TORONTO (May 24) — As every year, there are innumerable off–season questions surrounding the beloved and bedeviled hockey team in this city. But, none bigger than this: Why is Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment wasting its time and money looking for a “new” general manager? If the TSN graphic, below, is accurate, the president of the Leafs has already made a defining call — the vaunted core of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander will return for an eighth consecutive bid (and counting) to suffocate early in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Does MLSE honestly need Brad Treliving, or any other “yes man”, to carry out Brendan Shanahan’s orders? Or, maybe I should correct myself and submit that the biggest question in Leafs Land is that which inspires Bell Canada, Rogers Communications and Larry Tanenbaum to preserve Shanahan’s unchallenged position of power.
Either way, it appears conjecture about the dissatisfaction of Kyle Dubas had some bite.
The general manager of the Leafs since 2018 did not possess the boilerplate authority to make key decisions. All matters had to pass by the desk of Shanahan, who evidently wasn’t shy about imposing will on his handpicked successor to Hall–of–Fame executive Lou Lamoriello. Which, to be fair, is the prerogative of a hockey team president. Even if it creates tension and, ultimately, an unhealthy front office environment. Why, then, should we expect a different approach involving another hapless individual carrying the GM’s title? Particularly among the group of unemployed former managers that will almost surely comply with any condition for a return to the big league.
No wonder the St. Louis Blues are chuckling at the notion of Doug Armstrong leaving to become Shanahan’s understudy. Or, that no one other than TSN’s Craig Button — seconded by yours truly — has even broached the idea of George McPhee coming east from his lofty perch with the Vegas Golden Knights. If provided the appropriate jurisdiction, both men could guide the Leafs out of the playoff hinterland. But, neither will consider the contractual gymnastics of leaving his current team only to wonder, at every opportunity, if Shanahan might kibosh an idea or proposal. The obvious constraints of the Toronto job will attract, as written, merely those pawing for a return to the National Hockey League. Once again, only marginal substance will characterize the role of Maple Leafs GM.
The fascination of MLSE toward Shanahan has never been more puzzling. Yes, he was a terrific hockey player. Yes, he gained international acclaim for the summit he organized in December 2004, during the season lost to labor discord, which brought together 20 luminaries for dialogue on how to improve the lagging sport. But, neither role imbued Shanahan the gift of player evaluation nor the capacity to gauge how young prospects might evolve. That’s why the GMs of progressive teams rely so heavily on their amateur and professional scouts. Given the number of draft picks the Leafs have thrown away under Shanahan, there is virtually no judgement by committee.
Instead, we have an autocracy. Decisions are sanctioned by, one man — the president.
This derivative of Trumpism might be appealing had the Maple Leafs accrued more than one playoff–round victory in the decade of Shanahan’s reign. Instead, it appears the hockey club is heading down the same futile, unproductive path that has long perplexed the NHL’s most–loyal and resilient followers. Which is troubling, indeed.
30 YEARS AGO: GILMOUR vs. GRETZKY
FROM MY 1993 PLAYOFF SCRAPBOOK:
Oh, they were getting close. It was during this week, in 1993, that the Leafs moved to within one victory of playing for the Stanley Cup — still the nearest the club has come, since 1967, to appearing in the championship round. The Leafs and Los Angeles Kings were squaring off in the Campbell (or Western) Conference final. A clash between Doug Gilmour, the best two–way player in the NHL that season, and a struggling Wayne Gretzky. After falling behind 2–1 in the best–of–seven series, Toronto drew even, on May 23, with a 4–2 victory at the Los Angeles Forum (above and below). The teams then traveled back to our city for the pivotal fifth match, two nights later.
Game 5, at Maple Leaf Gardens on May 25, 1993, went deep into overtime (above and below) before Glenn Anderson swatted a rebound out of mid air at 19:20 of the first extra period. Anderson, of course, had been Gretzky’s teammate on the prolific Edmonton Oiler teams that won four Stanley Cups in a five–year span, beginning in 1984. The Leafs were one victory removed from playing Montreal for the Stanley Cup.
Hockey fans in L.A. still credit this column by Bob McKenzie, then of the Toronto Star, for Gretzky shaking the “piano” off his back. No. 99 thus became the story of Games 6 and 7 as the Kings rallied to eliminate the Leafs.