When I first heard the Leafs were going to hire Brendan Shanahan as their new President, I thought it was a stupid idea. Why, I thought, would you take a guy with no experience and make him the boss of a guy who has lots of experience and is doing as good a job as can be done, considering he’s only been on the job a short time? It seems to me that things like this just don’t ever work out: No matter your profession, nobody likes losing some of their authority, nobody wants to have less power or, especially, to have to answer to somebody with less experience.
It’s going to be a disaster. This was my gut reaction.
So, I continued to ponder it, more so as it became clear that it was going to happen. My next thought was about the trend of putting ex-players in high ranking management. Whether its Joe Sakic, Steve Yzerman, Trevor Linden, Ken Dryden or Brian Lawton, this has been going on for a while and isn’t anything new. I realize some of these guys have had success, and yet, I remain skeptical. Why should having played in the NHL make you a good manager? Even with broadcasting, I don’t think being an ex-player automatically should mean you get a job. The reason is that being a good analyst, critical thinker and problem solver are not things required to be an athlete. Someone who can demonstrate the ability to be these things will trump the experience gained from having played, and so, while an athlete can definitely possess these qualities, it seems shortsighted and not smart to limit your search to just people who played the game.
Anecdotal evidence it may be, but the best general manager in hockey for the last thirty years, unanimously I would bet, is Lou Lamoriello who never played any hockey or had any hockey experience when he made himself the GM after being hired as President of the Devils back in the 80’s.
In most cases, I remain skeptical of the hiring of ex-players. It seems gimmicky. This is the second reason I was initially against the hiring of Shanahan as the new President of the Leafs.
The third reason I didn’t like the idea is because of Dave Nonis. Dave Nonis is doing a great job, in my opinion. I know that after this season people will not agree with that, but I think the Leafs over achieved early and under achieved late, only to arrive at the exact spot they deserved to be in with the group of defenseman they dressed this year. Yes it’s on Nonis to address that, and yes it was (mostly) his fault for tying up his salary cap so much that moves were not really possible. I cannot, however, fault him for thinking that his core group was good enough to make the playoffs and young enough to make waiting until next year an ideal option.
I applaud him for his patience and for not making any panicky short-term moves to improve just for this year. I think that this bodes well for the future of the team, which, I assure you, is bright no matter how badly this last month has gone. My concern was that if Shanahan is now in charge, this kind of patience won’t get a chance to pay off; that Nonis, scared of being replaced if he fails, will now change his plan and revert to the true tradition of the Maple Leafs, which is trading every good young player you get for immediate results that don’t pan out.
Working Through My Objections
After this reflection on the hiring of Shanahan. I felt that the overall it was a bad idea. For all those reasons, I was against it.
But then something interesting happened: I changed my mind.
Working quickly through my objections, I think that 1) I heard that this was already in the works since before Nonis signed his five year deal. If that is the case, the objection that he is somehow being usurped is not valid. 2) As far as hiring ex-players, I still think its gimmicky and eliminates 99% of candidates, but I also am open minded enough to give it a chance. It could just be a publicity stunt, or it could be a legitimate hockey move. Until more information is available I don’t think this is a good enough reason to dismiss the move. 3) It seems like Shanahan is not going to fire Nonis and make himself GM. Minority I may be, but I really like Nonis and as long as he isn’t being pushed out, this objection is null and void.
So with my objections defeated, I changed my mind. I decided that I don’t have enough information one way or the other to make a decision on whether this is a good or a bad move. I moved my reaction from negative to ambivalent, basically. What does a President of a hockey team even do? Obviously, he is in charge, can hire and fire whoever he wants, etc. but, the role varies between teams and right now we can’t know what Shanahan wants to do or what kind of president he will be.
While I am not prepared to endorse the move, I do like some things about it. It’s bold. It’s decisive. And I doubt it can hurt. I don’t know if Shanahan is going to make a lot of changes, or what, exactly, his new job entails. Will he let Nonis continue to run the team with autonomy? Will Nonis have to ask permission to make moves? Will Shanahan eventually name himself the GM? All this remains to be seen.
Until them, I withhold judgement and will wait and see.
Covering the Leafs for the Hockey Writers.