conference at Air Canada Centre. Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

There have been many changes made since Brendan Shanahan came on board. This isn’t a team that just changed their coach. This is an organization that is  quickly changing their thoughts and philosophy towards the game and it’s evolution.

They have opened their eyes to the world of analytics with the hiring of Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds GM Kyle Dubas as Assistant General Manager. Often criticized for their lackluster draft record, they have brought in other people with links to junior hockey as well.

Mark Hunter, who gained a reputation for being a talent magnet while with the London Knights, was hired as director of player personnel. They added Saginaw Spirit general manager Jim Paliafito as director of player of evaluation.

They let almost all of their scouts go and are bringing in fresh new faces like Lindsay Hofford of the London Knights and others to find talent. They brought in Sheldon Keefe of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds to develop that talent as the head coach of the Toronto Marlies.

These are just some of the moves that have happened on Shanahan’s watch and there are surely more to come. It may have taken a while for the organization to “get it,” but they are finally starting to understand the importance of the draft.

The roster moves will follow and if you aren’t on board, or Babcock and Shanahan don’t want you on board, you’ll be gone. Period.

There are some sentiments that maybe players like Phaneuf or Kessel will be “given another chance” to prove that they belong under the new coach.

It’s understandable that some would think that but is it realistic to think that after all of the moves mentioned above that they would keep the two players that would bring in the most trade value at the beginning of a full rebuild? Not likely. Most rebuilds take 5-7 years.

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Chicago made the playoffs once in nine seasons during their rebuild. Pittsburgh failed to qualify in four straight seasons and L.A went six painful seasons without playoff hockey. At the end of their rebuilds they had players like Toews, Kane, Bickell, Crawford, Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Staal, Letang, Doughty, Kopitar, Quick, and Brown to show for that pain and cups followed.

Not only that, but they became cup contenders year after year. A full rebuild requires pain and time. You move older players that will be in their thirties when you become that contender and bring in hardworking veterans on decent contracts to help the youngsters develop. Phaneuf would be on the wrong side of his 30’s at the end and Kessel would be 32-34 and on the downside of his career.

There will never be a better time to move either player for young talent and picks. Keeping them would be counterproductive and would go against the obvious change of direction that is going on in this organization right now. The same goes for often injured and overpaid forward Joffrey Lupul who will be moved if they can find someone to take on his contract.

The next couple of months will be very exciting for Toronto Maple Leafs fans. With a brand new coach in town and the best draft in years only two weeks away we can only imagine what surprises lie ahead as “the plan” continues to unfold.

If you’re a regular visitor here at Editor In Leaf, you may have realized that I’m “the new guy!” I look forward to what lies ahead and working with Tim, David, Torrin, Alex, and Cynthia to make Editor In Leaf your go to site for everything Maple Leafs!

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