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Shanahan says no shortcuts for Maple Leafs rebuild

by Mike Brophy

TORONTO -- When Brendan Shanahan interviewed a year ago for the position of Toronto Maple Leafs president, the reason he wanted the job was to build a team capable of winning the Stanley Cup.

That remains Shanahan's primary goal, and he hopes the organization's restructuring that began Sunday is a major step in that direction.

Shanahan fired general manager Dave Nonis, his coaching staff including interim coach Peter Horachek and assistants Steve Spott, Chris Dennis and Rick St. Croix, chief pro scout Steve Kasper and director of player development Jim Hughes. Some members of the scouting staff were also let go.

Shanahan said he has no interest in being Maple Leafs GM, and added his plan is not something unique from what the other 29 teams in the NHL are trying to accomplish. It is about drafting, developing and showing patience with players.

"The challenge in Toronto is not coming up with the plan but sticking to the plan," Shanahan said. "That is the hard part. Our vision is to draft and develop our own players. I think every decision we make has to be about building a winning organization that can sustain itself year after year after year through the draft."

Shanahan said there are no short cuts and trying to take short cuts has gotten the organization into trouble in the past.

"This has to be once and for all a build that we are committed to and don't stray from," Shanahan said.

The Maple Leafs finished 27th in the League standings with a 30-44-8 record and 68 points, 30 fewer than the Pittsburgh Penguins, who grabbed the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference. They were 21-16-3 when coach Randy Carlyle was fired, then went 9-28-5 under Horachek. As a result, the Maple Leafs have a 9.5 percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick at the 2015 NHL Draft Lottery this Saturday.

Toronto had one road win in 2015. The Maple Leafs, who scored goals in bunches in the first half (their 121 goals on Dec. 30 led the NHL), had difficulty finding the net down the stretch and finished minus-51 in goal differential.

Shanahan was asked if he believes the leadership group understood the commitment required to be successful.

"The obvious answer is no," Shanahan said. "They know it, we know it, everyone in here knows it; the job didn't get done. They also understand that yesterday was just the beginning. There will be changes."

Shanahan said as a player, he was part of many successful teams, none of which was led by one individual. He feels his leadership group was not up to par in 2014-15.

"This isn't to single anyone out; it's not good enough, and [the players] understand that," Shanahan said. "I haven't been satisfied with it. They would all have to look in a mirror and agree that, as a group, it didn't get done. I think when you look at championship teams, it's really about a group effort when it comes to leadership."

The Maple Leafs have five unrestricted free agents: forwards Trevor Smith, David Booth, Joakim Lindstrom and Zach Sill and defenseman Eric Brewer. Among the restricted free agents are goalie Jonathan Bernier, defensemen Tim Erixon and Andrew MacWilliam and forwards Nazem Kadri and Richard Panik.

The players understand changes are coming.

"Obviously it has been a tough year for everyone," veteran defenseman Stephane Robidas said. "It's not the way we planned it at the start of the year. As a team we have to learn from it. Sometimes you face adversity and you have to use it and learn from what we did wrong."

Veteran wing Joffrey Lupul said playing out the final few months of the season was a challenge.

"It was tough," Lupul said. "When you know you are not going to the playoffs, it's difficult, especially as an older player. When you know you are not going to the playoffs, it feels like a wasted year. It's a difficult feeling coming to the rink the last few months when you know you don't have a chance to win the Stanley Cup."

Shanahan said Toronto is a sophisticated hockey market and its fans do not appreciate watching players give what is perceived to be lackluster effort.

"I think that is what had most people so upset this year," he said.

Mark Hunter, Kyle Dubas and Shanahan will share GM duties until a replacement for Nonis is hired. Shanahan said he is not averse to hiring a coach before the new GM if he believes the right man for the job is available.

"We want someone that shares our vision," Shanahan said. "We need to have a team with greater character. We need to have people that represent this city and represent this team as it deserves. We have an incredibly loyal, resilient fan base and we need to have an incredibly resilient group of players that love to play in Toronto."

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