Skip to main content

Maple Leafs task Shanahan with changing culture

by Joe Yerdon

TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs are hoping they've found the man who will help turn around a franchise that hasn't won the Stanley Cup since 1967.

The Maple Leafs formally introduced Brendan Shanahan as president Monday and tasked him with guiding an organization that has made the playoffs just once in the past nine seasons.

"I'm not sure the Leafs have [the right culture]," Maple Leafs CEO Tim Leiweke said. "This is something these two gentlemen [Shanahan and general manager Dave Nonis] will have to work on. I definitely sense that we lack an identity and right now we're a team that lacks direction, and we want to change that."

Change comes in the form of Shanahan, who departed his position as NHL Vice President of Player Safety to join the Maple Leafs. His arrival in Toronto comes after a season in which the Maple Leafs had the third-best record in the Eastern Conference on March 14 but lost 12 of its final 14 games and to finish 12th in the East with 84 points.

"When Tim and I first sat down and went through everything and we talked about the job, we talked about everything," Shanahan said. "I walked away from that particular conversation with Tim thinking, 'I'm going to do this.' I immediately had those same feelings of excitement and anticipation, but my mind just turning about the things that needed to be done."

The decision to hire Shanahan wasn't a sudden one. Leiweke said the organization has been working for nearly a year to bring him aboard. With Shanahan heading the NHL Department of Player Safety it was tricky to get the timing right, but it may work out ideally for the Maple Leafs in the end.

"There are certain similarities [between the two jobs], as far as having a plan, surrounding yourself with really good people, making sure they feel fulfilled and then so long as -- not that you're not going to make mistakes, but as long as you like your plan and your direction you'll have successes and you'll have failures," Shanahan said. "But just keeping that sort of 30,000-foot level view of sticking with it, in spite of praise or criticism, sticking with the plan you believe in."

The Maple Leafs have been criticized in some circles for how they've handled the surge of advanced analytics that have become part of the game. Don't expect that to be the case under the new regime.

"Generally speaking, I think that if there's information out there for you and you choose to ignore it, then that's a mistake by you," Shanahan said. "I think that certainly anytime there's an opportunity to get more information, decide what's good about it, how you can gain something from it, I'm all for that. I'm open to all of those things."

New ideas and a fresh view are exactly the kind of things Leiweke and the Maple Leafs are looking for Shanahan to provide. If nothing else, it's Shanahan's character the organization may value the most.

"I couldn't find anyone to say anything bad about him," Leiweke said. "His character, his work ethic, the way he approaches these tasks and jumps in, his integrity, his analytical skills, his patience. He's not a guy that is knee-jerk. I think if you look at his character, and what everyone talks about is, the man fights. He fought as a player, he fought for the [NHL Players' Association], he fought for the game and now he fights for the integrity of the League.

"Now he comes here and he fights for the Leafs. The one thing I know about [Shanahan] is he's going to fight for us every day; he may be analytical, he may be patient, he may not be knee-jerk, but in that heart beats a man that is extremely committed to winning and doing whatever is necessary. I'm glad he's fighting for us now because I think he's going to have an impact."

The Maple Leafs have been losing more often than not in recent seasons. Shanahan brings a winning perspective and attitude from his playing days as a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Detroit Red Wings. Just don't expect winning to happen peacefully should it happen under his leadership.

"Even some of those trips to the Stanley Cup we had bad days," Shanahan said. "We were angry with the coach, we felt slighted by the press. We had grumpiness. We used to say we were the grumpiest first-place team in the League. All those things still exist.

"Even when you're on a great team in a great organization going in the right direction there's still drama, there's still questions, there's still self-doubt and there's still bad days. It's a subtle change. Like I said, I've been part of too many teams that everything gets questioned right up until the moment that someone hands you the Stanley Cup, then suddenly everybody is viewed differently."

View More

The NHL uses cookies, web beacons, and other similar technologies. By using NHL websites or other online services, you consent to the practices described in our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service, including our Cookie Policy.