Maple Leafs: Turning Over a New Leaf Part One

Approximately 28 months after Brendan Shanahan stepped into his role as Maple Leafs President and Alternate Governor, we are seeing the puzzle come together piece by piece.  This upcoming season will usher in a new Leafs logo that takes the fans back to an era that Stanley Cups weren’t only dreamt of – but an era of Stanley Cups won.

As the team is about to kick-off the 2016-2017 season, I wanted to write about where this team has come from, as the picture of where it is going is becoming clearer.  The carousel of firings, and subsequent replacement of coaches, scouts, development staff, has seen a shift in focus to analytics as a tool for success in acquiring on-ice talent. While the development of youth, long an after-thought of previous management regimes, showed the “big picture” thinking lost in the quest for marquee talent that was either past its expiry date or the wrong fit for building a winner.

The following key dates (I appreciate I may have missed some) paints a picture of an organization has turned over a new Leaf (pun definitely intended)

·         July 22nd, 2014: Leafs hire Kyle Dubas as Assistant General manager.

·         August 19th, 2014: Leafs hire Brandon Pridham as Capologist.

·         October 21st, 2014: Leafs hire Mark Hunter as director of player personnel.

·         January 6th, 2015: Leafs fire coach Randy Carlyle

·         April 12th, 2015: Leafs fire GM Dave Nonis, interim coach Peter Horachek, Director of Pro Scouting Steve Kasper, Director of Player Development Jimmy Hughes & 18 Pro Scouts.

·         May 2015-September 2015-Leafs hire Ari Vuori as the team’s head of European scouting; Thommie Bergman who is their scout in Sweden. Also added during this time, were experienced OHL GM’s and Coaches to spearhead all Ontario and Canadian based scouting responsibilities.

·         May 20th, 2015: Leafs hire Mike Babcock as their new head coach.

·         June 8th, 2015: Leafs hire Sheldon Keefe to coach the Marlies

·         July 23rd, 2015: Lou Lamoriello is hired as the new GM

Taken individually, those 9 dates wouldn’t all seem like ground-breaking moves. Mind you, bringing in names like Babcock and Lamoriello brought instant respectability to the bench and front office. As a whole, what each of those foundational moves combined to accomplish is something that this organization hasn’t had in forever – continuity and structure. The Leafs have now become an organization that values the draft process, stockpiling picks and, in the process, drafting players that fit the “Leafs way” of playing hockey. The on-ice philosophies are passed down from Leafs Head Coach Mike Babcock to Marlies Head Coach Sheldon Keefe, giving the players an opportunity to seamlessly transition from their roles at Ricoh to playing in front of Leaf Nation at the ACC. Shrewd trades and drafting have grown the Leafs prospect pool to create a reservoir of burgeoning talent, ready to take the league by storm when deemed ready by management.

Maybe the biggest change in all of this movement is the environment and support system the players find then when they make the big club. In the past, one area that seemed to lack, according to journalists and those that follow the team, was a safe and supportive environment. This key change reduces the pressure on prospects like Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and William Nylander to be the saviors of this franchise. The previous regimes pushed a mentality to win quickly, which only made the organization’s Stanley Cup drought worse (in case you’re wondering that drought turns 50 in 2017).

The environment allows these young players and the other prospects to develop at a slower pace than years gone by. The support system even allows for the current group of players to take turns in front of the media, instead of having the same sacrificial lambs being placed in front the throng of media that follows the team. Imagine trying to answer the same questions and facing the heat from the media and fans as losses pile up.

From a Leafs fan perspective, all these changes that appear new, aren’t at all revolutionary. Around the league, successful franchises in Detroit, Chicago & L.A. have been doing these things for years. Under the “ShanaPlan,” this organization has its eye on building a winning culture now and long into the future. Such promise means that it is okay to BELEAF again, and pride and excitement can now reign the day in the big smoke, thanks to the “Shanaplan.”

Turning over a new leaf is never easy. But, as the Toronto Maple Leafs organization has shown through a patient approach, and by kicking off their centennial season with an ode to the Maple Leaf logo of the ‘60’s, sometimes all you need to move forward is to take a few steps back and remind yourself of who and what you are, and where you’re trying to go.

The second part of this three part series will discuss the players and how this plan is now reflected in this year’s roster.

Courtesy of SportsNet