Toronto Maple Leafs: The Reason Why Extending Brendan Shanahan Is Brilliant

TORONTO, ON-Toronto-DUBAS.The Maple Leafs announced today the promotion of Kyle Dubas to General Manager. Brendan Shanahan was on hand for the announcement..October 30, 2012. (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON-Toronto-DUBAS.The Maple Leafs announced today the promotion of Kyle Dubas to General Manager. Brendan Shanahan was on hand for the announcement..October 30, 2012. (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs have signed their President to a six year contract extension.

The deal keeps the Toronto Maple Leafs top dawg in charge until the 2024-25 season, minimum.

This is fantastic news for the Leafs and their fans.

It provides continuity and it shows that everyone in the organization is behind what the Leafs are doing.  Considering what they are doing is bordering on revolutionary, and that the NHL is an extremely conservative league, and that the Leafs are its most valuable and important franchise, this is an important development.

It wouldn’t be the first time in history that a team tried something new, didn’t meet with immediate success, and then changed course before really seeing if what they did was going to work.

The Leafs have lost in the first round three years in a row.  Brendan Shanahan has won nothing. If the team exerted pressure on him – i.e they said win now or we won’t re-sign you – then this entire thing could have collapsed.

So bravo to the men and women in charge of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment for having the bravery to see this through, because if you look at the roster, the assets, the future, the coach, the GM, and you look at the moves that have been done, it is clear beyond any doubt that this team is on the right track.

A lot of people in the media have a vested interest in Kyle Dubas being  a failure.  Why else do you think there’s so much hate and criticism for William Nylander, despite the fact he was the Leafs best possession player, and that pretty much all of his lack of scoring can be attributed to on-ice shooting percentages and lousy linemates?

Or why else do all the critics forget to mention that only one GM in the league over the last year acquired both a #1 C (Tavares) and a #1 D (Muzzin)?  It is extremely encouraging to see that the people in charge of this team can look beyond the media frenzy and look deeper than just whether or not the team won the Stanley Cup.

Brendan Shanahan

When the Toronto Maple Leafs hired Shanahan, the team was a colossal joke.  Brian Burke and then Dave Nonis (and their stooges like Dave Poulin) had no clue how to operate a team in the salary cap era, let alone deal with all the changes that statistical analysis were driving in the game.

Neither did Shanahan, but he saw that change was in the air, so unlike virtually all new executives, he just sat back.  He watched.  He learned.  He exhibited great patience.

He saw how Nonis and Poulin and Carlyle were failing, and he resolved to be proactive in his management style. This meant that he would be on the cutting edge, not responding to it, or worse, sticking his head in the sand like half the league’s executives and almost all the ex-players on TV.

The smartest thing Shanahan ever did wasn’t to hire Kyle Dubas, it was to trick everyone into buying into this new way of doing things by doing three things: 1. Showing undue patience with Carlyle (extending him was downright Machiavellian) and Nonis, 2. Hiring Oldest School aka Lou Lamoriello as his GM and 3. Hiring Mike Babcock.

With this kind of cover, he was able to go under the radar as he presided over the conversion of the NHL’s worst managed team into what promises to be it’s most progressive.

Hockey Politics

The politics of going all-in on analytics would be difficult for any executive. You’ve got to convince the owners of a multi-million dollar entity that everyone else has been doing nearly everything wrong for a 100 years.  Plus you have to convince them to look at process over results.  Then you’ve got to do the same thing with the fan base.

And after you do all that, you’ve got to keep convincing people that you’re on the right track when the results are bad and they start to demand success.

Shanahan – whether intentionally or not – has been a genius about doing this.

Four years into his reign, he hasn’t won anything.  But he did convince MLSE to bet on a 31 year old GM with a vision that would (and does) get laughed at during the TSN Intermission Panel (the hockey equivalent of your grandpa’s favorite show).

And judging him on results after four years isn’t even really fair since it’s generally acknowledged that rebuilds in the NHL take about five years. ( That is probably a cliche, but it does provide some cover).

He spent one of those years letting Nonis and Carlye give him first hand experience in how not to run a team.  Since then, he has given his team the best young GM in the game, three of the best young forwards in the game, and the league’s most respected coach.

If you asked me four years ago if I’d be satisfied if the Toronto Maple Leafs hadn’t won a Cup in four years but had arguably the best roster in hockey, I wouldn’t even have had to think about it. Of course that would satisfy me.

This iteration of the Toronto Maple Leafs is the best, and youngest, iteration I’ve seen in my entire life.  The early 90s teams overachieved, and then Sundin and Gilmour never meshed.  The early aughts had good teams, but they never had that guy who was a notch above Sundin.

They have him now in Auston Matthews.  And they’ve also got Marner, Nylander, Tavares, Rielly, and Andersen.

The Toronto  Maple Leafs are in the best shape they’ve been in since 1967 when they won their last Stanley Cup.

Brendan Shanahan is a large part of that.  Perhaps the largest part.  Extending him was a no-brainer. If you make winning the standard of success, you’ll just constantly lose good people.  A smart team needs to realize that actually winning a championship is so luck-dependent that making it the standard for extending your relationship with good people will only cost you in the long run.

I mean, should the Leafs have fired Shanahan and replaced him with the Cup winning Peter Chiarelli? Should they have forced him to alter his plan by putting his job on the line with a win or else ultimatum?  Should the team really be changing course four years into a rebuild that is miles ahead of where even the most optimistic Leafs homer could ever have dreamed about on the day Shanahan was hired?

Of course not.  All of those moves would be certifiably terrible.

Shanahan has the Leafs in a position to win after only four years on the job, starting from the absolute bottom.

Next. Kill All Nylander Trade Talk Now because There's No Chance. dark

Whether or not you do win comes down to luck, and there’s not much Shanahan could have done to make the Leafs get an easier first round opponent, or keep Nazem Kadri from acting like the Ultimate Warrior drunk on steroid rage.

I give this contract extension my highest rating, which, as you know,  is Five Tony Almeidas out of five.