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Brendan Shanahan embracing Maple Leafs history

Toronto president sees past as fuel to inspire present

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs began their centennial season in a big way this week off the ice, first unveiling the statues of team icons Dave Keon, Tim Horton and Turk Broda on Legends Row outside Air Canada Centre, then announcing the top 100 players in franchise history based on a vote of a 30-member panel and by fans voting online.

The elephant in the room, of course, is that as they turn 100, the Maple Leafs are also closing in on the 50th anniversary of their most recent Stanley Cup championship, a 1967 Canadian centennial-year upset of the Montreal Canadiens.

In April 2014 the Maple Leafs hired Brendan Shanahan as president and alternate governor. Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2013, Shanahan played 1,524 NHL games for five teams between 1987 and 2009, and had 656 goals and 698 assists. He won the Stanley Cup three times during his nine seasons with the Detroit Red Wings (1997, 1998, 2002).

Shanahan brought to the Maple Leafs a deep respect for hockey history and tradition from his time with the Red Wings. Legends like Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay weren't just names from that franchise's misty past. They were (and, in Lindsay's case, remain) woven into the Red Wings' fabric, easy-going, even folksy icons who moved freely and regularly around the team at Joe Louis Arena.

In bringing this respect to the Maple Leafs, Shanahan is quarterbacking from the president's office much of what the team will do during its centennial season and beyond to embrace a once-glorious past to allow that history to fuel its present and its future.

As the Maple Leafs unveiled their top 100 players of all time on Friday, Shanahan shared with his thoughts about building his current team with an eye on its storied past.

Video: Top 5 Maple Leaf players discussion


At the dawn of the Maple Leafs' centennial season, is this simply a good time to dip into a century of team history? Or is there more to it than that for you?

"When I went to Detroit in 1996 (his 10th NHL season), we at the time had the longest-running Stanley Cup-winning drought, 41 years. But we never saw that the presence of Gordie Howe or Ted Lindsay was something that was hurting us; it was actually inspiring us. I always felt that to have pictures on the walls and to see them every day, to see the Stanley Cup on the wall every day and to meet the men who had done that for that team before us, was an inspiration. It almost made us more determined to do it. That was my experience with an Original Six franchise.

"When I came to Toronto, it was just something I really believed would help our current players. You have to remember every single day, no matter where you are in your development, why you're here. We're here to win the Stanley Cup. Why are you playing in the NHL? To win the Stanley Cup. You need to be reminded of that every single day.

"Maybe it's seeing a picture on the wall, or bumping into or meeting a guy like Dave Keon and then going to look up his history. Our players weren't born when Dave played. But when you hear about a guy who averaged five penalty minutes a season and yet was called a killer, a bulldog, a guy who won a Conn Smythe Trophy (as MVP in the 1967 Stanley Cup Playoffs), scored clutch goals, killed clutch penalties, well, that brings him to life. It puts him in the dressing room next to you. He's not just an alumnus, not just an older gentleman who used to play. He's somebody you can relate to."



You're bringing Dave Keon back into the Maple Leafs family this weekend and into your centennial season after an estrangement that goes back into the mid-1970s. How important was it for you to do this with the man who has just been voted the No. 1 player in Maple Leafs history?

"It was incredibly important. And I'll say, with all due respect to Dave, that it's incredibly important for all of our alumni to feel a part of this family. For Dave, obviously the most visible and well-known, the connection with the team wasn't quite there for reasons that I didn't really know about when I came here. I think it wasn't anything that I said on the telephone when I called to tell him we'd like his statue on Legends Row. I think the time was just right for Dave. We're lucky that he's come back. And I'll add this: I think it's incredible that he was voted by a panel from the hockey community and by our fans as the best Leaf of all time. Thank goodness he's back. It's just unbelievable how that played out."


Hockey history is very important to coach Mike Babcock, as it was to him when he was coach of the Red Wings. He'd see coach Scotty Bowman and Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay in his midst a lot, and Mike has said it took him years in that office before he'd even move a push-pin on Scotty's bulletin board. Mike has brought part of this here, with Maple Leafs alumni nameplates in dressing-room stalls, for instance. Is this something you and he have done together? Or just because Mike wants to do it?

"A little of both. When Mike and [general manager] Lou [Lamoriello] came aboard in Toronto, the three of us sat down and said, 'Who do we want to be? It's not Detroit or the New Jersey Devils. It's Toronto. What are those things?' The connection to our alumni and our past was something that was important to all of us. When your head coach embraces that type of thing, when Mike says to Dave Keon last year when he was here for the announcement of his statue, 'Why don't you sit in and listen to our power-play and penalty-killing meetings for tonight's game,' that's not Mike being told to do something or feeling it's the right thing to do. It's just because he wants to do it. And it's great for our players.

"In your career you try to take things from places that you've been that you think worked and you try to remember the things that you felt didn't work. I thought that the connection to our past in Detroit was something that worked really well. Ted Lindsay and I used to go to lunch or dinner once every month or two when I was a player there. We developed a good friendship, a bond. I can say from firsthand experience that it was inspiring to me to hear Ted say, 'When I saw a member of the opposition in the summertime I crossed the street. It was that competitive.' So how can getting to know a person like that, to see the passion in a man of Ted's age and stature, be a bad thing? It's a great thing."

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