Leafs president Brendan Shanahan met with the media today to provide his thoughts on the 2014-15 season and organizational changes that were made on April 12. Here's what he had to say...
Thank you everybody for coming down this afternoon. During this difficult season, obviously I recognized that there were going to be changes. When I was interviewed for this job by Tim Leiweke about a year ago, the one thing I said to him was the only real reason to come here and do this is if we are committed to building a team that is capable of winning a Stanley Cup. With that in mind as the season wore on, we recognized that some difficult decisions would have to be made at the conclusion of the season. Yesterday was a hard day but I felt it was a day in which we needed to be decisive and take action. I didn't think it was fair for people to wait so we approached those that we did, we made some changes to the organization that we thought was best going forward as we build this team into the team we feel this city and the fans deserve and demand. I'd like to thank Dave Nonis, Peter Horachek and his coaching staff for everything they have done for us.
At what point did you sit down and say we're going to have to make the changes you made yesterday?
I think it has been an evaluation that has occurred throughout the year. As we came down to the end of the season it was something that became clearer and clearer how deep and how far we had to do it. When we hired Mark Hunter, obviously Mark one of his jobs and his job description that Dave Nonis and I had asked him to do was go out and find us players but we also wanted him to assess our scouting department, pro and amateur, from top to bottom. That was something we intended on doing all year long.
Can you describe what you're looking for in terms of makeup for the next GM of this team?
One thing I don't want to do this early in the process is eliminate anyone in the process. We have time, there are people who are available now, there are more people who will be available as the summer goes along. We want someone that shares our vision. We need to have a team with greater character. We have to have people that represent our city and this team as it deserves. We have an incredibly loyal, resilient fanbase. We need to have an incredibly resilient group of players that love to play in Toronto. We need to have an incredibly resilient group of managers from top to bottom that are committed to doing this in Toronto. In spite of any difficulties or perceived difficulties that this is a harder market than other markets; I don't believe that. I think the rewards are great here and the pressure is great but I think there are a lot of individuals that want to take on challenges like that.
Do you think this leadership group made the commitment they needed to make?
The obvious answer to that is, as a group, no. They know it. We know it. Everyone in here knows it. The job didn't get done. They're professionals and I'm not here to pile on top of them, it has been a difficult season for them. They also understand that yesterday was just the beginning. There will be some changes. We have some good pieces here. This is not a situation where we don't have anything to build from. They've been around, some of them, and they understand there are going to be changes made there as well.
How do the scouting changes impact draft preparations?
Not a different approach, this has been something Mark has been evaluating all season long. People that he valued in his department and people he thought maybe weren't going to be a part of what he saw as a lean and effective team. In no way would he have ever diminished our ability or hurt our chances at the draft table. In his words because this was his decision, this was his responsibility that we gave him, Mark knows scouting, Mark knows talent this had to be his team and it had to be his group. He would never put the Leafs in a position where there was information going out that was going to hurt us or there was information that we lacked as we approached the draft. He has the people that he trusts and he has the people that he likes and we think it'll be a less crowded room but a more effective room as we approach the draft.
Are you considering being President and General Manager?
We'll all pitch in at this point. I trust obviously I have a day-to-day impact on the decisions of our club. My interim General Managers with Mark and with Kyle, they're going to do a lot of the day-to-day work. We're going to lean on each other as we search for a new General Manager. As far as making myself General Manager, that's not my intention.
Will patience be a mission statement with your prospects and the Marlies over the coming years?
It's important. When people ask me about the plan here in Toronto, I've often said and learned over the last several months, the plan is not some unique plan that you won't hear 29 other teams say that they have to do. That's draft, develop, patience, make good choices. The challenge here in Toronto is not to come up with the plan. The challenge in Toronto is to stick to it. That is the hard part. Our vision is, indeed, to draft and develop our own players and when a player is ready to come up, he'll come up. If a player needs more time to reach his full potential we'll leave him down there. Every decision that we make has to be about, like I said, how do we build a winning organisation that can sustain itself year after year after year through the draft. I think that is our vision. People want to know the day-to-day plan. I'm sorry, it's not in an effort to be elusive or hide things from people, but when the other 29 teams start laying out their plan on a day-to-day basis maybe we'll discuss it as well. The plan changes, the vision doesn't change. The vision that you have to build a team this way doesn't change, not for me. The plan changes day-to-day, week-to-week. It is a sport and things change. As far as having the patience to do what's needed to be done yeah, you have to have a stomach to do it in a place with this much passion. I have that stomach and I think everyone that's coming here does. I can tell you the Board does, we've gotten excellent support from our Board that this has to be done the right way, this has to be built the correct way. There are no shortcuts. Shortcuts have gotten this organization into trouble in the past. This has to, once and for all, be a build that we are committed to and we don't stray from.
The person who hired you is leaving, you're looking to hire a GM who has a staff in place are you not repeating the mistakes of the past?
This job won't be for some General Managers but those General Managers won't be for us. The one statement I don't really like to say too much is, "this is how it has always been done." That doesn't really make much sense to me. I believe we are building a very capable and dedicated staff of people. The type of General Manager I want to bring to Toronto is someone that recognizes that and wants to be a part of that team. As far as who replaces Tim Leiweke, like I said, I've gotten extreme support from our Board. They understand, they're frustrated this hasn't happened over the years and they understand that this has to be done the right way and sometimes the right way takes a while. I have the complete faith that our Board knows this has to be done the right way. I have complete faith that they'll hire someone who shares that vision.
What is your evaluation of the lineup as you see it right now?
I spoke about it a little bit before, I think we've got some good pieces. We have some talented parts on this team that, as a group, as a mix, I think they've shown and understand and accept over the last several years, not just this year, for whatever reason the mix doesn't work. They understand that for that reason, in spite of the fact that we have talented individuals, if the mix doesn't work there are going to be changes.
Why wouldn't you consider yourself for the GM job, even for a short time?
That's not where my goal is today. My goal is to focus on finding a General Manager. If we talk in a couple of months and I feel differently, I'll let you know. But, for now, I can assure you my goal is to find a capable General Manager. Like I said, this may not be the right fit for certain people but they might not be the right fit for us. I think there will be no shortage of the right people that want to be a part of this. If we get to a point where we're not finding a right person, we may have to reassess this. The vision doesn't change, sometimes the plan does change. I can assure you all right now that's my intention, not my hope.
Does the mix of players going forward include Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf or could they be moved?
After what has happened here over the last several years I think it has to include everybody. That's not to say we don't have talented individuals and some of them won't be coming back, they understand and everybody here understands and I think the fans understand, and I think the fans demand that this has to change as well. I think sometimes people here try to suggest that the reason why this can't be done is the fans of Toronto don't have the stomach to endure what truly needs to be done. I don't believe that. I think they're dying for it to be done. Some people blame you, you can't deal with the press. I think that's a cop out as well. I think it is on us to have the determination to stick with the plan and do this the right away.
Do you have a timeframe for this plan? How important is this draft? Do you see yourself as a cap team?
I can't predict where we'll be with the cap in a few years. Of course it is an important draft, they are all important and I think that's one of the reasons we went out and got a guy like Mark Hunter... I know that people come up with answers and come up with years and I sometimes wonder if they give themselves a number of years just to buy themselves time. I don't know if that's the case. The truth of the matter and the reality and the truest answer I can give you is it takes as long as it takes. Whether people have the patience for that or not, in my opinion, you don't deviate from the vision. You have to adapt and make changes to the vision as you're going along because it's a fluid game and there are 29 other smart teams out there trying to beat us and trying to stay ahead of us. As far as attaching a certain date, in our mind we would like to see an improvement in the attitude and the way we play. I think we understand if we're going to make certain deals, especially if they reflect the ones we made at the trade deadline where we moved good players for future assets, that it takes away from your lineup and can hurt your lineup. I think that people here can understand that. It's a sophisticated hockey market. I don't think what they can understand is people who go out and give half efforts and that don't appear to enjoy playing here. You have to give the effort and show a happiness in being a Toronto Maple Leaf and an enthusiasm. Even if the record is the same record, we have to be able to play differently and approach the game differently in this city. I think that's what had most people so upset this year.
Knowing everything you know now do you wish you had started this process sooner?
Coming in here last year and making the changes I made yesterday would have been a guess for me. I know that people are frustrated and want to fast forward this thing as quickly as possible. There are millions of blueprints in this city but we can only use mine while I'm here as President. I can't borrow yours or borrow somebody else's. I had to come in here and see some things for myself. I made some changes last year, I tried to support people and give them an opportunity to succeed. We made a change around halfway through the year and asked the players to show us what they had and give us some answers. We went out and signed some players that we thought would give us an opportunity to be better. That didn't work out. I think we got a lot of answers this year. You'd like to go back in time and know all of these things one year later but it simply would have been a guess at that time. That's not something I would have been willing to do.
Would you be willing to hire a coach before a GM?
In my old job they used to give me these hypotheticals. What if this happened and that happened and this happened and that happened? That never really worked out. I never liked to work in hypotheticals. The answer is if I feel the right person is available and Mark and Kyle feel the right person is available and it's a little bit out of order and we get a fantastic coach I don't think it diminishes a General Manager's interest in coming to Toronto if we get a fantastic coach before the General Manager. I know it may not be the traditional way things are always done but I don't think that I'm necessarily someone that follows the "this is how it is done so this is how it has to be done." Ideally we'd love to have a General Manager in place that helps us find a coach. If the right person is available at the right time we'll make that decision.
If you were to win the draft lottery how would that affect the timing on this build?
It would certainly speed things up.
Would you be averse to a structure like in Colorado where the coach has a VP title?
I think those are getting into hypotheticals and dipping into territory I don't want to get into. We will have an open mind, starting today and going forward, we will have an open mind in order to get the best people here. Anything I think will help the Maple Leafs win and turn into the franchise we envision it should be and needs to be and this city deserves, we will do what it takes.
Will your new coach and GM be given enough time to do a proper rebuild if the results aren't there for a year or two years?
I can't jump ahead and imagine all of the scenarios that could occur two or three years down the road. The people we are looking for this summer are people that want to be apart of this direction and turning it around. We're hoping to find people that are here for a long time and share this vision. So long as we are constantly moving forward with that again, I understand and we all understand these things do take time so long as we are still of the shared vision and marching forward, I think that is our hope.
How big of a deal is character in the room to you after the end after the last three months?
I would never attribute any of the places I've been or great teams that I've seen, character attributed to one single person. It has to come from the group. This isn't to single one guy out or pick on anybody - it's not good enough, they understand that. I haven't been satisfied with it. They'd all have to look in the mirror and agree that as a group it didn't get done. When you look at championship teams it really is a group effort when it comes to leadership.
Will you have a GM in place for the draft and free agency?
That's the hope but we're not going to be bound by deadlines or anything like that. We're looking for the right person, but I would hope that would be the case.