The Shanahan/Leafs Conundrum

TORONTO (May 20) — Nothing productive can result from Brendan Shanahan seeking out and choosing the next general manager of the Maple Leafs. Which, oddly, still appears to be his task after nearly a decade of playoff oblivion as president of the hockey club. No executive appointment in the post–1967 era looms as critically for the Blue and White. Whoever replaces Kyle Dubas will inherit a contract tango with Auston Matthews, the 25–year–old center that gains full and unjust control over the Leafs if not traded before July 1. He can either sign a contract extension… or place management on puppet strings for a full calendar year while threatening to walk as an unrestricted free agent. Unavoidably, the new GM wades into a firestorm. Experience and a lofty profile are essential.

Yet, it’s doubtful that Shanahan — by his very presence — will acquire the appropriate party.

For the sake of argument, what if the Leafs could extract Doug Armstrong from a difficult re–build in St. Louis (Toronto would have to somehow trade for his rights, as Armstrong is under contract through 2026). You think Doug would come here knowing he has to report to Shanahan? Or, that any prime candidate would agree to a subordinate role with the Leafs? Neither will Shanahan — perhaps in survival mode — concede authority to another person. He came across as sort of a nice guy on Friday, while detailing the complicated split with Dubas. But, Brendan was hardly cordial during his Hall–of–Fame career as one of the nastiest power–forwards in the game. Nor has he survived seven aborted playoff adventures here in town by relinquishing sovereignty. Brendan, if need be, will scrap and clash for every inch of jurisdiction outlined in the six–year contract appendage he signed, in June 2019, with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. The line between himself and the GM he ultimately settles on will be bold… that individual a clear and undeniable No. 2 in the managerial pecking order.

So, what chance do the Leafs have of landing anything beyond a neophyte (Brandon Pridham, Eric Tulsky) or a recycled National Hockey League executive (Brad Treliving, Jim Benning, Peter Chiarelli) that would readily agree to Shanahan’s terms for another chance in the big chair? If the Leafs are insisting that Shanahan remain president and chief bottle washer, they might as well add general manager to his title. Though rarely in the limelight, ol’ Brendan imposes will on every important hockey decision. Which is likely another reason that Dubas seesawed in his desire to remain with the Leafs. And, going back in time, that Shanahan parted with Lou Lamoriello — he of the three Stanley Cup titles in New Jersey. Lamoriello, justifiably, would not have been amenable as a “yes man” to any fellow hockey executive. Shanahan, instead, elevated Dubas to the prime position in 2018, knowing he could exert command on a newcomer to the role. Neither does this cast an aspersion on Brendan… or separate him from another person of authority in the NHL. Control over hockey matters is never voluntarily relinquished.

If, for example, it’s the shared position of MLSE and Shanahan that Matthews remains a Leaf for life, what negotiating leverage would a new GM possess? No one will be surprised if the Leafs throw themselves at the feet (and the mercy) of the Matthews camp, such is the puzzling mania that surrounds his elite regular–season (and mediocre playoff) presence. The Leafs could move William Nylander to center and not lose a whole lot. Or, God forbid, attempt to acquire an alternate No. 1 pivot. Sadly, there’s too much media love in Toronto for that to reasonably occur. Reporters and columnists remain under Auston’s spell. As such, he will either become the most–lavishly compensated athlete in the NHL… or keep MLSE on a leash until next summer, when he can flee for no return. Such is the complete dominance of a no–movement stipulation that goes into effect on Canada Day. In the unlikely event the Leafs choose to barter aggressively with Matthews, they can hold the trade hammer above him.

But, only for another seven weeks.

Which could be of significance — if Matthews wasn’t exaggerating, on Monday, his desire to remain with the club.

Whatever the case, the Leafs will not be able to attract an experienced, autocratic GM while Shanahan is calling the shots. Were I, therefore, in charge at MLSE, Dubas and Shanahan would have departed on Friday.


19 comments on “The Shanahan/Leafs Conundrum

  1. Howard is as much of a Leaf fan as I am—or as any hockey fan living in GTA. But you have to understand, after 56 years of frustration and disappointment, waiting for successive team management teams to produce a Stanley Cup worthy team, it wears on you. Howard tells it like it is. Perhaps some of you reading his blog on too young to understand.

  2. I like Shanahan. I’m glad he’s around. But the Leafs need to be very careful now or everything could fall apart. Brandon Pridham has to go next. Please, no retread general managers. Definitely not Treliving. What about Hayley Wickenheiser? She’s in the organization already. A smart successful woman in hockey and in life. The former best women’s hockey player in the world, a mom, and a medical doctor. Assess the coaching staff. I’d give Keefe another chance, but I’m not sure about his assistants. The powerplay and the defense? Re-sign Schenn and Aston-Reese. Take the C off Tavares and trade him even though he has a no move clause. Tell him you don’t want him or need him anymore. He is not a leader and he’s clueless in his own end. How many times has the other team scored when he’s on the ice and he’s covering no one! Attempt to re-sign Matthews and Nylander at the right price. The right price for them is what Tampa bay is paying for their core players. 9.5 million dollars per season.

  3. Shanahan has been the defacto GM for the last 8 years. He agreed to the smaller faster skating all-offense team composition. When it didn’t work, Shanahan directed Dubas to acquire bigger guys—that didn’t work either…Core 4 didn’t score enough… Time for MLS to fire Shanahan, trade #34 and get a decent 2nd line centre + defence or goalie…and rebuild..Shanahan has caused enough damage!

  4. Friday’s unexpected turn of events has firmly placed the franchise at a crossroads. Which direction will Shanahan choose? Dubas’s hard play for more money and power seems to mirror the negotiating tactics of the very Core 4 that he put all his faith and Cap space into only to be repeatedly let down in the playoffs.

  5. MLSE should have cleaned house, no organization that is or thinks they are upper echelon like the Yankees, Real Madrid, Cowboys etc would keep their management teams around after five years of one playoff round win. The Leafs need to move out Auston if he does not agree to an extension before July 1st.

  6. Used to love your reporting on The FAN, but, man, you’ve turned into a bitter, sour, frustrated Leaf fan. Maybe time to hang it up Howard.

    1. Just because Howard Berger states his opinion doesn’t mean he’s a bitter Leafs fan. This is the reason I don’t even want to talk hockey with Leaf fans, because if you go against the grain and are not positive about the team 24/7 you will be silenced or deemed a bitter or negative person like the comment above. Most Leaf fans are just repeating what they hear from Sportsnet and TSN and cannot form an opinion of their own. I respect Howard’s work.

      1. The trouble is; respectfully, you and Jon and many others ONLY want to read good things about the Leafs. There’s plenty of fanzine websites and columnists out there who peddle “the Leafs are the bestest ever and always!” nonsense that has sadly led to delusion amongst fans and disappointment among those who want to see the team succeed.

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