The Toronto Maple Leafs have had a lot of issues this season. They were regularly outshot and outchanced, many players making a lot of money underperformed, and they went from 4th in the conference to 10th in a span of 16 days. Today, they announced a move that won’t fix these issues, but they hope will be the first step in the process to get them back into the playoffs. Brendan Shanahan is the new President of the Toronto Maple Leafs, adding to the number of legendary players from eras past that are finding renewed fame in team management.
The first major instance of the changing of the guard was when Tampa Bay hired Steve Yzerman in 2010. Yzerman was a legendary Red Wing player for his entire career, finishing his career with the NHL record as the longest serving captain for a single team and No. 6 on the all-time scoring list. After his retirement in 2006, he joined the Detroit front office as the assistant vice president. Not only did Yzerman spend the next few years as a part of the Red Wings management, he was also named as Executive Director for Team Canada during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Yzerman stated that it was the experience with the Red Wings and the process of building Team Canada that brought forth his desire to run his own team. Detroit was unable to provide him with that opportunity, but Tampa Bay owner Jeffrey Vinik was more than happy to have a legend in the fold. In his first year as the new Tampa Bay general manager, the Lightning went to the Eastern Conference Finals and Yzerman was nominated for General Manager of the Year.
The Maple Leafs are not the only Canadian team looking to legends of the past to help fix issues in the present. A few days ago, the Vancouver Canucks recently fired their general manager, Mike Gillis, and hired Trevor Linden as President of Hockey Operations. Linden had long served as captain of the Canucks during his playing days and was a fan favorite for the many, many years he played in Vancouver. His leadership both on and off the ice earned him the nickname “Captain Canuck”, and it was that leadership that caused the Vancouver organization to offer him his new role. Linden also had experience dealing with the management issues that arise in the new role, as he served as the president of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) for eight years. He was the president of the NHLPA during the 04-05 NHL lockout, giving him some experience with how to deal with opposing general managers.
Finally, rumors in Carolina have long-time general manager Jim Rutherford stepping down from his post and putting Hurricanes legend, Ron Francis, in his stead. Ron “Franchise” Francis retired from the NHL before the 05-06 season, but finished his career with just about every conceivable scoring record in the Hartford/Carolina franchise. He also finished second in NHL history in assists (1249), only behind Wayne Gretzky in that regard. After long being credited for developing and growing the game in North Carolina, Francis took a role in the Raleigh Youth Hockey Association (RYHA) after his retirement, before the Hurricanes organization offered him a position in the management of the organization. His many roles since his retirement have included Director of Player Development, Director of Player Personnel, Director of Hockey Operations, Assistant Head Coach and Assistant General Manager. With the eight years of experience in a Hurricanes management role, Francis is expected to take the ultimate role in control of the team sometime this offseason.
The Toronto Maple Leafs will join the Canucks and the Hurricanes in hoping that legendary players that have been so instrumental in developing winning teams on the ice will be equally successful in new management roles. It has worked out well for the Tampa Bay Lightning and Steve Yzerman, but it is not a guarantee. Wayne Gretzky himself served as the head coach for the Phoenix Coyotes for many years, but was unable to create a lot success with the team he was given. By hiring Brendan Shanahan, the Maple Leafs have taken a big step forward in creating a new identity for the team. Whether that new identity will lead to success will be decided over the next few years.
This article is one in a daily series, providing coverage, analysis and predictions to NHL fans.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner