By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (May 13) – “If you think the Leafs are only going to make one significant change this summer, you’ll be very surprised.” Such was the opinion of a well-known National Hockey League executive, via email, on the one-year anniversary of the Causeway St. Cataclysm in Boston. “There could be lots of dynamite in your city before next season.”
This, of course, should come as no surprise to even a casual observer of the Toronto Maple Leafs – a club with a defeatist character (who can forget the lost 4-1 lead at TD Garden a year ago tonight?). And though retaining Randy Carlyle as coach provided questionable optics, my source strongly intimated there are no sacred cows on the Leaf roster and that Tim Leiweke and Brendan Shanahan are pushing for an overhaul. Whether or not this can be accomplished in the salary cap era is debatable, though it appears a determined effort will be made. “There isn’t an untouchable player on that team,” insisted the executive.
Such commentary has Leiweke’s imprint all over it. Though Shanahan has been virtually silent since the Apr. 11 news conference anointing him as president of the Blue and White, there’s reason to believe that the CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is seeking – from his new man – some form of detonation. We can therefore assume that conjecture about Dion Phaneuf being traded this summer is merely the tipping point. Could Phil Kessel’s name become involved? Joffrey Lupul? James van Riemsdyk? Not to mention the younger players frequently speculated about – Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner chief among them. Perhaps “culture change” is merely a synonym for “massive change.”
TIM LEIWEKE AND BRENDAN SHANAHAN: FAVORING MASSIVE CHANGE?
That said, the Leafs must be careful and sensible with their future components. From my point of view, the risk/reward ratio is not in their favor by peddling Kadri or Gardiner – both of whom (with effective coaching) could develop into elite players. Morgan Rielly has already displayed such tendency at 20 years of age and Jonathan Bernier will likely be secured on a long-term deal in the early part of next season. The aforementioned should be considered a foundation. And, with Petter Granberg, Fredrick Gauthier, Josh Leivo and Matt Finn also intriguing prospects, the Maple Leafs might look considerably different before long. It isn’t complicated to imagine how different if such names as Kessel, Lupul and van Riemsdyk join Phaneuf’s in trade discussion.
Again, no idea or possibility should be scoffed at.
Leiweke has never been one to sit back and enjoy his wealth. He favors a proactive, aggressive archetype and unless he was blowing a raging fire-storm of smoke at the Shanahan press conference, he is clearly disillusioned with the company’s flagship enterprise. Everything at 60 Bay St. flows from the Maple Leafs and Leiweke understands that business cannot be optimized if the hockey club remains a standing joke. Logically, that’s why he approached Shanahan for the top job and we can assume that if the Hall-of-Fame winger had projected caution and conservatism, Leiweke would have turned elsewhere. “Yes, they are very much on the same page,” concluded my source.
I would think this augers well for Leafs Nation, though many promises have been made and broken in past years. There has also been much disinclination – from the frugality and utter ignorance of Harold Ballard to the financial self-preservation of Steve Stavro to the protracted uncertainty of Ken Dryden and the retention of failed roster parts by John Ferguson Jr., whose every idea was scrutinized by people that knew virtually nothing about hockey. Leiweke may not rank himself unconditionally in that category – he did, after all, preside over the Los Angeles Kings’ 2012 Stanley Cup championship – but he is prudent enough to recognize his limitation. Thus, the hiring of Shanahan, whom he believes can restore hockey luster to this city.
There are plenty of whispers that this will not be done idly or conventionally. And if so, Leaf fans should have much to anticipate.
A LOSS FOR HOCKEY: Condolences and deepest sympathy to my boyhood reading idol and now long-time friend, Stan Fischler, on the loss of his beloved wife Shirley, who has died after a long fight with cancer. Shirley Walton Fischler was also a notable hockey author in the 1970’s. I best remember her for an article in the November 1970 issue of Hockey Illustrated Magazine (below) that featured the last interview with legendary goaltender Terry Sawchuk.
Rest in peace, Shirley.
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