Loyal to none and bigger than life
Of all the qualities Brendan Shanahan brings to the presidency of the Toronto Maple Leafs, those two may be the most important.
It might feel like a reach to brand Shanahan an outlier. His resume screams hockey insider. As the NHL’s czar of player safety, he knows not only every middle to upper echelon figure at the NHL’s offices in New York and Toronto but every miscreant, their coach, GM, agent and union rep.
How connected is Shanahan?
Well, start with the company he keeps. A 2013 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, Shanahan played alongside 11 Hall of Famers: Viacheslav Fetisov, Peter Stastny, Brett Hull, Adam Oates, Glenn Anderson, Al MacInnis, Igor Larionov, Steve Yzerman, Larry Murphy, Chris Chelios and Luc Robitaille.
Four more former teammates, Jaromir Jagr, Dominik Hasek, Martin Brodeur and Nicklas Lidstrom are sure fire bets to join Shanahan in the Hall.
He has played for two Sutters, Brian and Brent, Mike Keenan, Paul Maurice, Paul Holmgren, Scotty Bowman and Mike Babcock. Probably knows what a good coach looks like.
Personable, good looking and smart, he will be expert in the media elements of the job.
But Shanahan’s greatest attribute is his lack of allegiances.
Shanahan is unteathered to any previous regime. He isn’t married to doing things any way but his own.
The Leafs, for good or bad, remain a team largely shaped by Brian Burke. Burke acquired and named Dion Phaneuf captain. He drafted Nazem Kadri and Morgan Rielly and traded for Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner. Burke’s guy, Dave Nonis, inherited the GM chair and his coach, Randy Carlyle, still works the Leafs bench.
Who better than a stranger to assess every element of the organization, from scouting, management, training, development and business strategies?
That does not automatically mean a change in management or coaching personnel. Consider that the two hires to oversee the Raptors and TFC, Masai Ujiri and Tim Bezbatchenko, kept their coaches and much of their existing infrastructure in place. Why wouldn’t you hire a connected, three-time Cup winner to infuse a winning culture in your hockey club? If you are going to lead people somewhere, it’s pretty helpful to have been there yourself.
But while hiring Shanahan amounts to cutting ties with the Burke era it restores an element missing since Burke’s departure: an Alpha Dog.
Look no further than Drake for the effects of having a superstar in residence. The Lightning’s deployment of living legend Steve Yzerman and Colorado’s spectacular upturn during Joe Sakic’s watch underscore the importance of having a guy at the top of the pyramid who has the bona fides. It wouldn’t hurt to have Shanahan visit a highly-covetted college free agent. That’s how Burke landed Tyler Bozak.
Dave Nonis is immensely comfortable in his own skin but he is not a showman. MLSE President and CEO Tim Leiweke is but what the franchise missed with Burke’s departure was the presence of a bigger than life hockey guy in an unbelievably demanding hockey market. That Shanahan, a Toronto native, is a product of that market makes things even better.