By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (June 24) – In the haunting vernacular of former United States president Richard Milhous Nixon, “allow me to make this perfectly clear” – a general manager in professional sport burdened by love and attachment will likely be married for many years… ideally, to a wife capable of supporting the entire family.
You see, emotional management in sport is an oxymoron. Allowing affection for a player and/or the backwash of external influence to govern a vital decision will lead to unemployment. Rather quickly. As such, you can be assured the Toronto Maple Leafs are in very good hands.
David Nonis has rapidly demonstrated all the love and kinship of a hungry mountain lion. “Eat or be eaten” is the interminable credo of the world’s most feared predators. Nonis may not have razor-sharp teeth, nor will he out-leg an angry puma. But, don’t try to get all lovey-dovey with the Maple Leafs GM. His holiday greeting-card from last December read: “Merry Christmas. What have you done for me lately?” Nonis was recently spotted helping an old lady across a busy street only to deposit her in the intersection. A police inquiry determined the woman had said, “Oh, Mr. Nonis, I love your team. Please do not make any changes.” Were Nik Wallenda a contented Leaf fan, Nonis would have dispatched an accomplice over the weekend to sever his cable – 1,400 feet above the Grand Canyon. Live on the Discovery Network.
Managing a professional hockey team is not a sentimental pursuit. Though a loving family man, Nonis – the GM – has a heart the size of a termite. All that matters to the Leaf boss is winning… and then winning some more. Heaven help any person blocking his path. That’s why Leaf followers are way off base in fretting over poor James Reimer, and how the incumbent might “handle” the addition of Jonathan Bernier. For Nonis, there are two concerns: Does he have the best goalies available to him? And, can they get in front of the damned puck? Whether one or both chooses to edge toward an upper-floor window is immaterial (and patently irrelevant, given the character of Optimus Reim). Winning is all that matters and the Maple Leafs were only a marginal success with the goaltending tandem of Reimer and Ben Scrivens.
LEAFS GM DAVE NONIS: TOUGH AND HEARTLESS… WHEN IT MATTERS.
This approach may not enamor the Boy Scouts of America, but it is absolutely essential in Nonis’s line of work. And that’s why nary a current Leaf should become complacent. From what I can determine, there is no such commodity as an “untouchable” – nor should there be on a team that has appeared in the Stanley Cup tournament once in eight seasons and could not manage a 4-1 lead in the third period of a deciding playoff match. By way of a decade-long comparison, Leaf acolytes fell wildly in love with their plucky team; then experienced a form of opiate induction when the club nearly upset Boston. In professional sport, however, “nearly” doesn’t resonate beyond describing a narrow victory, or a horseshoe-throwing competition – neither of which applied to the Leafs inglorious exit in Beantown.
As such, I can tell you there is smoke to every flicker of flame you are hearing about – from exploring trade options for Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel, to buying out the contracts of Mike Komisarek and/or John-Michael Liles and Mikhail Grabovski, to the clandestine seduction of Toronto native David Clarkson (commonplace every summer – among all teams – prior to unrestricted free agency), to a decision, already made, for Tyler Bozak to look elsewhere, to throwing a bucket-full of cash at Stephen Weiss, and exploring a deal, with Colorado, for Paul Stastny. And this doesn’t include probably a half-dozen scenarios none of us have even imagined.
Such is the level of consideration required for mediocre hockey teams to become good and for good hockey teams to get better. Emotional attachment, therefore, can only retard progress. And, in that realm, I can assure you that David Nonis is not the least-bit retarded.
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