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Maple Leafs hope shakeup yields improvement

by Mike Brophy continues its preview of the 2015-16 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout August.

TORONTO -- Brendan Shanahan hopes reshaping the Toronto Maple Leafs front office and coaching staff will lead to a better on-ice product in the near future.

Shanahan's two major offseason moves were hiring Mike Babcock as coach May 20 and Lou Lamoriello as general manager July 23.

Babcock, 52, spent the past 10 seasons coaching the Detroit Red Wings. Under Babcock, the Red Wings made the Stanley Cup Playoffs every year, won the Cup in 2008 and made it to the Final the following year. Shanahan is so convinced Babcock is the man for the job in Toronto that he signed him to an eight-year contract reportedly worth $50 million.

On the day Babcock's hiring was announced, Shanahan made a point of saying his new coach completely buys into the plan to build through the draft no matter how long it takes. Asked if the Maple Leafs would trade a prospect or high draft pick to get a veteran player at the trade deadline just to get into the playoffs, he flatly said no.

"Mike was insistent that we don't make that type of a move," Shanahan said.

The Lamoriello hiring came out of the blue. Lamoriello, 72, spent the past 28 years as president and GM of the New Jersey Devils, who won the Stanley Cup in 1995, 2000 and 2003, and made it to the Final in 2001 and 2012. But after the Devils missed the playoffs for the third straight year, Ray Shero replaced him as GM in May, with Lamoriello retaining his position as president.

Shanahan began working on Lamoriello almost immediately after Shero was hired, trying to convince him to join the Maple Leafs. Lamoriello was reluctant at first, but Shanahan finally got his man, the same one who selected him with the No. 2 pick of the 1987 NHL Draft.

"I think having Lou in the organization is an opportunity for him to mentor us all," Shanahan said. "I think there are a lot of GMs in the League now that would point to Lou as someone who helped them along in their careers."

Even before the Lamoriello hiring, Shanahan, assistant GM Kyle Dubas and director of player personnel Mark Hunter had been busy working to reshape Toronto's hockey department. In addition to bringing in Babcock, the Maple Leafs added assistant coaches Jim Hiller, D.J. Smith and Andrew Brewer, goaltending coach Steve Briere and director of player evaluation Steve Paliafito.

Toronto also overhauled its amateur and pro scouting departments, and made changes to the medical staff. The Maple Leafs also instituted a sports science and performance program to optimize player performance.

Although he'll turn 73 early this season, Lamoriello also endorses Shanahan's plan of steady improvement, with the idea that when the Maple Leafs become a contender, they will remain one for years and years.

"I understand it is going to take patience," Lamoriello said. "I understand it is not something that is going to happen overnight. I am committed to that along with Brendan and along with Mark, along with Mike, along with Kyle. … each and every person in the front office."

Lamoriello faces a big task in trying to turn around the Maple Leafs, who have made the playoffs once since 2004 and finished 30 points out of a postseason berth last season.

Toronto's biggest on-ice personnel move came July 1 when the Maple Leafs traded right wing Phil Kessel, along with defenseman Tim Erixon, minor league center Tyler Biggs and a second-round draft choice in 2016, to the Pittsburgh Penguins for forward prospect Kasperi Kapanen, forward Nick Spaling, defenseman Scott Harrington, and first- and third-round picks in the 2016 draft. The Maple Leafs also retained $1.2 million of Kessel's salary annually through 2021-22.

Kessel scored 217 goals and had 454 points in 516 games with Toronto; he had 25 goals and 61 points last season and scored five goals after Jan. 29.

Toronto also signed free agent forwards Mark Arcobello, who played with four teams last season, PA Parenteau from the Montreal Canadiens and Shawn Matthias from the Vancouver Canucks, as well as defenseman Matt Hunwick from the New York Rangers. The Maple Leafs also re-signed center Daniel Winnik, who they traded to the Penguins at the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline, to a two-year contract, and they acquired forward Taylor Beck and defenseman Martin Marincin in trades with the Nashville Predators and Edmonton Oilers, respectively.

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