Leafs Motor Along As Usual

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (July 24) — If you believe that success or failure begins at the top of any company or enterprise, the Toronto Maple Leafs will end the longest Stanley Cup drought at some point in the foreseeable future.

At no juncture in their 98–year history have the Leafs been as top–heavy as they are right now. Between president Brendan Shanahan; general manager Lou Lamoriello; player–personnel director Mark Hunter; senior adviser Cliff Fletcher and head coach Mike Babcock, the Toronto front office has combined for 17 appearances in the Stanley Cup final and nine National Hockey League championships. Here is the breakdown:

? Shanahan won three Cups in as many appearances (1997–98–2002) as a power–forward with Detroit, contributing 22 goals and 45 points in 63 playoff games.

? Hunter played right–wing for the 1989 champion Calgary Flames (managed by Fletcher) — recording two goals and two assists in 10 post–season matches.

? As GM of the New Jersey Devils, Lamoriello went to the Stanley Cup final on five occasions (1995–2000–01–03–12), winning three championships (1995–2000–03).

? Fletcher also went to five finals — three as assistant GM of the St. Louis Blues (1968–69–70) and two as GM in Calgary (1986–89), winning with the ’89 Flames.

? Babcock coached Anaheim in the 2003 Cup final (losing to Lamoriello’s Devils); then Detroit in 2008 and 2009 — winning the ’08 championship.

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THE LOU AND SHANNY SHOW BEGINS PRONTO WITH THE MAPLE LEAFS. NATIONAL POST PHOTO

The Maple Leafs now have to transmute all of that glory into success on the ice. As almost always with the Leafs, there is incongruity in the front office. The CEO (Tim Leiweke) hired the president (Shanahan), who hired the assistant GM (Kyle Dubas); the player–personnel director (Hunter) and the head coach (Babcock) before the manager (Lamoriello) came aboard. The GM neither selected the coach nor has the authority to fire him. The CEO is apparently leaving the company and his replacement will have to sign off on the entire cast as a condition of employment.

Only here in Toronto, would this pass for convention.

Somewhat incredibly, we have to go back 26 years to recall when a newly–appointed GM of the Leafs hired his own coach. That would be Floyd Smith installing Doug Carpenter for the 1989–90 season. Smith replaced Gord Stellick, who resigned in August 1989 after being roundly mocked in print by the club’s buffoon–owner, Harold Ballard. Carpenter replaced George Armstrong, who reluctantly coached the Leafs for 47 games in 1988–89 after Ballard and Stellick fired John Brophy.

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Even the few successful Leaf teams since 1967 have been atypically administered. It was Ballard who made all hockey–related decisions in the 70’s and 80’s. As such, the owner — not the respected GM, Jim Gregory — hired and fired Red Kelly as coach; then did the same with Roger Neilson. In 1991, a year after Ballard’s death, Fletcher came over from Calgary and inherited Tom Watt as coach; Floyd Smith having fired Carpenter 11 games into the 1990–91 schedule (and a 1–9–1 start). Fletcher waited one season before dumping Watt and hiring Pat Burns.

Ken Dryden became president in the spring of 1997 and put incumbent coach Mike Murphy through a Chinese torture–drill for more than a year before mercifully turning him loose and appointing Pat Quinn as Murphy’s successor. Dryden fired his de facto GM, Mike Smith, in the summer of 1999 and Quinn assumed the dual portfolio of GM/coach out of “self–preservation.” He was therefore able to bypass reporting to Dryden — whom he loathed — and went directly to owner Steve Stavro.

When the Maple Leafs last made the playoffs — after the lockout–abbreviated schedule of January–to–April 2013 — David Nonis was GM, having replaced Brian Burke, who was jettisoned by the Board of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment just prior to the 48–game schedule. Nonis inherited Randy Carlyle as head coach after Burke fired Ron Wilson, whom he had inherited from interim–GM Fletcher in November 2008.

Trust me: You couldn’t make this up if you wanted to.

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It now falls upon Shanahan to mold the Leafs’ executive lair into something that resembles cohesion. Current and future Hall–of–Famers won’t necessarily find love for one another while attempting to yank the club from its morass. Shanahan is responsible for the appointments of Hunter, Dubas, Babcock and Lamoriello while Fletcher remains the lone holdover from the Burke and Nonis regimes (yes, ol’ Cliff was inherited by both after MLSE fired John Ferguson Jr. in January 2008). Fletcher isn’t likely content to sit back and collect salary in lieu of influence, so Shanahan and Lamoriello will need to ensure he is somehow involved.

As always, it will require the massaging of egos.

And, the betting here is that Shanahan will be equal to the task.

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15 comments on “Leafs Motor Along As Usual

  1. Like the blog on here a few weeks back about Leafs best players never finishing their careers in Toronto, the constant flux off on and off ice. Talent moving in and out of Toronto is PARTLY due to the media in this town WANTING it that way. Maybe if people like Steve Simmons stopped making a career out of calling for people’s heads the Leafs could take a breath and leave people on the job!!! But, you’ll never get a member of the media in this town to see it that way!!!

  2. “The betting here is that Shanahan will be equal to the task.”

    Rare to see you throwing praise in the direction of Leafs management, Howard, but if anyone can make a believer out of me, looks like it’s Shanny. Real exciting times to be a Leafs fan, that’s for sure.

  3. I think Shanahan has had a simply unbelievable summer. Who thought he’d get Babcock and Lou?

  4. I’m surprised at you Howard. The Toronto Maple Leafs are 88 years old, and not as MLSE (and you) are stating. It was on February 14, 1927 that Conn Smythe purchased the team and changed the name of Toronto’s hockey club to the Maple Leafs. Shame on you, don’t drink the MLSE Kool-Aid, celebrating the club’s 100th in two years is simply a cash grab. DON’T BUY IN!!

    1. That’s true, Stewart, but the Toronto club in the NHL — that began as the Arenas in 1917-18 — is the same franchise as the current team and lists records dating to the first season of the NHL.

  5. Not sure why you make such a big deal out of Lieweke’s successor ‘inheriting’ the hockey personnel. Fat chance a guy with the resume to run MLSE (the business, not the sports franchise operations) is going to clean house and hire ‘his guys.’ The new CEO of MLSE will not be a puck-head who needs to surround himself with yes-men like so many hockey executives.

      1. Howard, you have mentioned a few times on your blog about how Lieweke’s sucessor may not be agreeable to having the hockey staff already hired. My use of the term ‘big deal’ was just a phrase that I felt was appropriate. I’m not a writer so my apologies if it misrepresented your thoughts…I’ll rephrase by saying that the there is a marked difference between an incoming CEO of a major corp. inheriting his Pres. of hockey operations vs. an incoming general manager inheriting his couch. (Actually honored that you would take the time time to respond to my post.)

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