Shanny’s Hall Pass

Reconstructing the Maple Leafs from the Top Down

Congratulations Brendan Shanahan, you are now the most bullet proof executive in the NHL.

As far as short term organizational decisions go, your to-do list has now been clearly scrawled in bright crayon by the historically inept group over which you’ve been hired to preside. There remain few aspects of this franchise that you could trade, fire, buy out, demote or burn to the ground which cannot be publicly justified by simply pointing to the last month… or 2… or 36. Short of offering Clarkson another extension, you can pretty much operate with impunity from a loveless ownership group, a media horde full of shit-disturbers, and the thousands of armchair analysts like me who are little more than incomprehensibly loyal lapdogs with an infinite pain tolerance and a computer.

The volatility of the last 3 years had left more than enough room for debate and discussion regarding what THIS team needed to reach its potential – which coaching philosophies worked or failed with THIS roster – what kind of depth players were needed to bolster and support THIS core. It was the perfect breeding ground for conflict among fans. Surging offensive production and impressive win streaks were hugely contrasted by ominous underlying possession numbers and impossible shooting/save percentages. It seems comical to me now that, only a short time ago, there were full-out wars going on as to which of Reimer or Bernier would give us the best chance to win on a given night..remember when that even mattered?

What this godforsaken hockey season has done, FINALLY, is remove any doubt as to what has to take place. Pundits from all factions of Leaf land are now largely unified in the wholesale changes that are needed – the message is pretty much the same from all camps. We are witnessing TV analysts and beat writers and radio hosts who were seemingly polar opposites, now appearing to all want the same thing, albeit with different rationales and marked with their own signature spins. Friedman, Healy, O’Niell, Cox, Mirtle, Simmons, Kypreos, McKenzie, MacLean, Ferraro – They ALL appear to be directing Shanahan down the same path.

Nothing like an apocalypse to bring folks together.

Selling the idea of a complete overhaul has never been easier. The hard choices, the ones which will determine Shanny’s LONG term fate, will be deciding to either stand behind or cut bait from certain key players on this team. There are pieces with more attractive ages, ceilings and contracts who will undoubtedly require a lot bigger stones to consider moving than others.

Shanahan and his freshly assembled entourage of OHL valedictorians now enjoy the luxury of being able to tear down this team in whatever manner they see fit. Grab a bat, put on a blindfold and swing away my boy! At least for the next little while, you’re blessed with the impossibly simple task of UNDOING. You’ll be lauded for being a mindless wrecking ball…a giant tub of Mimiconian liquid paper….the Ctrl-Z of MLSE. This is now a sport no one expects you to win at. Leaf Nation stands behind you – bloodied, broken and hungry for their pound of flesh. Many consider you to be the latest savior who, despite being burdened with the severe miscues of a long line of failed predecessors (some of whom remain inexplicably employed), has the winning pedigree to provide this team with the elixir needed to truly shed this blue and white curse.

Selling the idea of a complete overhaul has never been easier. The hard choices, the ones which will determine Shanny’s LONG term fate, will be deciding to either stand behind or cut bait from certain key players on this team. There are pieces with more attractive ages, ceilings and contracts who will undoubtedly require a lot bigger stones to consider moving than others.

The “easier” moves are obvious. This team is so flawed on so many levels that step one for the management group is simply to parlay current veteran assets into futures. Easy enough right? Assuming one subscribes to the belief that we are way beyond a simple tweaking or supplementing of this core, one inherently concedes that the next 3-4 years are likely a write-off in terms of competitiveness/contention. As such, any player who’s market value is largely based on that 3-4 year window should be jettisoned for prospects or picks. I see players like Lupul, Bozak, Phaneuf, CLARKSON, Robidas and Komarov as assets who can and should be moved while they still hold any significant value. Most would agree that none of these players fit very well into the time line this team will require to reinvent itself. In most cases, the salaries attached to them and resulting cap relief are, in and of themselves, reasons to consider cutting ties if they can. (I’ll include Franson in this group since it seems unlikely that he’s re-signing and we should fetch a good return for him.) Even though Shanny – or whoever his next GM Avatar is – will be dealing from a position of relative weakness, some decent assets could be acquired from most of these players – even if it means taking back some bad money or eating some salary. 

The “harder” moves are ones which can and will likely fuel torrid debate. They are ones which involve players who could viably remain pieces of a reinvented squad moving forward based..again..on age, contract and upside. In this group of players I would include Gardiner, JvR, Bernier and Kessel. Though none of these players are solely responsible for our failure, they represent however, some of our more valuable trading chips through which we can acquire critical building blocks. It may seem counter intuitive to consider moving these pieces since they can all be seen as necessary parts to any winning team. Kessel is rare 40 goal scorer. Gardiner drives possession and mobile offensive dmen are rare commodities. JvR is big young scoring winger on a bargain contract. Shanahan will need to ask himself some tough questions when determining the fate of these assets. Will this player continue to improve, or at very least not decline over the next 3-4 years so that they can be part of a successful core. Will their contract demands mitigate their value moving forward? Can they be used to help acquire high picks or young talent with the potential to grow into franchise players at key positions? If, for example, we are faced with the opportunity to add a top level young Centre or top pairing dman, I believe the aforementioned players must be made available.

There remain a few assets I consider to be in the “almost untouchable” category. These would be Rielly, Nylander and our1st round pick. (Kadri also – assuming the contract is reasonable). Not much needs to be said about these other than they should remain part of our plans moving forward unless someone blows Shanny away with a ridiculous (McDavid) offer.

I’m of the strong opinion that we should start with a blank canvas. Though many current Leafs could likely contribute to a winning team (in more appropriate roles and surrounded by a different roster), I think hanging on to this veteran core would only delay the inevitable changes that have to occur. I’ve personally seen enough of this group to feel that trying to further build around any number of them, though requiring less time, exposes us to far more long term risk than unloading big contracts and stocking up on futures. I think the majority of this core has been so deeply mired in it’s own “badness” that failing to immediately cash in on any remaining trade value they possess would be no better asset management than any of the Clarkson signings and Rask trades that continue to haunt our franchise. Perhaps Shanahan’s actions, more than any words spoken by Burke or Leiweke or anyone else, can finally prove that this organization is serious about wanting to bring culture change.

We all know there is only one way to build a team properly in a cap world. Draft well, develop well and leave yourself with the cap room needed to add pieces when the opportunity arises and the time is right. I believe we’ve seen enough over that last few years to know that we’ve failed miserably on all those counts.

So Mr. Shanahan, you have a golden opportunity to build something special here. You have some valuable assets with which to work, and you have smart people beside you (except for old Dave). Most importantly, you now have a LOT of rope with this market..don’t just be the next guy to hang yourself with it.

Build this goddam team right.

Cheers. Oak_Leafs

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