It’s All Looking So Familiar

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.



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.


15 comments on “It’s All Looking So Familiar

  1. The biggest problem in Toronto is the media. Any GM, coach, or player has 2 seasons every year. 1 against opponents. 2 against the media. The psychological toll the worst sports media takes on all of the above destroys team after team.

    We’re not talking “constructive criticism” or “growing a backbone” because these players weren’t here 10 years ago. Or 20 years ago.

    “Look out for the Toronto media” -Borje Salming

    If you don’t know how toxic hockey media in the GTA is, go read Minnesota Wild media for awhile. They’re the current 1st rd exit title holders. Go read Sabers media. Forget winning a round they haven’t been to the playoffs.

    Imagine for once, that the terrible media in Toronto Ishtar needed, original, or even journalism.

    Other sports journalists have long called out how toxic it is.

    But the most egregious problem is how incredibly uninformed the media is about hockey. This makes the fans uninformed.

      1. The media and the fans here are actually very forgiving. Montreal fans and media are far more demanding. I remember years ago talking to a Habs fan who told me that the kind of nonsense that goes on here would never be tolerated there. I do agree though that (some) fans and media are uninformed. Otherwise how do you explain the continued tolerance for mediocrity?

  2. Since the inception of the salary cap, The NHL and its teams hae been slowly evolving and painstakingly trying to figure out the right formula for success under a cap system. The results this year seem to have shown that teams who have talent spread out evenly throughout their line-ups, and who have two or three studs, Were more likely to have playoff success. Basically, every team that survived the second round and moved on, was comprised of this winning formula………..The Leafs unfortunately were not one of those teams. Waaaaay to top heavy!!!

  3. It feels like 2009 in Toronto Sports right now.

    The Raptors look like a team on the decline.

    The Blue Jays are in a tailspin.

    The Maple Leafs are in turmoil.

    Toronto FC is a tire fire.

    The Argos have some questions at Quarterback despite being the defending Grey Cup Champions.

  4. It was a two headed monster in Toronto. One has been lopped off but still one remaining. The Board needs to do its job.

  5. Classic corporate tactic. Hire a yes man, micromanage them, then blame them when the plan fails.
    Richard Peddie 2.0

  6. Hey Howard – thanks for another great read. A couple of questions for you:
    – Why not have Shanny name himself as GM? I believe this is the model employed by several teams. If he’s been vetoing trades, hasn’t he been effectively operating as the defacto GM?
    – Thanks for including Bob McKenzie’s article – I don’t think I’d ever seen it. Question for debate: who’s the bigger TML villain in 1993 – Kerry Fraser or Bob McKenzie?

      1. Shanahan would only take the GM’s role as a last resort. He’d rather avoid the extra duties… After all, kiboshing potential moves is hard work!

  7. If Shanahan told the coreless fore that their positions with the team are not under any threat then he is as much a problem as Dubas was, and there is indeed no hope for the team.
    I have long believed that the real “Blue & White disease” takes root in the front office first. All the way back to Cliff Fletcher we’ve watched GM’s and executives embrace the notion that they are stars of the show. Packed press conferences announcing trades, press conferences where they can wax pathetically about their grand views of how the game should be played and on and on all followed by a Q & A period that sounds more like wide-eyed adoration from teenage fans than inquiries into the rationale of their decisions. Their heads get inflated by their own importance and perceived reverence and in the end their ego’s over-ride conventional wisdom and they throw away first round picks on suspect trades, and ignore obvious issues with the team they constructed. A healthy ego is a necessary component of an effective leader, but once you start acting like you’re the smartest guy in the room you’re past your best before date..

  8. It seemed to me Kyle Dubas had a lot of freedom to show his incompetence as the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was a kid that had to learn a lot of lessons and he has learned them. Now he can go somewhere else and do much better on his second try. It never seemed to me that at any time, even going back to Lamoriello that all transactions needed to go through Shanahan. The first person that comes to manage in Toronto and stops trading away good draft picks and prospects will have enormous success. It’s a simple formula but no one has practiced that philosophy in Toronto since the dinosaurs roamed the earth.

  9. If the Leafs hire Brad Treliving there will be absolutely no hope, because he is much worse than Kyle Dubas. The people to consider are George Mcphee and Mike Gillis. Brad Treliving missed the playoffs after supposedly building himself a Stanley cup contender last summer. At least Dubas made the playoffs. Treliving gave away Sam Bennett to Florida for a second round pick. Bennett is causing havoc all through the playoffs bowling over people like Wendel Clark used to do. Treliving deserved to get canned in Calgary and does not deserve a second chance at managing elsewhere.

    1. Bennett is not a Wendel Clark. Clark was tough as nails and didn’t cheap shot. Bennett is a bona fide cheap shot artist who chips in the occasional great game. Treliving is a pug of a GM though I agree with you on that. I’d like to see McPhee be GM but I doubt he’ll leave Vegas.

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