Toronto Maple Leafs Lucky To Have Brendan Shanahan

The Toronto Maple Leaf are lucky to have Bredan Shanahan.

After years of chasing results, making short-term, knee-jerk decisions, and letting the tail wag the dog, the Toronto Maple Leafs have finally put a strong management team in place.

It’s been six years since the Leafs brought in Brendan Shanahan and he has done a near-perfect job. (Only real mistake: not firing Mike Babcock last season).

Listening to him speak the other day, I was reminded as to why I think he’s the perfect person to be the President of the team.

Toronto Maple Leafs and Brendan Shanahan

Shanahan rarely speaks to the media.  He is not one of those presidents that is really also the GM.  Kyle Dubas is the GM and for the most part, Shanahan operates behind the scenes.

When he chooses to speak, it’s usually an event, because it doesn’t happen very often.

Last week, Shanahan came up to the mic to make some statements and the time to do so was apt. The trade deadline is past, the Toronto Maple Leafs are in a playoff race, but the criticism is mounting, so it was the perfect time to reiterate his philosophy and vision.

What he said this week (other than some Auston Matthews hype) was essentially that he sees this team as being on the right path, and that he plans to stay the course and become an elite team.

This has prompted criticism in some (predictable) quarters, but the credibility of the critics is far less than Shanahan’s, who has always been a straight shooter, which means we should believe him.

He’s also been incredibly successful, so if he says the team is on the right track, he deserves the benefit of the doubt.

When I say successful, I mean that he oversaw a complete tear down of the team and culture that was in place when he was hired.  He oversaw the acquisitions of Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and John Tavares, which have put the Toronto Maple Leafs in place to be contender for the next decade.

Team success has eluded him, but only if you think in terms of Stanley Cup or Bust.  They lost three times in a row in the playoffs, it’s true.  The first time, they went from last place to almost knocking off one of the best teams in the league for the last decade.

In years two and three they lost to the best team hockey has seen in the last decade, coming close to winning both times.  They told us it would be a five year rebuild, and years two, three and four saw them come close to knocking off extremely good teams in the first round.

If you can put emotions aside (of course we all want the Leafs to win) these last three years have had very good results for a team that is transitioning from last place with the first overall pick to Cup Contender.

Future Success Assured

This year things have gone poorly, but there are reasons for that.  The team turned over a third of it’s roster, they changed coaches, the haven’t dressed their optimal lineup for a single game, their all-star goalie had his worst season ever, and they are at nine games and counting without their two best defenseman in the lineup.

Considering all that, the fact they are going to start round one as the third seed in the Atlantic, on the road, for the third year in a row is pretty impressive.

From day one Shanahan has talked about the need to have a process you stick to even when the results don’t go how you expect them to.  He put these words into actions when he hired Kyle Dubas and an 11 person analytics department, which is the largest and most expensive in the NHL.

It should be no surprise to anyone that he comes out six months into the rockiest season he’s had yet as President to reiterate his beliefs.

The Leafs of the past – WHO FAILED FOR 50 YEARS – would listen to the likes of Cox and Simmons and fire their young GM.  They’d give up on a new progressive vision and revert to the norm at the first sign of trouble.

But there’s a reason Shanahan has been so successful in life:  he understands that if you keep doing the right thing, even when the results are bad, you’ll eventually get the result you desire.

I don’t expect people who have to work 40 or 50 hours per week to have great insight to their favorite hockey team that goes beyond the results.  But if you’ve got the extra time (and I do) the Toronto Maple Leafs have reason to be optimistic.

They won almost 70% of the games where Sheldon Keefe was the coach and Morgan Rielly was in the lineup.  They’ve addressed needs for back-up goalie, toughness, and defense.

Players like Justin Holl and Pierre Engvall have elevated themselves into above average NHL players.

William Nylander has emerged as an elite player, while Auston Matthews is arguably the best player in the NHL.  

Finally, teams that out-perform their goaltending always do well in the future.  This is because bad goaltending will sink a team with good stats, but over time, the goalie is almost guaranteed to find his game.  When he does, look out.

The Leafs would probably be on a six game winning streak right now if their offense didn’t go on a west coast sabbatical. 

Since that is the one part of their game we know is unimpeachable, I think their recent play is actually quite encouraging.

Time will prove Brendan Shanahan right.