By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Apr. 14) – It required roughly 15 seconds to gauge the difference between presidential introductions – from Brian Burke’s inauguration with the Maple Leafs on Nov. 29, 2008 to Brendan Shanahan’s official crowning earlier today. It would be simple and not particularly fair to dump on Burke with the benefit of a half-decade’s hindsight. So, we won’t. But, clear as a windy day in the Arctic was a complete absence of hyperbole in the Shanahan news huddle at Air Canada Centre.
Burke and Shanahan have disparate personalities and therefore should not have been expected to “sound alike.” As such, there wasn’t a whole lot about today’s gathering that media wags will be quoting eternally. No fancy talk about equal portions of “testosterone and truculence.” No references to how “my teams” are built. It was unmistakable that Shanahan intended to say as little as possible in his first Toronto media moment. He said even less. But, he did it with aplomb and humility – a perfect start, in my opinion, for the new chieftain. It was the most impressed I’ve been with anything related to Shanahan since he wound up his Hall-of-Fame playing career in 2009.
SHERIFF SHANNY – NOW OF THE MAPLE LEAFS.
Neither did Burke do anything wrong 5½ years ago. He’s a splendid orator and he laid out his plans for the hockey club as anyone might have expected. Sadly for double-B, his blueprint didn’t come to fruition during a tumultuous reign as Maple Leaf boss. He did, however, acquire a number of key components to the Blue and White: Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul, Jake Gardiner, Nazem Kadri, Cody Franson and James van Riemsdyk among them. And, Burke came into the job with managerial credentials (though mixed results) at the big-league level, including a Stanley Cup as GM of the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. Shanahan’s first minute reorganizing the Leafs will be his first minute, period, in such a capacity. So, it’s difficult to envision the hockey club being further ahead today than it was after Burke’s coronation.
The gist of Shanahan’s message this afternoon was that talk is cheap. Of course, nothing else at the Air Canada Centre is… from game tickets to parking to hot dogs to roast-beef sandwiches and beer. So, the concept of “cheap” – even momentarily – was refreshing. Leaf fans, as we know, have endured nearly a half-century of hollow promises. So, even if Shanahan were prone to flowery chatter, those watching (and participating in) the media conference would have tuned out after his initial pledge. Instead, Shanahan mentioned, more than twice, that “we aren’t going to win any games sitting here this afternoon.” In other words, our grandiose scheme for the hockey club – and three dollars – will get you a ride on the TTC. It was perfect strategy by Shanahan and a terrific first impression for the NHL’s longest-suffering souls.
Equally elegant was general manager David Nonis, but that didn’t surprise me. I’ve always enjoyed speaking with and listening to David, who has absolutely no pretension about him. He’s a good hockey man; widely respected throughout the NHL and fully capable of making the Leafs competitive. His acquisition of Jonathan Bernier may still be a turning point for the franchise and a half-dozen rivals were prepared to similarly enrich David Clarkson last July. Though some did wonder if Clarkson would fully take to his home-town environment, nobody expected him to endure such a disastrous season. Blaming Nonis for stepping to the plate is revisionist. Nor is it beyond comprehension that Clarkson may rebound next year. Typically, the Leafs GM was honest and to the point when asked by Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star exactly whom among he and Shanahan has the final say in personnel matters. “Hey, look, I’ve got a boss and that’s Brendan. As in any employment situation, I’m answerable to my boss. He has the final say. But, I anticipate we’ll work well together to improve the team.”
Somewhat disappointingly, Nonis did tap-dance around the future of Randy Carlyle, though his silence was deafening. “He’s a good coach,” the GM offered with the enthusiasm of a man about to undergo a digital-rectal exam. There is no joy in the notion of someone losing his job but I’ve written all season here that Carlyle would not survive a playoff miss. Nor will he. In my view, a perfect candidate came available today. If there’s a coach in the NHL that has gotten more out of less for the past 15 years than Barry Trotz, I’m not aware of him. His record with Nashville speaks loudly of discipline and defensive awareness.
Shanahan and Nonis should move swiftly.
BARRY TROTZ: SUPERB COACHING CANDIDATE IF (WHEN?) THE LEAFS MAKE A CHANGE.
A WEATHER-RELATED OMEN?
It was almost surreal. Just as the Leafs press conference began today, a mini-hurricane swept through mid-town Toronto. I had the windows open in the livingroom and my drapes were blowing horizontally – perpendicular to the floor and ceiling. In the sky were ominous-looking storm clouds, which I quickly captured with my trusty NIKON:
Honestly – these clouds were passing over the city the very moment Tim Leiweke introduced Brendan Shanahan. Yikes!
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