The Toronto Maple Leafs are joining the parade – I know, ironic – of teams that have named former NHL stars to take over their hockey operations, as NHL Dept. of Player Safety boss Brendan Shanahan is expected to be named president of the Leafs hockey club, according to Damien Cox of the Toronto Star.
No, not just hockey operations. The hockey club. Running the show.
It’s believed Shanahan will have an even more senior role that will extend beyond over-seeing general manager Dave Nonis and the hockey department. Being named president, as opposed to president of hockey operations, would mean he would be involved in other business and league matters, such as the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Leafs. He may even be groomed to become the heir apparent to [Tim] Leiweke as CEO of the entire MLSE sports conglomerate.
Shanahan has led the Department of Player Safety since 2011. Cox speculates that either Mike Murphy or Kris King would take over supplemental discipline during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with the rest of the current Department of Player Safety brain-trust intact.
Why resign before the playoffs? With talks with Leiweke confirmed, there was no way Shanahan could effectively do his job without some sense of conflict of interest – speaking with general managers each day that would, down the line, become trading partners for his new team.
Keep in mind his previous flirtation with an NHL team, the Calgary Flames, occurred in the offseason. He said no, they turned to Brian Burke; Shanahan says yes, and becomes the uber-boss to Burke’s replacement with the Leafs. Hockey’s funny like that.
Shanahan has never worked in an NHL team front office, but Yahoo’s Nick Cotsonika nailed it in writing about his talks with the Leafs:
Shanahan has never been a team executive. But he knows how to bring people together and effect change, and he knows how to build and run a department – have a vision, create a plan, manage people. He has dealt with people throughout the hockey world. He has handled scrutiny and criticism. These are the qualities of a president or director of hockey ops – distinct from the qualities of a general manager or personnel guy – but he has worked long days and watched a hell of a lot of hockey, too.
This isn’t a shallow PR move. If it is, the Leafs miscalculated: Most Toronto fans couldn’t care less that Shanahan is an Ontario boy, instead hoping for a steady hand at the big wheel that can finally guide this franchise to a Stanley Cup for the first time in 45 seasons.
I think Shanahan brings that gravitas to the role. What impressed me the most about Shanahan’s time as discipline czar was the progressive nature of his managerial style. He opened up avenues of communication with players, execs, media and fans that weren't previously there.
Yes, we can all make the same joke about how Shanahan’s going to do a video breaking down the pain of each Leafs’ loss -- "As the video shows, we gave up 40 shots in the second period ..." -- but those D.o.P.S. videos were revelatory and innovative; even if you completely disagreed with the ruling, you at least understood the thought process.
I’m not sure the same could be said for the majority of the Nonis/Randy Carlyle tenure in Toronto.
He aligned himself with smart people who weren’t retreads in the NHL front office, while counting on the old guard like Murphy and Colin Campbell to give their input. At no time did you feel, however, that Shanahan wasn’t the final arbiter of those suspensions. At least until they were appealed to Gary Bettman.
If it sounds like I’m optimistic about the hiring, it’s because I am. Shanahan was an impressive change-maker in the NHL offices, and that’s the essential thing the Maple Leafs need: The vision thing, the boldness thing and someone that’s going to be able to sell a plan that isn’t simply an extension of someone else’s philosophy.
As for the NHL … I’ve often thought changing up the head of player safety every few years is a healthy thing. It ensures the rulings don’t become hypocritical, it hits the reset button on any perceived biases.
But while I don’t want Brendan Shanahan to build on what’s already in Toronto – come in like a wrecking ball, Shanny – I do hope the NHL remains as progressive and forthcoming on player safety as his department was, building off that foundation. (Stephane Quintal for new player safety czar?)
At the very least, it’s going to be fascinating when the next Maple Leaf violates Rule 48 …