He didn’t mince words. He didn’t offer non-answers or excuses.
So credit Tim Leiweke for this much: While he may not have picked up on the problem early on this year, he now realizes the Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t good enough and believes it needs to be said again and again until that’s fixed.
The MLSE president also added that while he feels the organization has made great strides with its other teams – the Toronto Raptors and Toronto FC – they have a long, long way to go with the Leafs.
And adding Brendan Shanahan in the top hockey ops role on Monday was his first bold move to try and get them there.
“I think a lot of that is the commitment we made to create the right environment, to hire the right people, to create the right culture,” Leiweke said of the positives coming from MLSE’s other teams. “I’m not sure the Leafs have it.
“This is something that these two gentlemen [Shanahan and GM Dave Nonis] now are going to have to work on. But I definitely sense that we lack an identity. Right now we’re a team that lacks a direction. And we want to change that.”
Much of Monday’s press conference was concerned with what the relationship between Shanahan and Nonis will be, something all three men went to great lengths to paint as a grand new cooperative even as it was very clear Shanahan is now in charge of hockey decisions where Nonis had been previously.
Leiweke, for his part, wanted it known that he had been searching for a president for a while, going back to last season, and that this wasn’t a knee-jerk move.
And Nonis said it wasn’t accurate to directly tie the addition of Shanahan as his boss to the Leafs late-season collapse – with three wins in their final 16 games – as it would be a positive to have his expertise on board.
“People want to spin it as the failure of the organization,” Nonis said. “And it should be the opposite. I'm not sure how you can.”
“This isn’t going to tear the organization apart,” Leiweke added. “It will make it stronger.”
Regardless of how it was sold, this was a tough day for the franchise. Earlier that morning, the players had their final meeting with the media and their first with the new boss, who some had even faced on the ice earlier in their careers.
Many Leafs are obviously still stunned at how dramatically the team fell apart with so few games left to play, something that was clearly evident as they sleepwalked through the final week and a half of the schedule.
Dropping from ninth overall to 23rd in the span of four weeks was also all too familiar given the team’s other recent collapses, with the so-called 18-wheeler off the cliff that led to Ron Wilson’s firing in 2011-12 and the Meltdown in Beantown during Game 7 of last year’s playoffs.
“Three years in a row, the same thing happened,” leading scorer Phil Kessel said quietly.
“It's not a good feeling in here, and we have no one to blame but ourselves,” alternate captain Joffrey Lupul added.
Missing entirely on this day was head coach Randy Carlyle, whose status remains up in the air. Nonis said during his presser that Monday wasn’t the right time to address the coaching staff’s status while Shanahan noted only that he had a lot of respect for Carlyle as a coach.
More than who will be behind the bench, however, what Shanahan was asked most was what was needed to correct the team’s culture problems as set out by Leiweke, and there he had a very straightforward answer.
What happens on the ice is what matters, he explained, not whatever grand vision he lays out in Day 1. He knows he’s in for a challenge, he knows the criticism is coming and, he hopes, his time with the NHL’s front office will serve him well in an altogether different type of fishbowl in Toronto.
“Winning is a simple solution,” Shanahan said. “We’re not going to win a game sitting up here today… Nothing we say here today matters. It's about the work we put in here, and it’s about results.
“I understand the importance of talk and introductions and things like that but… I’ll start with [working on the team] when I leave all of you and go upstairs and start talking to Dave and our team.”
It’ll be a long conversation, and after the franchise’s eighth playoff miss in the last nine seasons, they’ll have plenty of time to have it.Report Typo/Error