It’s been a while since I posted here and it’s been helpful to take some time to reflect on the state of the Maple Leafs.
The spring and summer of 2015 has seen a dramatic sea change in these parts. If any of us doubted that Brendan Shanahan had/has full authority to follow his instincts, those doubts have been dissipated.
The Leafs have a new head coach. There is no more talking about, “What if we could just get our hands on a really good coach…?”. Regardless about what one felt about his predecessors, few would question that Mike Babcock can still coach in today’s NHL. He has a Cup on his resume, yes, but more than that, he also brings a well-earned reputation. It’s a reputation that ensures his voice will be heard loud and clear by any player wearing the blue and white in the years ahead.
He will be demanding and have high expectations, to be sure.
The arrival of Lou Lamoriello as General Manager is intriguing, to say the least. While I’ve never liked his coaching carousel approach in New Jersey, it’s hard to argue with his track record. Out of rubble he created a franchise that has been, like the Red Wings (see Babcock and Shanahan) a model of consistency and success for more than twenty years.
Shanahan will handle some of the public stuff, though his assistants will help in that regard. Babcock will coach, and Lamoriello will put his head down and work quietly to help turn the Leafs into perennial contenders. (Heck, even Jacques Lemaire is here now. I well remember him as one of the finest two-way centers in hockey back in the 1970s, and as we all know he became a very successful coach as well…)
Can an organization have too many smart people at the top? I guess we’ll find out.
I remember saying years ago, when Brian Burke was fired, that the Leafs should be an organization looking to hire the best GM and/or coach available. While they have had some “good” hockey people in place over the last decade or so, it feels as though Shanahan has been allowed to do precisely what I was talking about: find the best people he could get his hands on to be General Manager and head coach.
Shanahan still has Hunter and Dubas to round out (with the addition of the former New Jersey GM) a suddenly very experienced but also versatile front office, as well as a coach widely recognized as one of the best in the business.
Now, all this is very nice. The Leafs still need to field a team for the 2015-’16 season. And in perusing the current roster and depth chart, I’m slightly more excited about the prospect pipeline (Brown, Gauthier, Nylander, Marner, Granberg, et al) than what would seem to be our starting lineup on opening night in October. But hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
From my perspective, things are at least hopeful as we head into training camp (now not that far off) because, very simply, the “right” people are now in charge. I didn’t think the Leafs would even hire a new GM, or at least one that would have an independent voice. Shanahan is in charge, but in Lamoriello we have someone who will lead, listen, consult and make tough decisions. Babcock will change the attitude in the dressing room.
The bar going forward will be set much higher, I suspect.
Will we win much in the early going? I have no idea. I’m guessing that a new coach will drive the players to play over their heads in the short term. But determination is a good thing. Who knows what’s possible with some skill, better team defense and a roster full of guys on the same page?
Regardless of the team or the sport, as a fan, there is always “hope". Hope that if things fall a certain way, your team has a chance, even if deep down you don’t really believe it. That’s the allure of sports and being a fan. You always get to feel that sense of optimism going into a new season.
Mostly, though, the hope around this Maple Leaf franchise is about the longer term—knowing there is a management team in place that will ensure that the Leafs will once again become a team that fans can feel good about.