Shanahan is in the hot seat as the Leafs president tries to finally get it right

Under Shanahan, the Leafs have become a team that consistently wins only when it’s the regular season

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Eight years to the day since Mike Babcock signed Mike Babcock to coach the Maple Leafs, Brendan Shanahan has the Original Six club in turmoil.

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Shanahan, the Leafs president, remains in his position more than nine years after he was hired in April 2014 and has not recorded more than one playoff round win in his tenure at the helm of the storied franchise.

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Under Shanahan, the Leafs have evolved into a team that regularly wins only in the regular season before falling by the wayside in the playoffs every year. This year finally saw a first-round win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Then came the Florida Panthers, who threw a rink-sized bucket of ice-cold water over the Leafs’ dreams in just five games.

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Under Shanahan, the Leafs talk about wanting to win the Stanley Cup every year, and if that expressed desire were all that was required, the parade path would have been exhausted by now. Instead, the Leafs have never balanced their skills and expectations of themselves with actual success in the postseason.

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At some point, Shanahan has to get his attitude right, right? How many more presentations have to be made to the MLSE board of directors before someone looks over their reading glasses and realizes the Leafs haven’t won as Shanahan is ahead?

We know there will be at least one more of these meetings with his bosses in the near future – the Leafs as a whole should hope.

Sometime in the coming weeks, Shanahan will announce that he has hired a new general manager following Friday’s firing of Kyle Dubas. That person, whether it be Brad Treliving or Mark Hunter or Mathieu Darche or Stan Bowman or anyone else, needs to be given the freedom that Dubas was apparently seeking. And hiring needs to happen relatively quickly considering the squad decisions that need to be made.

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Intriguing about the ongoing speculation that Dubas wanted more autonomy in conducting his job: If Shanahan was poking his nose into hockey decisions, or stopping some things Dubas wanted to do, or making personnel decisions himself, why was the President so keen? Commit Dubas to an extension? If he didn’t have confidence in Dubas’ ability to make decisions, why did it get to the point where we wanted us to believe that only Dubas’ signature was needed for his return?

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If that’s how Shanahan really worked, we can’t think of a person with NHL GM experience who would be willing to work for Shanahan and the Leafs under similar circumstances.

There was a time when Shanahan had Lou Lamoriello as GM and Babcock as trainer. It was a combination of impressive hockey knowledge that would bring the trophy(s) to Toronto.

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But by the time Shanahan realized Dubas was ready to become GM five years ago, Lamoriello was gone. About 18 months later, it was Babcock’s turn and he was fired in the Arizona desert after Shanahan freed up enough of his schedule to catch a flight to Phoenix and do a pink slip there.

Dubas, Shanahan’s chosen, matured his own candidate at the Toronto Marlies. Sheldon Keefe has done some good coaching the Leafs, but the next time he steps into Scotiabank Arena, it’s expected that he’ll be cleaning up his office.

A new GM will no doubt want to hire his own person behind the bench. As for the hand-wringing in some circles that more employees will follow Jason Spezza’s example and resign, let’s not focus too much on personnel changes. As with the trainer, a new GM will want to hire some of their front office staff themselves.

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Shanahan couldn’t make it with two longtime, successful NHL veterans, Lamoriello and Babcock; He couldn’t make it when responsibility was handed over to Dubas and Keefe, two men who, despite having made significant strides in the sport, had no NHL-level experience when they were hired for their respective jobs with the Leafs . And for the short time that Dubas and Babcock were a tandem, it didn’t work out.

Shanahan’s reward now is getting it right again. If only the man who won three trophies as a player and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame could turn some of that success into a trophy as a leader.

We don’t hold our breath. History tells us we shouldn’t do that.

In 2015, Babcock was hired on May 20 and was unveiled as coach of the Leafs at a press conference the following day.

During his first media presence in Toronto, Babcock infamously uttered the words, “The pain is coming.”

Eight years later, what is happening now with the Leafs is not what Babcock had envisioned.


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