Maple Leafs President and Alternate Governor Brendan Shanahan spoke to media on Sunday during the club's locker clean out day to reflect on the 2015-16 season. Here's what he had to say...
What did you learn about this team this season?
I think that what I learned was they were eager and willing to respond to the challenges issued by the coach and the general manager. I think that a lot was asked of them and to just think back around this time last year compared to where we are this year, while it might not reflect in the standings yet, I think that the people we were really hoping would respond in a positive way did.
How would you describe the importance of Mike Babcock?
I think he's a great fit for Toronto and he's a great fit because he's a great coach, he's a teacher, he has been on big stages before the in the NHL and the international stage. I don't think that bright lights or pressure affect him in a negative way. I think it energizes him and I think he loves being here. There are a lot of great coaches in the NHL, we think Mike is one of them and I think he's probably the best fit for Toronto.
How much more patient are fans going to have to be before this team makes a playoff run?
I think you're speaking for the fans right now in the sense that we all know where we want to go. That's the one thing, you can sometimes have spirited discussions with people and at the end of the day remind yourself we want the same thing. The fans that I've spoken to, most of them have been involved in this for decades. And so, I think they're almost fearful of somebody influencing the process in a way that speeds it up and hurts it. I'm not getting that from them. What I'm getting from them is, 'Do it right and however long it takes don't fall short.'
How hard was it for you to process this season with 46 players, a new coach and a new GM?
The challenge of this season was enjoyable and I think that it's not like we didn't enter the season knowing the work ahead of us. I think that I felt energized every day. Not every day is a good one, but even if you're a first place club -- I promise you I've been on those too -- not every day is a good day. I thought that it was -- the way we had people coming to work and the group we had this year, again speaking on behalf of Lou and Mike who haven't been here last season and comparing it to this, I was really energized each day.
What stands out about your young group and the process they've gone through this year for you?
I think they're still going through it and I think that it was part of our hope and our plan to bring them up at some point for a viewing -- not just for us, but for them as well. For us to see what we had and for them to see what it takes to be successful up here. But them, going back and getting prepared for the playoffs is an important part of their season and their development as well. I think Sheldon Keefe and his staff and Kyle Dubas have done a great job in getting to where they are. Now they're getting ready for the playoffs and it's a whole different challenge and a whole different animal.
Was there any part of this season that didn't go as you expected?
There's always things you don't expect. There are changes, injuries, things like that. But, as much as you don't know who's going to get hurt, you probably go through most seasons expecting someone will, knock on wood. I was, again, recognizing exactly where we finished and how it ended up, there were a lot of positives. At the end of last season we really wanted to change the culture here on the ice and off the ice. We wanted to do a complete about-face, a 180. I think what I did at the end of last season was I spoke very clearly and very honestly about what I saw. I didn't pull punches, didn't try to snow people or fool anybody, I just said what I had hoped we'd be able to do and, not knowing at the time that we were going to be able to have a great coach like Mike and a great general manager like Lou, and that everybody would work well together. That's probably what pleased me the most is not just the group we were able to assemble but how they were able to work so well together. That was really important to me.
Did the organization see the growth it needed from Nazem Kadri?
I think we've seen a lot of growth from him and some real strides and he's one of the guys I think about when I say -- Mike's not necessarily an easy guy to play for every day, you have to be an extremely competitive person just to play for Mike. Nazem Kadri did a great job in that sense. He was extremely competitive for us. That being said, we just have to keep growing.
How far do you think you are from being that team that is always a contender?
I'm not being evasive by not answering because the truth of the matter is there are too many things that'll change over the course that will appear to slow it down or things that'll change that'll appear to speed it up. I would say that collectively we're ahead of where we thought we might be and that's not putting a date or timetable on it. What's important to us is I think we're very confident we're going to get there. Again, it's also important to know that if we build this the way we hope to build it, we're confident we intend to be around for a long time.
What is your defining takeaway from the season?
Buy-in, I think. I think to have two strong individuals like Mike and Lou, there was a buy-in from the players and an acceptance of we're going to do -- it's one thing to say you're going to do everything the coach asks of you and it's another thing to do it and they did that. But also, just in the management group with -- people said at the end of last season that we weren't going to be able to find a coach or a general manger of any substance that are going to enter into a situation where the management team has been built. We were hopeful and somewhat confident that we could. And so, the fact they came here and the entire management team works so well together and formed a pretty good partnership with each other, that to me goes in to the buy-in as well. Players, the entire group of the direction we have to go. And again, that to me is the big thing, the ship is at least turned in the right direction.