Maple Leafs Front Office an Awkward Mess

I have defended Dave Nonis in the past. I think that Dave Nonis is a patient and smart man – which makes him a good GM. I think, also, that he has taken an unfair amount of criticism for the job he has done. Say what you want about him, the Bernier trade was a thieving and since he is widely seen as the de facto GM while Burke was still here, he must get credit too for the absolute demo jobs he did on Philadelphia and Calgary to acquire JVR and Phaneuf.

But it’s time to move on.

I like Dave Nonis and I thought it was a mistake by the upper-management to bail on Burke and then to supersede Nonis with Shanahan – not because  he’s better or worse than Shanahan, but because I liked what he had done with the team and thought they were going in the right direction and that patience was the only thing needed.  Basically, I was a fan of Nonis and wanted him to do well.

You can’t however, deal with the world as you want it, but rather, how it is. And the reality is that Brendan Shanahan is in charge of this organization now. Though I didn’t want Nonis gone, I have come to love the Shanahan hiring.

One thing I have liked about Shanahan from day one is that he is a no-nonsense, straight shooting classy guy who combines everything good about being “old-school” with a progressive, creative attitude and hunger for new information. He’s has seemed that way since he was hired, and I even believe that he likes Dave Nonis and intended to work with him. I don’t think he lied at all when he said that. But,even the best of intentions go awry occasionally and this has. Instead of incorporating the vision of Dave Nonis with his own, Shanahan – despite what I believe were the utmost of respectful intentions – has neutered and undercut Nonis’ authority at every turn.

All of his moves to date have been beyond excellent, they have been coupes over every other NHL team – the hiring of  Kyle Dubas, Tuesday’s hiring of Mark Hunter and the addition of Peter Horachek and Steve Spott as assistant coaches. Then there is the firing of Claude Loiselle and Dave Poulin. All of these personnel moves border on genius.

But they also undercut the Dave Nonis regime at every turn. He doesn’t get to pick his own assistants, his friends and advisers are all fired. Same thing for the coach, which can also be seen as undercutting of the GM as well.  Virtually all plugged in followers of the Maple Leafs consider Dave Nonis the GM in name only. Same thing with Carlyle.

In fact, you could easily call them the biggest Lame Duck coach/GM combo in the history of the NHL.

Find me one person who think’s they will be back next season unless they accidentally get lucky and win something.

Maple Leafs can improve
(Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports)

The Leafs should fire them both today.

It has nothing to do with performance, but respect and  functionality. First, it’s disrespectful to keep them around in what is bordering on humiliating circumstances. What authority does Nonis even have anymore? Can he make trades without getting consent? Does anyone out there think the next coach and GM of the Leafs aren’t actually already working for them? In what world does it make sense to assemble an entire department of new-wave thinkers and then put them under the authority of the guy who you liked so much that you fired everyone he had working for him, and then made a complete 180 in terms of philosophy? Why would Mark Hunter come here to be the ‘Director of Player Personnel‘ when he owns and manages one of, if not the most successful minor hockey team in the world? He’s rich and he’s been successful in every facet of his life.

I will bet you anything that he is the next GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs – he’s everything they could want in a GM by the way: He’s old school in the way that Shanahan is, but he’s also progressive enough to have been on the cutting edge of analytics and advanced stats. If you talk to anyone about him, he’s considered the most dedicated and  hockey-knowledgeable people in the business, and he happens to fit perfectly into the philosophy the Leafs are building towards.

Then there is functionality. How can the Leafs function if no one knows who is making the calls? How can Nonis be trusted to make the right moves for the future and long-term viability of the team when, even if he’s not on the verge of being fired, is for sure managing for his job?  Same with Carlyle. He shouldn’t be allowed to sit Jake Gardiner. The ‘rebuild on the fly’ attempt was an abject failure. Don’t compound it by playing games this season like this season is anything more than a season to grow and get experience.

(Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)
(Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Every single coaching move – the strategy employed and the players used to do it – needs to be based on what is best for the future. Sure, sitting Gardiner or Percy might be the best short-term move, but the Leafs need to be  playing the long game and Carlyle is not in a position to do that.

So fire them. It’s merciful at this point. Announce that Mark Hunter is the new General Manager and Peter Horachek is the new coach – I’d be good with that combo and I am sorry to say, but Mike Babcock is a pipe-dream.

Barring an unlikely season of unsustainable play (which, if it means doubling down on guys you don’t even really want is actually not a good thing) Nonis and Carlyle are out after this season.  Might as well just do the right thing and do it now.