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An empty feeling as the Leafs change the deck chairs yet again….

On the one hand I understand that Brendan Shanahan wanted to give his coach and General Manager “time” to make things work after he took over the reins of the hockey club a year or so ago.  But on the other hand, I don’t.

Doesn’t it feel as though those decisions had, in truth, already been made from the day Shanahan was hired?  Yet he insisted on playing out the charade.  The prize, I guess, is a lottery pick. But the cost was allowing a coach and GM to stay where they were clearly not wanted (witness all their hand picked assistants being axed by Shanahan) and fans enduring a season that was unnecessarily excruciating.

Many Leaf fans hated Carlyle, yet the team spiraled far worse after his departure.  At the first sign of mild duress this past season, Carlyle was fired.  For his part, Nonis was seemingly left in a silo, knowing his days were numbered.

What a way to run a business. At least there seemed to be fewer of those often ill-timed pre-game ceremonies this past season. We didn't have to hear the excuse that the players were out of sorts before the games started.

Shanahan watched as the team crumbled.  Do we even remember that winning streak back in November or whenever it was? I hate the very notion of “tanking” (players don’t tank; organizations may well try…) but you can’t help but feel that this is exactly what Shanahan wanted—a beyond terrible season, so he could have his scouts grab the low-hanging fruit and build with a superstar-in-waiting.

How can you make a mistake, eh, when you have your pick of the best available young players in the world? The next (currently in house?) GM will no doubt thank Shanahan for the coup the new guy will take credit for.

This all fine, except there was a lot of collateral damage to the psyche of the organization and an already emotionally fragile fan base.  So much for pride, the Leaf legacy and all that stuff. It was acceptable to be terrible this season, and now they will be applauded for it, it seems.

It appears to be a foregone conclusion that Kessel and Phaneuf will be gone this summer.  That may or may not trouble most fans. I’m unmoved either way at this point. Numb may be the better word. I’m trying to scratch my head figuring out who played with enough heart in the last two months of the season that they deserve to be here going forward. (This is not to say that a host of players won’t go elsewhere and prosper—they may well in a new environment. Surely any other place has to be better that what was happening here for the past twelve months as the organization drove itself yet again to irrelevance.)

Shanahan spoke on Monday. Well, I’ve heard all the pronouncements from on high before. We all have.

Maybe Mike Babcock will come in and save the day. But even that will trouble me. I’ve never liked having the sense that these things are pre-ordained.  I mean, the guy is coaching a team in the playoffs right now.  If he does in fact end up with the Leafs, I won’t be able to help but feel that he knew all along this is what he wanted as his next challenge, yet he was being paid millions to coach his current team, the Red Wings. 

Fair on my part?  I don’t know.

Consider me underwhelmed by all of this.  Changing the GM?  Most Leaf supporters had done that in their minds months ago.  The coach? Sure. That’s a given when you finish 50th, or whatever.

Maybe Shanahan will prove to have a “plan”, a “vision”, a “blueprint for success”. We’ve heard those words before too.  And now he has surrounded himself with analytics people.  Hey, maybe that will solve everything.

I doubt it.

I posted here a couple of weeks ago that I have precious little to say about the current Leafs. I’ve never wanted to come across on this site as being unduly critical of the team. That’s too easy and it’s done just about everywhere. I have tried to hover here at VLM over the years between realistic and hopeful.  But I have nothing left in the tank.

I guess there will be momentary excitement when the Leafs select an outstanding, game changing player in June at the draft.  But right now, I feel zero excitement and no sense that the future feels bright.

And for me, as of right now, Shanahan is part of the problem. The honeymoon is over. As we keep hearing, this is a results-oriented business. And the results under his watch were lousy.

He may prove me wrong.  But it will take a long time—and more than a new coach, a few new players and a some regular-season victories— to convince me that he is the guy to make things right.

By all means share your thoughts, good, bad or indifferent. But for now, I'm indifferent- just like the team was.



39 comments:

  1. Hi Michael,

    I still find it hard to believe what happened this season but I definitely don't believe there was a charade from the start of the season. I think they believed in the team and thought they would be competitive. They felt they had a had a true #1 goalie in Bernier and they had made the defense stronger and harder to play against with Polak and were expecting better seasons from Gardiner, Franson and a year older Rielly playing with an experienced Robidas. They also thought the additions of Komorov, Winnick, Santorelli, Frattin, Booth, and even Kontiolla would make the bottom six a lot better with some actual offence and more ice time. More ice time on the bottom six was supposed to give them a late season rested top line and a year ago when the JVR, Bozak, Kessel disappeared after the Olympics it was blamed on late season fatigue because of 23 or so minutes a game they were on for. Obviously less minutes for the top line was not the answer.

    The team has skilled offensive players like Kessel, JVR, Kadri, Lupul so there was no reason to believe this team would be as bad as they were. I didn't think it was a charade when the Leafs beat the Ducks 6-2 Dec. 16 for their 6th straight win when they were near the top of the standings. It was pretty much all downhill after that game and still hard to believe.

    I still think they are better than their record but clearly not a playoff team. My guess is under different circumstances and not losing players to injury and trade - and the team not giving up on probably 10 games the last few months they are closer to a 90 point team. The last Habs game and the last two Sens games they did seem to be playing with a little more energy. Sens needed to win those two games but the Leafs seemed a little more involved and interested in the games than usual.

    On a positive note they now are picking 4th and if they had of actually played better down the stretch it would only have hurt the draft position so the top draft pick helps.

    I watched Shanny today and his plan sounds a lot like the old Nonis plan. I remember Nonis saying he wanted to build through the draft and develop young players in the Leaf system and a have a group of young players improving and gaining experience and all hitting their prime when they became a serious contender so there was also no point in adding older players who would not be around long.

    But Nonis never followed his plan. How does a 38 year old Robidas help win a Cup four years from now? Clarkson is 31 - he never helped but even if he had helped how would he have helped four years from now? They had a good 23 year old 6'5" center in Joe Colborne that Rick Dudley said would eventually be a 2nd line center in the NHL but Nonis still traded him for a 4th round pick because Carlyle wanted Orr warming the bench. How is that developing your players? How is trading three picks for a Dave Boland who made a fortune off of one goal building through the draft?

    I like the Shanny plan but it has to be followed to be successful. Nonis had the same plan, too bad he never carried it out.




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    1. Good to hear from you, Alton. Fair points, as always.

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  2. HI Michael,

    Thanks for posting today. For several years now, I have thoroughly enjoyed your perspective on the Leafs of the past, and the present. As you all know, I am too young to remember any of the glory of the Maple Leafs, and too old to not have a significant number of awful memories of this once storied franchise. My own little sports purgatory, if you will.

    Even though I am not as down as you are on the moves the team has made this season. I really do think that they are attempting to get in line with the way that they best teams in the league do things. This is certainly not a guarantee of future success. The teams in the entire league are so close together talent wise, there is very little separating them today. I don't think that I can look back over the putrid teams of the 80's and come up with many good things to say about how the Leafs of that era compared to the best. Yet, today there are talented players in Toronto, and a few on the way. Not a lot, but a few. Too many draft picks wasted, on mediocre talent, as well as traded away.

    As I reflect upon the thought above about Carlyles' team. I don't remember them being the better team on the ice very often. In fact, I often said that even though they were winning games, they really seemed to be stealing points. Not much of a recipe for long term success in my opinion. There is little benefit to scraping into the playoffs, or just missing them year after year.

    I think you are being a little too impatient with Shanahan. I understand why, and it isn't a criticism. It has only been a year. He inherited a crappy team, and was put in a crappy position. Yes, I concede he did so of his own free will. It doesn't change that no matter whether or not he fired lots of people right away, or gave them one more chance. He was going to be criticized harshly either way. The only way to know if he is going about things the right way will come 1,2,3,4, and 5 years from now. If the Leafs are making progress towards the Stanley Cup or not. There will always be debate about how much progress, and how fast. I for one, would just like to see them make progress. Not only in the standings, but philosophically as well. A good start would be not to rush young players into the lineup on the Leafs. Build a system that allows players to grow into the best they can be, not rush them because you don't have anyone better. Hoarding draft picks would also be a good idea. Just because they are free, doesn't mean they don't have immense value.

    Reading your words always brings a smile to my face, specifically, the one about finishing 50th, or whatever.

    Time will tell if the team is finally going in the right direction. Right now, I am optimistically saying that I think they are. It's fair to say that after this long wandering the desert, there is more than a little hope sprinkled in there too. There is a lot of work to do here, I think they found the right man for the job.

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    1. You know that I appreciate your perspective on these things, Jim. Thank you.

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  3. It's never a good thing when a lifelong passion for 'our team' is wrenched from our psyche so violently that it's not merely the removal of 'rose-coloured glasses' but the decimation/obliteration of the core of our connection to the team. I hear some degree of such an experience in you experiential 'indifference'.

    That an organization can so abuse it's hard core foundation is truly baffling and you're right Michael, they will have to earn back what they have so carelessly squandered. I'm just of the opinion that Shanahan knew full well what was needed a year ago, yet needed to 'demonstrate' the problem to a room full of bespectacled (rose-tinted) executives that thought the gravy train would continue to roll (as though we were as heartless as those making such assumptions might be).

    I only hope that the club Shanahan wielded over this debacle of a season landed squarely upon those who were so obtuse. It certainly does feel like the whole scenario has been manipulated and orchestrated and I wouldn't deny the possibility. My only current 'hope' is that we have finally 'bottomed out' and there's only one direction left for our future.

    In the meantime... 'indifferent' seems like the right word (and I don't really care to 'thesaurize' right now and that's pretty 'indifferent' - isn't it?).

    For what it's worth, I do empathize with and 'feel' the emptiness you are expressing regarding this team... fortunately, we know that the Leafs need only be a selective passion (or void) and that they have provided us with an early summer to enjoy other pursuits. GOlf Leaf(fans) GOlf (or insert your own interest, if chasing a little round ball doesn't appeal to you any more than me - even if it would be 'less leaf centric' and isn't that the point right now?)!

    I think I can enjoy the likes of Connor Brown and the Marlie hopefulness... I really like that kid's drive and skill... might be someone who may one day join the ranks of our favourites from the past (and there's the only reason MLSE has held on to us this long - time for them to 'win us back' - don't you think?)

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    1. Well said, InTimeFor62. There is always, it seems, a reason to come back to the fold. Youngsters like Brown and others may well help with that. For now, I'll wait for action- and results.

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  4. "Doesn’t it feel as though those decisions had, in truth, already been made from the day Shanahan was hired? "

    I am not sure I agree with that statement Michael. I agree Shanahan most likely had a feeling this would need to change but we have to remember what his job before was. Working for the NHL head office. We make assumptions that everyone knows what is going on with this team because we get inundated with information from the main stream media in Toronto. But let's face it. Most outside leafs nation don't really care and have to go about doing their own jobs. So Shanahan would have a decent idea perhaps after talking to Leaf insiders before being hired but he wouldn't "know" for a fact what exactly was broke. He wouldn't know if it required a minor or major tweaking or a full out blow up and fix it.

    I give him full marks for taking the time to understand the full problem before doing what he did on Sunday. I have been in business long enough to have seen both sides of what we are discussing. And for me there is nothing worse than someone coming into a new job in charge essentially cold and immediately starting to change things without understanding how things are done first.

    I can appreciate your frustration. It has been a long time since this team was what most would call "good". And now we know it will be longer yet to get to that point. But I honestly believe the last decade has been a lot of doing the same things over and over and just expecting things to be different which of course is the definition of insanity. Now there WILL be something different. Will it be better?? Time will tell but I like the answers Shanahan gave yesterday. He talked about sticking with the vision. The plan can be tweaked based on factors that happen over time but the vision has to remain the same. He was very definitive with his answers with no BS.

    Now, the major wild card for me is the owners. Right now the board is behind him. That is all well and good but will this even be the same board in 1 or 2 years never mind 5 years down the road. And how will that affect things? We cannot know which is, and always has been for me, the major problem with this organization. If you don't have stable ownership and leadership from the very top, how can anyone expect the hockey organization below it to be any different?

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    1. I appreciate hearing your perspective, Pep. Along with Jim, Alton and InTimeFor62, you offer a more hopeful assessment. Thanks.

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  5. Shanny made obvious mistakes. Claiming he lived in a vacuum prior to showing up in leafland and needing the year to see this debacle before implementing nessacary changes was a setback that harmed the brand and our major tradable assets, the pieces that will expedite the rebuild. However, taken at his word I feel were on the right track not ahead of the curve but not as far behind the 8 ball.

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    1. Fair point, Anon, that in light of this past season, some talented players the Leafs may consider moving might not bring the return they otherwise would have.

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  6. I think the future could be rough for a little while. The one thing that keeps me positive is the Marlies.

    The Marlies are a very young team, but unlike the Leafs, they have pushed forward and are going to make the AHL playoffs.

    They have a decent group of prospects on that team. Some have the potential to be stars. I think Connor Brown is going to be a very good player. He is 10th in scoring in the AHL and leads scoring among all AHL rookies. I think he will win rookie of the year and he was taken in the 6th round. When is the last time that we picked a Detroit-style gem in the late rounds?

    Nylander is doing fine for an 18 year old in the AHL at almost a point a game. I think Frederick Gauthier will be a nice 3rd line NHL center some day. From his success in Sweden, Andreas Johnson looks to be a top 6 NHL forward. Carrick, Leivo, Percy, Gibson, Bibeau, McWilliam and others look like they could be NHL players...not stars, but guys that compete.

    We will get a very good draft pick this year. Add in the best Marlie kids with a year or two more experience. Retain a few players like Morgan Reilly...maybe even Holland, Kadri and Panik. Trade many current Leafs for picks and prospects. Add in a few character veterans. In two years, we could have a team that competes more consistently and I think they would finish better than 27th.

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    1. Very true about Brown, DP. It's good to see someone picked later show so much promise- a la Detroit, as you said.

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  7. If there's one hopeful note to be taken from this debacle of a season, for me it would be Peter Horachek's assessment of the team back when we had our golden two weeks in November: there was no way we were going to compete for the Cup playing as we were. And it's not enough to just be happy we made the playoffs, only to be bounced in the first round.
    Michael, I know you and I agree on disliking the "low-bar" approach many Leaf fans seem to have adopted, encouraged by the Leafs' organization - just be happy we made it into the playoffs! Anything can happen! Etc etc. Somehow, even with the O'Malley glass long fully drained this year, Horachek's honest assessment, and Shanahan's reiteration of it yesterday, keeps the embers of hope alive for me. I feel a flickering of the old blue and white flame when the team President says, flat out, that we don't have the leadership in the room or on the ice that's necessary to win. (Can a flame burn blue and white? Well, you know what I mean!)
    A commentator yesterday, who played with Shanahan, told a story about what he was like as a teammate and competitor. Apparently, another player tried to intimidate him, and told him "Keep your head up. I'm going to kill you" (or whatever). Shanahan turned and punched him in the mouth. If we see a team that manifests that kind of desire, pride, and competitiveness, then better days may be coming.
    But for now, like you, I'll wait and see. I don't really care about a high draft pick - as I've said before, it guarantees you nothing, a/k/a the Edmonton syndrome. What we need, besides a #1 center, a #1 defenceman and a #1 goalie, is a "team". This year's version did the unthinkable - caused this lifelong fan to lose interest. The last time that happened for me was back in the early 70's. It took four or five years before I got fully back into Leafmania. I know I'll be following developments over the summer, but, perhaps like you, I'm indifferent to the moves they make, the GM and coach they hire, the draft picks, the trades. At least Shanahan has been honest about this: it's not going to be a quick fix here. Time will tell if I can stick around for the long haul!

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    1. We're of the same mind on this one, Gerund!

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  8. Well Michael, what a long and painful season to witness. I've never seen this team in such a state of disarray, and now poised to wipe the slate clean and start over. Assuming a complete rebuild is needed, I have no clue as to whether Shanahan, and the staff he is going to assemble, are up to the task. It is extremely unsettling that virtually no one in the head offices of the Leafs has ANY experience in managing or operating an NHL team. Yet we are expected to have faith that these people can lead this team back to being a contending franchise in the next say 5-8 years.

    Probably the two most important positions on this team (i.e. GM and Coach) are vacant. It will be extremely interesting to see who comes in to fill those key roles. I'd like to think you want to bring in some experienced individuals with a history of success. For now it seems all we have is blind faith that Shanahan will get it right. I suppose we'll have to patiently wait to see how this saga unfolds. I''m far from optimistic, other than knowing things can't get much worse. *sigh*

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    1. We are sort of in a hockey wilderness it seems, Don (TML_fan). I think fans will back Shanahan- there are few options.

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  9. I thought it was a well worded press conference, but ultimately, what else was Shanahan going to say, based on watching the ship sail into the rocks? I was impressed that Brendan didn't sell any false hope here, like blaming fictitious injuries or nebulous "puck luck" as the reason the team fell off the rails. He fired a small town's population of executives, then targeted the roster as a whole for not offering up the effort or the joy that's expected from a pro athlete of any sport. I'm glad he mentioned the "Joy" aspect of being a pro hockey player, and how this group seemed sullen and disinterested, as that's a spot on assessment of this year's Leafs.

    For contrast, let's look at the Calgary Flames as a team that many thought were in a worse position than the Leafs before the season started. Management made a heck of a lot of poor decisions that really crippled the Flames' roster, including Kiprusoff retiring without being traded for a young asset or draft pick, and hanging onto Iginla for too long, thus diminishing his trade value. Plenty of excuses for the current roster to lean on, right? Well.... wrong, I guess. This team was consistent and hard working, in a conference that doesn't offer many easy games against the league's bottom feeders. Then they lost Giordano, their captain and true leader, and everyone wrote them off again. They never turtled under the adversity, and instead put together an amazing end to the season that was rewarded with a playoff appearance. You could substitute Ottawa or Winnipeg with their struggles as well, in terms of the rewards that resilience can offer.

    This Leafs squad offered absolutely none of the resilience that those three other Canadian based teams showed as they pushed towards a playoff spot. Not to beat a dead horse, but just look at Ottawa, needing to pretty much run the table with 25 games left, to even have a dream of making the playoffs. One three game losing streak, and they would have been left for dead, but that never happened. I'm the polar opposite of a Sens' fan, but good for them, based on that effort level.

    I was also happy that Shanny mentioned that Toronto being a hard market to play in is just an excuse. Play hard every night, and it's the best market in the world to wear the sweater in, and hard work is the best way to avoid a negative spotlight being pointed at a player. Brendan even said that the team could have had the identical record, bust still have been a lot more impressive based on their approach to the game.

    The scary part of that press conference was Shanny discussing the hire of the next GM. I don't quite understand how you find a top-tier GM, when during the interview process you tell him that his assistants are already carved in stone, so he won't have the option of building his management staff. That's no knock on Dubas or Hunter (fine hockey minds), but just a reflection on how the business world works, and how difficult it will be to lure a top dog, if he feels he's handcuffed from the beginning.

    Thank you so much for this site, Michael. It's always a fun place to vent, and share ideas.

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    1. You're so right, Russ- Calgary is an example of a team that played hard and surprised everyone. As you note, they, Ottawa and Winnipeg had to play through significant injuries and overcome adversity.

      Thanks for your kind words about the site, Russ. I'm not posting all that regularly of late, but will try to in the days and weeks ahead.

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  10. Hi Michael:
    As one of the agitators for removing Carlyle and especially Nonis over the past two years, I should be happy. However, I find myself mostly agreeing with your post and see mostly deja vu.

    Contrary to Mr. Shanahan feeling that he needed a year to figure out what was going on, I believe that there was a significant OPPORTUNITY COST. I have had the opportunity to see all varieties of management from excellent to bad in many different industries and what I have seen from MLSE in the past few years has been mediocre minus at best.

    What has been that OPPORTUNITY COST?

    1. Here we are a year later, and we still do not have any idea who the new GM and coach will be. In fact, skeptic that I am, I have seen little proven evidence that Mr. Shanahan has the ability to do the job.
    2. Mr. Shanahan effectively threw Carlyle and Nonis under the bus by removing their assistants. Horichek never had a chance. He is asked to bring in new systems, and then has the players who were performing removed from the team.
    3. Through the tanking, Mr. Shanahan has likely succeeded in devaluing the assets the team has.
    4. A losing environment has been exacerbated. Employees who are constantly looking over their shoulders (deserved or not) generally are not very productive or effective. Having played on both losing and winning teams, it is very difficult to have the right attitude and threats have limited long term effect.
    5. Mr. Shanahan suggests the organization will evolve. However, it seems clear he is going with the organization chart as defined by Leiweke. He appears to realize he is not a GM type, but is he a good Administrator that can run the hockey division? What happens when he gets a new boss?
    6. On the surface it would appear that Mr. Shanahan is a political animal which will be very important in working with the competing Bell and Rogers directors, but may be something one should be wary of.

    Whether the fanbase likes it or not, clearly Mr. Shanahan is driving the ship. In my view, Sunday truly represents day one of the Shanahan era. He has effectively avoided the carnage from his first year and is today's saviour. There is an old saying " No one knows whether you are smart or stupid, until you open your mouth". Like many reorganizations, his press conference contained many clichés and favourite sayings. Vision, resilient, the right way, character - I am sure we have heard them all before. As Pierre Trudeau used to say, "have faith".

    I have been diligently following Leaf blogs, and to date, I cannot remember seeing his Vision spelled out. To me, this represents the inflated BS that is usually in a company's mission statement. Perhaps, someone can piece it together for us. It would be nice to have a concise statement of the vision.

    I agree with Mr. Shanahan that he does not want to provide his plan to his competitors. I assume he has a plan since he says the important part is following it. I would caution him here. At best plans must be dynamic with the ability to evolve based on real world events.

    The Ivey School of Business should be chomping at the bit to have a case study on the Maple Leafs RollerCoaster.

    Now, the fun begins.We wanted accountablility, maybe we will get it.

    Note: While it will not mean much to MLSE, my protest will be cancelling my subscription to GAMECENTRE. Watching the Leafs regularly has been demoralizing.




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  11. I was nodding along throughout your post, Ralph (RLMcC). Leaf fans have no choice but to wait and see if Shanahan's words (and "plan") will mean anything more than previous words and plans.

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  12. I haven't read any of the comments yet, so I'll be back tomorrow to have a look. But the tone of your post pretty much nailed it as far as I'm concerned. I haven't been around to say much this year because I haven't really been watching the games since January or so. That must be the earliest I've ever given up on the Leafs in my life.

    On the bright side, part of being a fan is letting emotion rule over logic. So when the disappointment of this season fades away I will be hopeful once again, regardless of whether there is any objective justification for optimism.

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    1. Absolutely, Oliver- a bit of "time off" and we generally gravitate back to the Leafs. It's the life of a fan.

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  13. Wow, already dumping on Shanahan. I guess it's par for the course in Toronto.

    Let's see, you are saying that he should have come in and fired everyone as soon as he got here. Well that's the type of knee jerk reaction that has been happening here for far too long. You don't change for the sake of change.

    I'm not saying I like nor dislike Shanahan but I will say that he appears to be using a systematic approach and won't rush into moves.

    This is not a very good analogy but I'll give it a go anyway. Without a GPS....what would you do if you had a very long journey to a specific destination and a rough idea of how to get there? Would you have the car checked/prepared, plan a route, and pack for the trip or would you just jump in your car and start driving?

    There's no GPS to take you to the Cup.

    I'm a Leaf fan. A very disappointed and upset fan. However, this article seems to be unfair and critical for the sake of being critical.

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    1. My intention through the years here has been to provide a balanced view on the issues of the day. It strikes me that Shanahan (who I admired as a player) handicapped his GM and coach by taking away their hand picked assistants. No one can operate in that environment successfully. So he knew he was planning to let them go, so why the charade of a new season with them in place?

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    2. Hello Anon,

      Let me just say that I am a supporter of Shanahan but as a supporter I am still allowed to disagree with his decisions.

      As such, I am going to assume that, when he was hired, he was given complete autonomy over the hockey operations and only needed to run his decisions past Leiweke and/or the board as a courtesy.

      With a normal draft year waiting at the end of the 2014/2015 season I wouldn't have questioned Shanahan's decision to do a wait-and-see of what he had throughout the Leafs organization.

      But as we all know, this upcoming draft is not a normal draft. The consensus for quite a while has been that there would be at least one generational talent available and the rest of the draft would be deep. As it turns out, there are two players seen as having that generational tag hung around their necks - McDavid and Eichel.

      With the knowledge out there for well over a year that this was going to be a special draft, this is where I have a bone to pick with Shanahan. I could have taken a person off the street in any city around the world where the knowledge of hockey is non-existent, shown them the game tapes of the Leafs prior three seasons (18 wheeler collapse, EPIC playoff collapse, redux of 18 wheeler collapse), and those people would have told me that the players for the Leafs weren't good enough
      and they needed to be changed.

      If the decision to clean out the dead wood from the core of players had been made last off-season, the Leafs would have been in a better position to sell high on some of those core pieces (think Kessel's value then versus now) and the Leafs might actually be sitting in the cat-bird seat currently occupied by Buffalo.

      Finally, regarding your analogy.

      As a guy, I would of course just jump in the car and start driving - much to my wife's
      chagrin.

      Wayne

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    3. I couldn't disagree with you more, Anon. It's hardly unfair to question what decades of suffering as a Leafs fan has indelibly taught us - (not to mention the past 5 years) - cart-before-the-horse management decisions invariably create one lousy team. There's not a reputable GM in the NHL who'd accept the current set-up in Leafland. It will either have to be an Asst. GM from somewhere who wants to move up, or Dubas or Hunter... or Shanahan himself, despite his denials. It's hardly a "knee-jerk reaction" to question the way things are being done here. I hope we're all proven wrong, but those who forget history... etc.

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  14. Anonymous
    I assume that you must be a new follower of VLM. Most of us, follow VLM because it is respectful, balanced and info is well thought out. VLM is the antithesis of many hockey blogs. Let me tell you, Michael Langlois is not unfair and critical. If anything, He is far and balanced to a fault.

    While I can not speak for others, the use of the anonymous tag has something to hide, much like those who hide behind black car windows. VLM followers use their pseudonyms and gain their credibility (or not) based on respect and thoughtful answers, not necessarily agreeing with the poster.

    We all see things differently. Michael has called out Shanahan for one of the most despicable acts that corporations practice. In business terminology it was called "Brain Drain". New management would come in knowing they are going to chop heads. However, before doing that they decide to get any useful information from the incumbent. While it is accepted practice, it is very one-sided and not a good place for the incumbent to be. Michael, called what has happened a charade. To me, it suggests that perhaps one should watch his back in MLSE.

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  15. I was listening to ex Leaf Ass.GM Bill Watters on TSN radio this morning and he gave Shanahan some credit for positioning the Leafs into top five draft pick while not actually throwing games. He said the Leafs were a bad team and they needed to get better through the draft.

    Then I listened to a TSN podcast of Bill Watters from Nov. 19 the day after the 9-2 loss to Nashville and almost his exact words were "I have come to the conclusion this is a small part of a much larger plan by Shanahan to try to squeeze the team into the top five in the coming draft where there could be three or four franchise players."

    So way back on Nov. 19 when the Leafs were still in a playoff position Bill Watters was actually saying he thought Shanahan had a plan to get a top five draft pick. He also said he thought ownership would agree to a total rebuild.

    Now after hearing Watters say the season would be a charade back on Nov. 19 I have to say I have to agree with you and admit that what it really was.

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  16. Made a typing error looking up the website, and almost bought a "Vintage Leather Jacket"... which may have also been nice!

    I echoed your thoughts in my earlier post Michael, about the "cart before the horse" infrastructure that Shanny currently has set up, with regards to the assistant GMs already being in place. Chiarelli was let go by Boston today, which illustrates how brutal the business is when two trips to the Cup final, and winning it once isn't enough to hold onto your job. He made some mistakes, but those of us in Toronto hardly have the right to cast aspersions on his quality as a general manager. Anyways, many analysts were commenting that Chiarelli most likely wouldn't have an interest in the Leafs unique management structure, based on Shanahan already having the assistant GMs firmly cemented in their positions. My belief of the role of an NHL GM, is that you're handing him the keys to the entire hockey operation, and that includes building whatever management team he thinks he needs to excel and build the team. It's similar to last year's firing of the assistant coaches in Toronto, and oddly keeping the head coach, when as you mentioned Michael, the end result was obvious to all.... that head coach isn't going to be around very long.

    Sorry, but I can't see a reputable and powerful GM looking for an environment where he almost feels subservient to the existing structure. Go a step further and examine the coaching level, and imagine for a second if Leafs management was making an employment presentation to Babcock, where he was handed a list of his assistant coaches. It wouldn't fly, for obvious reasons.

    I have no issue with Shanny respecting and wanting Dubas and Hunter to drive the direction of the team, as these are smart hockey minds. I'd rather just have him name one as the actual GM, as opposed to putting a figurehead in place, and end up with a bizarre management structure.

    It's been quite the decade for us Leafs fans, where we tend to talk more about management and ownership, than the actual on-ice product.

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    1. As you note, Russ it's unlikely a proven GM would accept a management structure whereby he can't hire his own people. Shanahan has already made all the key hires, other than the GM position. He many well promote from within.

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  17. Hi Michael.

    I don't have a lot to say. It's certainly been a strange year. I didn't think last season could be topped..
    I'm not happy about missing the playoffs-- I shall have to watch Montreal with my Habs husband who kindly watched and suffered along with me through this Leafs season. Very hard not to be a little bitter!
    At least it turned out to be a very entertaining game tonight.

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    1. Hi Colleen- for me, the first round of the playoffs makes for the best hockey of the year. We already had some great games last night- enjoy with your husband. I come from a long line of Hab fans, so I understand!

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  18. Hi Michael,

    I've enjoyed Vintage Leaf Memories for a number of years now and wanted to respond to your latest post.

    I became a fan of the Leafs back in 1992/1993 with that great run by Pat Burns, Doug Gilmour, Felix Potvin, and crew. That team was a blue collar bunch of grinders who worked their tails off and as a result everyone loved them.

    Onto the present, I agree with many of your points.

    Why did it take Shanahan the entire season to get to this point? The history was there if Shanahan cared to look -- a collapse after Wilson was fired, a collapse last year, and the heartbreaking loss to Boston in game 7 two years ago. Did we need to go through an historically bad season to know that the current Leafs core wasn't good enough?

    A cynic would claim that for Shanahan to really be able to have a completely free hand you need to create a crisis. By doing nothing last summer, Shanahan gets off with little to no blame now and gets a clean slate to start from while becoming familiar with the MLSE organization. While he got himself oriented, Rome burnt to the ground. Great for Shanahan. Not so great for Leafs fans. The added bonus for Shanahan is that everyone on the Leafs roster now becomes available as trade-bait. No one is untouchable after a season like this one so there will be no hue and cry when any of the current roster is shipped out of town.

    That is all in the past now. Looking to the future however, I feel, is fraught with peril. This point comes from Stephen Brunt currently of Sportsnet, but a long time writer for the Globe and Mail. Can you remember a season where the Leafs went into that season with absolutely no hope of making the playoffs? He couldn't. Even in the Ballard years they occasionally made the playoffs. Starting seasons with no hope could well go on for several more years too. We will be bad on purpose because being bad and drafting high is the only chance you have to get good players in the NHL under the salary cap. How will fans react? We already saw indifference creep into the Leafs fanbase this year. I was one of those souls who was at the historically low attendance game against the Wild in March. I think this manoeuvre by Shanahan has a good chance of permanently losing fans and irreparably damaging the Leafs brand.

    There is a little hope. The Chicago Blackhawks drafted Jonathan Toews #3 overall in 2006 and then Patrick Kane #1 overall in 2007. They then hoisted the Cup in 2010. If everything falls right then it could be a quick turnaround. I'm not putting much stock in the Leafs 9.5% chance at Connor McDavid though.

    Draft and construct your team poorly and you get the Edmonton Oilers.

    Shanahan and his hand-picked people -- Dubas and Hunter -- have absolutely no track record for building a Stanley Cup winner.

    Like I said, the Leafs future is fraught with peril.

    Sincerely,

    Ian L

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    1. Good to hear fro you, Ian. There's lots to reflect on in your post and some very good questions. (By the way, those early- mid '90s Leaf squads were sure fun to watch...) Good drafting (and good luck in where to get to pick) makes a difference, for sure. So does knowing how to be patient and really develop players. Chicago made it work; the Oilers seemingly haven't. We won't know about Shanahan's impact for some time yet.

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  19. mike, i can absolutely sense your feelings of despondency in this entry. you've followed this team for so many years and witnessed so much grand-standing in that time with such mediocre to piss-poor results... it must make you sick to your stomach. in my correspondence with a friend of mine who's a sabres fan, i commented that i was happy for the sabres with how this season played-out for them (management and fans were committed to stinking and sinking from the start), whereas i was embarrassed for my own favorite team: the leafs. even players who i enjoyed watching in the past, i found myself seething while watching their 'locker-cleanout' clips earlier this week... typical cliche answers... a couple of the players even wore big goofy smiles. you know, if their income was based on real-time performance instead of contracts they've already signed, i bet the effort-level would be a bit higher on the ice. but i digress. even the argument that the leafs now have a chance at a generational player is ridiculous... the better part of 82 games played like garbage just for the roll of a 14-sided die? lady-luck usually isn't on the leafs side, so they'll end up drafting higher than expected and we'll settle for another lackluster player. oh well... serves the team right. i think the only glimmer of hope is that shanahan says the 'board members' are with him on his commitment to taking as long as it takes to do things right (translation: prepare for several years of rebuilding instead of some kind of quick-fix). one thing is for sure, this summer is going to be very busy in leafs-land with lots of familiar faces shipping-out. cheers michael!

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    1. I'll say this, Alex- it's never quiet for long when we're talking about the Leafs!

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  20. The Leafs have permission to talk with Sean Burke. ( former goalie now with Arizona ) There's someone I'd love to have in the organization. He's an AGM and an amazing goalie coach, I have heard, especially when confidence is an issue. I liked St. Croix but I wonder if Burke was the target when they let him go.

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  21. Hi Michael,

    I needed 3 weeks to be able to comment on this one.

    Shanahan said right from the start that he will use this season to evaluate the organization top to bottom. Taking a few weeks to see if he can work with Carlyle and Nonis and then, after he deceided he can, keeping them was the right move. Anything elses would have made an assessment of this club much more difficult. Keeping them was the only logic decission.

    No, I do not think he deceided from the start that Nonis and Carlyle will be fired eventually. If that was his believe he had done so last summer. There was absolutely no charade!

    You wrote "the price is a lottery pick" wich means you assume they had planned that from the beginning and that is absolute nonsense!

    Which of the assistants were hand picked? Carlyle brought his long time partner from Anaheim and one assistant was kept from the Wilson era and the other one I belive was hired later but I do not know the influence of Carlyle on that one. Poulin and Loiselle were hired by Burke not Nonis so you can not speak of hand picked assistants at all. You do not have your facts streight here.
    Nonis never made this team his own.

    Fire Carlyle at this point when the team was on a heavy donwardspiral was the right decission. He knew after what he had seen that they wouldn't get out of this. And naming another head coach was
    the only chance to see how the players would react. They tried to get a coach from outside, so they meant business and it was no decission to weaken the club.

    Shanahan did not only watch, he did what he could. If you doubt that, tell me what you have done diffrently. And if the draft will be a superstar is only speculation. Relying on such a move is completely stupid!

    I do not applaud the Leafs for that season.
    But I do not understand why you think the pride the legacy and the fragile fanbase had sufferd less with five or ten points more.
    Your go to question here is "is the bar high enough". And now you are concerned that a few points more would have benn less damaging to the legacy? Come on.

    "Shanahan spoke on Monday. Well, I’ve heard all the pronouncements from on high before. We all have."

    Do you? I haven't! I think you simply stoped listening.
    Shanahan did not follow in the footsteps of Burke and Leiweke. He made no promises. He set no timeline. He asked us to be patient and support the club. I haven't heard that before. Not from Burke, not from Leiweke. Shanahan was flat out honest. And Dubas gave a good interview last week with very reasonable statements. The Club is in better hands then it was for the last ten years.

    I do think the analytics won't have so much of an impact as some people like us to believe.

    If you think Shanahan is the problem, you are wrong.
    And you will have 5 miserable and hard years ahead when the frustration has reached it's peak level now, before it even started.
    The Shanahan end of season speach can be easyly viewed as day 0. The starting point of his Leafs tenure. But you are already miserable about it.


    Beliving in Shanahna and his crew and supporting them is the only choice we have, and I strongly believe it is the right thing to do!

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  22. We see this situation very differently, I guess, Marcus. Perhaps I'm simply less optimistic at this point!

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