Taking stock of Shanahan’s role as Maple Leafs president, 10 years on

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When Brendan Shanahan was introduced by the Maple Leafs as the club’s new president, the Hockey Hall of Famer made a fairly obvious proclamation. 

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“It’s about the work we put in and it’s about results,” Shanahan said on that spring day. “We need to have results here.”

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We bring this up because it’s now 10 years that Shanahan has been on the job, a full decade having passed since he was hired on April 11, 2014, followed by his first news conference as team president three days later. 

The anniversary came and went during the weekend rather quietly, didn’t it?

The results — and by that we mean wins — have come all right, just not during the right time on the calendar.

Hundreds, in fact, to the tune of 415 in 780 regular-season games since the so-called Shanaplan got rolling in 2014.

Along the way, Shanahan brought a higher level of respect to the organization, one that had been absent since the Pat Quinn era. 

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Once Shanahan got past an awful 2014-15 season, during which the team had a .415 points percentage (still the worst in Toronto since the 1996-97 season), a measure of off-ice stability began to form. 

Shanahan went a different way in bringing aboard a new coach and general manager, first hiring Mike Babcock in May 2015 before welcoming Lou Lamoriello as the GM two months later. All the while, Kyle Dubas was learning on the job, having been hired as assistant GM in July 2014 after blowing Shanahan away during a lengthy initial interview.    

We’ll never know what would have transpired had Shanahan decided to keep Lamoriello in the spring of 2018 and not promote Dubas to GM. It’s likely that Dubas would have become GM somewhere else — the Colorado Avalanche had interest a year earlier, and the sense was that Dubas would have had a chance for a promotion elsewhere. A continued union of Lamoriello and Babcock might have worked, but after Dubas became Babcock’s boss, the latter lasted just another 18 months before he was fired and Sheldon Keefe took over as coach.

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Those four — Lamoriello, Dubas, Babcock and now Keefe — all had a role, varying in degrees — into reshaping the team and what it meant to be a Leaf.

The Leafs have had another 100-point season, their third in as many years and fifth in seven years, in Brad Treliving’s first year as GM. Greater scrutiny will come once the Leafs’ first-round series begins, likely on Saturday, in Florida or Boston.

A new logo, unveiled in February 2016, came under Shanahan’s watch. Later that year, Shanahan ended the silliness of honoured numbers and the club officially retired the numbers of 16 players. 

That strong reconnection with the past had been long overdue. 

On the ice, we’re witnessing history as Auston Matthews sits within one goal of recording the 15th 70-goal season in the NHL’s existence. A mere eight players have scored 70 goals, led by Wayne Gretzky’s four seasons in reaching the milestone. 

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There’s a collective talent that the Leafs have in Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander that isn’t equalled by the majority of NHL teams.

About those results, though. Building a team that excels only in the regular season can be highlighted only so much on a resume. 

The Leafs and Bruins share the longest current streak of post-season appearances, as both teams will play beyond the regular season for the eighth year in a row. On paper, that’s great. The rub, of course, is the fact the Leafs have won just one playoff series on Shanahan’s watch. There’s no way that dearth of playoff success was part of the vision when Shanahan took over 10 years ago. 

A decade is more than enough time to construct a Stanley Cup winner, if not a team that is a legitimate, annual contender once it has been rebuilt. Winning one playoff round has not put the Leafs in that category.

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And consider that the Vegas Golden Knights didn’t exist until the 2017-18 season and won the Cup five years later. It’s not just the Leafs who should find that quick success a little embarrassing.

The six-year extension that Shanahan signed in May 2019 runs through the 2024-25 season. 

Keith Pelley, having just been handed the reigns as president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, will evaluate each of the company’s sports franchises.

There shouldn’t be another extension in the waiting for Shanahan. Let’s see how the Leafs’ participation in the 2024 Stanley Cup tournament unfolds first.


X: @koshtorontosun

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