Last year I wrote a piece on Dave Poulin and looking back on it, I think it serves as a decent preview to a story I’ve been working on in regards to Mike Babcock and his potential hiring in Toronto. These were my thoughts at the time, with a few adjustments. We at Leafs Hub aren’t going to publish the story I have on Babcock until Detroit is eliminated from the playoffs. What I can say is this, I have been privy to what I consider some interesting information on the matter, and we look forward to sharing when the time is right. Until then, this is my take from this summer.
There are certain things from our early years that stay with us. My red and black Sherwood, which was cut perfectly to the size I wanted, is one. Another from that particular period of Atom eligibility was an interview CBC conducted with Philadelphia Flyers captain, Dave Poulin shortly after losing to the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Finals. Poulin was bright and articulate, a trait I found uncommon with most NHL players post game. His work ethic and leadership was evident through in his words. He graciously accepted defeat and poured praise upon his teammates after falling to the powerhouse Oilers. The un-drafted, 5’9″ Poulin brought his Flyers back to the Finals to face Gretzky’s gang two years later, only to succumb to the same fate.
But what I learned most about Poulin during that interview was when he spoke, people listened. He commanded attention. When he expressed himself, onlookers took notice. The boy watching the TV that night paid enough attention to write the impression made 27 years later.
After 13 seasons, 8 of those being his best years in Philly, the Selke award winner retired. Poulin took his talents behind the bench to coach The Notre Dame Fighting Irish for 10 seasons, spreading his wisdom onto the college ranks. In 2009, Poulin was named Vice President of Hockey Operations of the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 2013 he was also named The GM of the Toronto Marlies. Last summer Poulin was relieved of his duties in what many in hockey considered an oddly timed move. Not necessarily whether it was justified, but there was a new alpha dog in town who wasn’t following conventional methods. He was going to do it his way.
Since we started off taking a trip down memory lane, I’ll tell you about the impression the new Sherriff in Toronto made during my teen years. I’m not going to tell you that I recall the day or year it was, but I have a clear recollection of flicking on TSN SportsDesk first thing in the morning before school. And what was on the TV set that particular morning was veteran New York Ranger, Brendan Shanahan, challenging the reigning Heavyweight Champion of the NHL, Donald Brashear at centre ice in defence of a teammate. Even as a kid I can remember telling myself, “Can you imagine how much the bench is loving this guy right now?” Shanahan represented the Canadian hockey player. He was born to lead men.
Shanahan carved out a place in hockey history during his career, becoming the only player to score 600 plus goals and record over 2000 penalty minutes. A first ballot Hall of Famer in 2013, Shanahan etched out an impressive post playing career by joining the NHL offices in 2009 as Vice President of Hockey Business and Development. In 2011, Shanahan replaced Colin Cambell as the Director of Player Discipline.
“Shanny” has dropped the mitts with the likes of Bob Probert during his playing days. But the battles he now faced were with powerful owners and experienced GM’s. The board room wars existing in the Leafs hierarchy. Both men were used to “having the floor.” Poulin had been heralded “the loudest voice in the MLSE hockey room”. Shanahan brought with him a “you talk then I’ll tell you how it’s going to be” approach.
One wonders if it was a philosophy difference regarding the use of analytics. Was it strictly a personality conflict or could it have been a specific decision that they just didn’t mesh on? We can only guess what went down verbatim. All we really know is the result. My final take is that Shanahan’s belief in his own voice and vision provided him the confidence to dismiss Poulin. He couldn’t have any resistance to his master plan. He realized the he must be the directional guide of the much maligned franchise.
Intelligence can be extremely intimidating. I heaped praise on Poulin the player, but I won’t do the same of his tenure as an executive. Dave Poulin is however a respected man in hockey circles. Maybe not with some in the Twitter-verse, but he’ll likely will roam the safari and rule king of an NHL team in the future. Don’t confuse that with a personal endorsement. Shanahan did what was required. If Brendan has proven anything in his playing career and NHL office role, it’s that he is fearless.
But as is the Law of the Jungle, the strongest survives.
Only one lion leads the pride. And early in his tenure, Shanahan’s roar has been felt. Will he welcome another lion into the den in Mike Babcock?
To be continued…..