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Restructured management impacting Maple Leafs

by Dan Rosen

Dave Nonis knew Brendan Shanahan could be his boss before Shanahan knew he would be. Nonis' information came directly from his other boss.

"They didn't give me the president's title; they told me there was a very good chance they were going to bring one in," Nonis, senior vice president and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, told "Toward the end of last season, [Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment president and CEO] Tim Leiweke came to me and said, 'We think we've got a guy who might be the right fit.' So we talked about it, and it's pretty hard to say it's not a good fit. In this case it was a president who knew the game and could help shape the team.

"I was informed the whole way and it's turned out like we hoped it would."

Shanahan brought about significant change in his first offseason as Maple Leafs president, perhaps most notably in the front office. Nonis stayed in place, but he's working with new assistants, including assistant general manager Kyle Dubas on the scouting and evaluation side.

As Toronto gets ready to open the 2014-15 season Wednesday with the 2014 Molson Canadian NHL Face-Off against the Montreal Canadiens at Air Canada Centre (7 p.m. ET, SN), the interest in the Maple Leafs on the ice almost is matched by the intrigue of how they will be run by the new executives.

Less than three months into their relationship, Nonis and Dubas say they're on the same page, comfortable with each other with the knowledge they can share, and with the support they have from Shanahan.

"I don't know if it's changed how I see [the game], but it's changed how you get there," Nonis said. "It opens up new avenues and it is nice to talk about what we want to do and how we want to get there. We're never going to agree on everything and I don't think we want to. But I think we think a lot alike in terms of how we want our team to play."

The structure of the front office wouldn't work if Shanahan wasn't comfortable with Nonis, and vice versa. Nonis said their relationship has been "healthy." He said they communicate regularly and share a lot of the same ideas. He also said his responsibilities have not changed.

"Brendan doesn't want to be the manager, but he wants to help shape the direction of the team," Nonis said. "At the end of the day whoever your boss is always is going to have the final say. But my job description hasn't changed and how I approach it hasn't changed. I'm responsible for overseeing the hockey operations for this team."

The difference is he has a resource in the form of a Hockey Hall of Fame player and three-time Stanley Cup champion in Shanahan. That alone has allowed Nonis to see the game differently.

"I look at things from a manager's standpoint, a team-building standpoint, whereas he's been on teams that have already been built," Nonis said. "When you put those things together, you do trade a lot of ideas."

One of those ideas led to hiring Dubas in July.

Dubas said he wouldn't have left his job as general manager of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League if he wasn't on the same page as Nonis. That means Nonis had to show Dubas they were on the same page when it came to analyzing the game in new ways, commonly referred to as advanced statistics.

"What Dave has said is he wants to integrate that way of thinking into the organization," Dubas said. "Brendan and Dave and Randy [Carlyle, Maple Leafs coach] have been the most curious people in the organization in asking questions about it."

Kyle Dubas helped lead Dave Nonis into signing forward David Booth with Toronto. (Photo: Jeff Vinnick/NHLI)

Dubas helped lead Nonis into signing forwards David Booth and Daniel Winnik, two players who score high on the analytics scale because of their ability to possess the puck and work well with linemates in the offensive zone.

"It's just building depth into our organization, and in my initial meeting with him, Dave said that was one thing he wanted to do and he asked what kind of guys I like," Dubas said. "When Dave said that in our meeting, that let me know this is probably going to be a good fit."

Dubas said he'll have direct contact with the coaching staff throughout the season if they want it, but regardless he will have a say in how the Maple Leafs play. That's where his analytics department will be useful.

He hired Darryl Metcalf, Rob Pettapiece and Cam Charron to work with him in the Maple Leafs Hockey Research & Development department. Metcalf ran the popular analytics website; Pettapiece worked with Dubas on analytics in Sault Ste. Marie; Charron was a hockey writer whose blog entries were heavily influenced by analytics.

"He's got strong views on players," Nonis said of Dubas. "It was refreshing to have the conversations with him to hear his ideas and how he wants to do them. Are all those ideas going to help and come to fruition? No. But if some of it does and we can take some strides forward, then this will be a very good add to our staff."

Part of what Nonis and Dubas say they like about the front office is they're not always thinking alike, that they have to convince each other an idea is worth pursuing.

Dubas said more than once he has received a less-than-lukewarm response from Shanahan and Nonis on players he thought were worth pursuing. He wouldn't say who.

"Dave wants me to present how I feel about something; he wants to hear it even if he might disagree with it," Dubas said. "I don't feel afraid to give my true opinion."

Because of his position Nonis has to figure out what ideas are worth pursuing; however, he won't pursue anything if he doesn't believe in it.

"If there is something that piques my interest I'll bring it up to Brendan and same thing with Brendan," Nonis said. "He'll come knock on my door and say, 'What do you think of this?' There's no reason we can't continue like that."

Whether the decisions lead to sustained success remains the biggest test. If they don't, there will be more changes coming. But there's optimism that that won't be necessary because of the connection the Maple Leafs executives have made in a short period of time.

"You always wonder that when you go into a new work environment," Dubas said. "You wonder what the new relationship will be like between you and your bosses and the people you work with. There is a lot of synergy."


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