Shanahan Tour Deepens Mystery

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (May 16) – If Brendan Shanahan wanted to clarify his position on the Maple Leafs during a tour of city newspaper offices Wednesday, he failed rather miserably. Chances are it was more a political excursion than an effort to provide insight.

Given that Shanahan gathered separately with reporters from the Toronto Star, Toronto Sun, Globe and Mail and The National Post, contradiction was inevitable; perhaps even designed by the Maple Leafs new president of hockey operations. Though the common thread of “we need time to fix this mess” was unmistakable and predictable, strategic analysis was all over the map. The Star, for instance, hammered away at the club’s “radical new game-plan” – a conservative, methodical motif. The Sun, however, suggested Shanahan will “take off the gloves” while intimating a more timely and aggressive approach.

“If the new president of the historically erratic team has changed anything, it is the team’s sudden ability to stay the course,” wrote Kevin McGran in the Star. “The Leafs, under Shanahan, are no longer a change-for-the-sake-of-change kind of team.”

Countered the Sun’s Rob Longley: “While Shanahan doesn’t favor blowing things up and starting fresh… [he] admitted that Randy Carlyle, general manager Dave Nonis and himself are all in agreement of the obvious – that the roster, as it stands, is not good enough… Shanahan was emphatic in saying that none of the current Leafs are untouchable when it comes to potential trade talk.

That clarifies things, doesn’t it?

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COVER OF THURSDAY TORONTO SUN, AFTER SHANAHAN’S VISIT.

More than likely, the truth lays somewhere in-between, though I would lean toward the Sun’s interpretation. Why? Because I think Tim Leiweke wants it that way. With explicit rationale, the CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has no particular use for the current Leaf roster. And, Shanahan works for Leiweke. I also think general manager Dave Nonis will be twisting David Bolland’s arm until the free-agent-to-be says “Uncle!” Why? Because Shanahan has no particular interest in Bolland going elsewhere. And, Nonis works for Shanahan.

Otherwise, the chief Leaf elaborately said nothing. That may seem like a contradiction in terms but the top executive of any public trust ultimately masters the art of germane babble. Shanahan appears to have brought that skill with him to the Air Canada Centre.

Cathal Kelly said it best in his Globe and Mail column:

“Upon arrival, we knew nothing about the Shanahan style, or whether he is interested in any particular style at all. We still don’t… What I gathered from those 45 minutes: the Leafs may look very different before the start of next season. Also, they may not. What could be improved? Everything. Does it need to be? Not necessarily. Also: Yes. Is there a plan? Of course. What’s the plan? Next question.”

Kelly lauded Shanahan’s evasiveness: “There is one sort of organization that should talk a lot in sports – one that’s winning.”

Several benign examples from the Leaf boss:

“I think there’s room for improvement.” – on Randy Carlyle and his yet-to-be assembled coaching staff. (D’uh)

“How a lot of our players respond this summer and react coming back will play a role in what their role is with the future of this team.” – what Yogi Berra would say if he were running the Leafs.

“I think there are certain things that maybe you can’t teach – like competing.” (Oh oh!)

Shanahan emphasized he’ll play a “hands-on” role in demanding more from his players. That might work if he addresses the leadership void at the top. Otherwise, he’ll be barking up the proverbial tree.

In the end, we learned all that Shanahan wanted us to learn about his blueprint for the Maple Leafs. Which was virtually nothing.

OTHER STUFF: Ray Shero was fired as general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins just three days before the 40th anniversary of his father’s greatest hockey achievement. On May 19, 1974, Fred Shero coached Philadelphia Flyers to the first Stanley Cup championship by an expansion team – a six-game triumph over Boston. The elder Shero died of cancer in November 1990… Anyone wagering money against a Chicago-Montreal Cup final this year will lose. It’s been a while since the pre-expansion clubs hooked up for the silver mug. The Blackhawks and Canadiens met three times in nine years (1965, 1971, 1973) – Montreal winning each series… The last time the Habs and New York Rangers met in the Stanley Cup semifinals – 1985-86 – Henrik Lundqvist was four years old. Carey Price would be born 15 months later… Speaking of age, were he alive today, the last man to guide Maple Leafs to the NHL title – Punch Imlach – would be 96. The losing coach in the 1967 final, Toe Blake of Montreal, would be 101… Though it may be of pertinence, is there anything in sport that can make the eyes glaze over more than analytics? Some in the media go way overboard with minutiae the average hockey fan doesn’t understand nor could care less about… Boston Bruins are a perennial Stanley Cup contender with a deep, multi-dimensional roster that requires minimal tweaking by GM Peter Chiarelli. Boston’s only problem in the playoffs this year was the Montreal Canadiens… From a long-time NHL scout on Randy Carlyle: “Good coach or not, the Leafs should have fired him ten minutes after he threw James Reimer under the bus in Detroit that night. Leafs need a professional communicator behind the bench.” The scout was referring to Carlyle telling reporters Reimer was “just okay” after a 3-2 loss at Joe Louis Arena, Mar. 18. Personally, I thought the comment was vastly overblown and there were many more relevant examples of why retaining Carlyle was questionable… If Anaheim beats Los Angeles in Game 7 tonight, the West final will be a coaching match-up of former Leaf teammates. Bruce Boudreau played 134 games for the Leafs between 1976 and 1983; Joel Quennville 93 games over two seasons (1978-79 and 1979-80) before accompanying Lanny McDonald to Colorado Rockies in arguably the worst trade the Leafs have ever made… Mike Yeo fully deserves the contract extension he and Minnesota Wild are working toward. Perhaps the least-trumpeted coach in the NHL did a masterful job – occasionally in the absence of playoff-caliber goaltending… It will be interesting to see if the Maple Leafs surround Carlyle with at least one assistant coach capable of replacing him as the head man. Should Barry Trotz not be hired elsewhere, he’d be the perfect choice… Former Maple Leaf players Kyle Wellwood, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Floyd Smith and Scott Garland were born on this date. Garland was killed in an automobile accident in June 1979. He would have been 62 today. Smith played for the Leafs between 1968 and 1970, then managed the team from 1989-91. Ol’ Floyd is 79.

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FLOYD SMITH AUTOGRAPHED PHOTO FROM 1969-70 SEASON.

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