Brendan Shanahan didn’t mince his words, at least on this particular subject.
After a first month of carefully studying the Toronto Maple Leafs and speaking with just about everyone in the organization, the NHL disciplinarian turned team president now has some firm ideas when it comes to what the troubled franchise needs and what it doesn’t.
And he firmly believes he can make use of at least some of what’s there, rather than tearing the roster down to the studs as part of a full-scale rebuild around youth and draft picks.
So that won’t be happening.
“This is not a gut job,” Shanahan told The Globe and Mail as part of a wide-ranging series of interviews he did with several Toronto media outlets on Wednesday.
“There are good pieces. I think the team is maybe not as good as some of their best months and not as bad as some of their worst months. But there are definitely pieces I’m comfortable with.”
One of those appears to be captain Dion Phaneuf.
The defenceman’s name has been circling in trade rumours of various quality of late and there’s been plenty of water cooler talk about a change in the captaincy, but Shanahan said what he actually saw in Phaneuf’s struggles late in the year was someone who cared a great deal.
More than anything, Shanahan said, he was trying to do too much.
A long-time former player and Hall of Famer – Shanahan was also a captain briefly for the Hartford Whalers midway through his career – added that he believes he can come in next season and support Phaneuf and help him shoulder that particular load.
Step 1 on that front will be offering some advice on how to handle the leadership role.
Secondarily, he can acquire him some reinforcements – particularly on the blueline, which Shanahan specifically picked out as an area where the Leafs need to get more mobile.
“No not at all,” Shanahan said when asked about contemplating a change with the Leafs captaincy. “As a matter of fact, I hope to help Dion be a better captain. He’s got a lot of want and desire.
“[He’s] somebody that I can meet with, consult with, give some of my experience to. I would like to enhance his leadership qualities. And also surround him with more leaders.
“I think it’s an impossible task in any market, especially in Toronto, to put all that responsibility on any one guy.”
Shanahan’s most compelling comments on Wednesday were likely on the team’s controversial coaching changes, which involved the Leafs firing all three assistants but giving embattled head coach Randy Carlyle a contract extension last week.
Shanahan explained that the decision to turf the assistants but not Carlyle was born out of lengthy conversations with both general manager Dave Nonis and the Leafs players, some of whom expressed to him frustration with the system the team was playing – especially in its own zone.
What Shanahan determined more than anything the past few weeks was that the status quo couldn’t continue and that the Leafs will need to play a dramatically different style next fall.
A lot of the onus for that will fall on the yet-to-be-hired assistant coaches and on Carlyle reinventing himself, something Shanahan said will be a must.
“I agree with many of the fans that… to be outshot that often, there’s something wrong,” Shanahan said of the Leafs terrible defensive track record, which saw them concede a league high 36 shots per game. “There are some things about the system that were identified where the message wasn’t getting through. That to me will be an important adjustment that needs to be made.
“I think that Randy is a talented coach and I think he – like a lot of our players – has to look in the mirror and figure out how they can all come back and be better. I think that’s part of any winning organization. That has to happen from everyone.”
It was not much of an endorsement for a coach that had been just given a two-year extension, adding to the curious beginnings to the Shanahan era in Toronto.
But he explained that there will be changes beyond those behind the bench.
Shanahan said, for one, that he expects the organization to find a way to incorporate analytics into what it does, noting that he had already spoken with several other management types around the league about how they use data to make decisions.
And he remains adamant that he will not fall into the trap that befell some of those in his position previously, where kneejerk moves were made to try and speed up the process of getting better.