A lot has been made in the media recently about the behind-the-scenes discourse between Toronto Maple Leafs’ president Brendan Shanahan and his recently departed general manager (GM) Kyle Dubas. Shanahan has been accused of interfering with moves that Dubas wanted to make and forcing him to make moves he didn’t want to.
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To that, we say – what? The last we looked, the top job in the Maple Leafs’ organization was the presidency. The GM worked for and reported to, the president. More precisely this was Shanahan’s show! Period! He was placed in charge of this team by the board of governors. As Spock would say “It was completely logical, Jim.”
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Shanahan should have the ultimate say on major decisions. If not, why have a president? If he’s not going to control what happens under him in the organization why have him there at all? Just let the GM run the show, which sounds like what Dubas had proposed, and asked for, in his latest contract demands.
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If, as we are told, Dubas wanted autonomy in the decision-making process would that not equate to Dubas telling Shanahan to fire himself? If that were the case, it makes sense that Shanahan felt he had no other choice but to cut Dubas loose. In fact, given the history, for Dubas’ sake it might be a good time for him to find another leadership job where he had more autonomy. It wasn’t going to be with the Maple Leafs. The Pittsburgh Penguins perhaps?
The Moment Where Things Melted Down?
Shanahan talked about the exact moment his thinking changed on Dubas. It was during Dubas’ end-of-season press conference. Shanahan stated that it was while watching Dubas speak that he started to seriously doubt his commitment to the Maple Leafs.
Watching and reading what Dubas said, it appears to be that he was giving an honest assessment of his feelings. It was following what had to be a devastating blow received a couple of days earlier when the Maple Leafs were dismantled by the Florida Panthers. The jubilation of finally winning a playoff round, seeing five years of frustration disappear, and then having it fall apart in less than two weeks had to be a crushing blow.
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All of that came across in Dubas’ press conference. On the surface, there did not seem to be anything he said that would make Shanahan question whether or not Dubas was the right man for the GM job.
This is pure speculation, but, we wonder if Dubas might have expressed the same feelings to Shanahan prior to speaking publicly. We know for a fact Shanahan had requested Dubas not do the interview. Shanahan stated that himself. After Dubas told Shanahan he felt he had an obligation to address the media, Shanahan agreed to let him do it (from “Brendan Shanahan’s curiously detailed firing of Kyle Dubas marks an ugly end of an era for the Maple Leafs,” Cathal Kelly, The Globe and Mail, 20/05/2023).
It is conceivable that Shanahan had asked Dubas to not speak about anything related to his personal feelings, and the pressures the job had placed on him and his family. Shanahan might have felt that was something not for public consumption.
If that were the case, it would make sense that Dubas’ statements might have been the seed of doubt that was planted in Shanahan’s mind. The final straw would have been Dubas wanting to have more authority in the decision-making process. It could have seemed to fall for Shanahan in the realm of mutiny.
Is Shanahan’s Job Security Now in Question?
In the nine years since Shanahan was first hired by the Maple Leafs, his position as president has never seemed in jeopardy. After his first contract ran out in 2019, he was signed to a subsequent six-year deal that runs through to the end of the 2024-25 season, which is still two years away.
There has never been a time during his tenure when we felt his job was in jeopardy. The team that he had helped to build was possibly the most talented team the franchise has ever had. They have been one of the top regular-season teams in the NHL for the past four seasons.
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That said, the Maple Leafs have failed to have postseason success. A lot of that can be attributed to the fact that season after season they had to get past the other best teams in the league in the playoffs. This season, it was surprisingly the Panthers.
While a lot of movement has happened lower in the organization, amongst the coaching staff, the assistant GMs, and the players themselves, the one constant has been Shanahan at the top. His job has seemed to be on solid ground throughout his term. Until now.
Shanahan Now Has to Right the Maple Leafs’ Ship
Not only has the turmoil landed squarely on Shanahan’s lap, but it might also have been caused by Shanahan himself. As a result, for the first time since he was hired, his job may be on the line.
If Shanahan were to find himself unemployed, it would not be because he decided to let Dubas walk. It would be more of how it happened. One day, despite the mixed success of the team, everything seemed fine in the relationship between Shanahan and Dubas. All of a sudden, we were witnessing a bad breakup on reality TV.
Now, Shanahan’s job does not seem that safe. We have no way of knowing what the MLSE Board of Governors, or the ownership thinks. We do know, from what has happened in the past, and how quickly Brian Burke went from hero to zero, that things can change quickly on the corporate front of MLSE.
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We don’t expect to read that Shanahan has been fired in the near future, but the decisions he makes over the next days, weeks, and months will be the most important of his current career. He has to right the ship and right it fast, or he may find himself walking the plank.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]