Any questions about how involved Brendan Shanahan would be in his first few months with the Toronto Maple Leafs were quickly answered at the draft on the weekend.
While some thought the new team president might lurk in the background and allow GM Dave Nonis to be the front man, Shanahan was in the trenches on every front in Philadelphia, lending a hand wherever he could.
On Friday afternoon, he spent two hours meeting with the Leafs’ first-round pick, William Nylander, and his father, Michael, reminiscing with a former teammate but also doing some last-minute due diligence.
Then, when Saturday’s trade began coming together with the St. Louis Blues for defenceman Roman Polak, Shanahan was in the video room and making calls to hockey minds who have a close eye on one of his former teams and knew the big man well.
“I still have some friends in St. Louis whose opinions I trust,” Shanahan said.
This will be, in other words, no figurehead position – not for any length of time.
Shanahan intends to provide as much help as possible to Nonis and Co., even on days like the draft when, he admitted, many of the kids chosen had already finished their seasons by the time he took the Leafs top job this spring.
Nevertheless, he became particularly useful given slick Swedish forward William Nylander was one of the scouting staff’s top targets at eighth overall.
Shanahan and Nylander père played the 2006-07 season together on the New York Rangers, are of a similar age and get along very well, meaning the Leafs had some unique insight into their potential pick’s background and upbringing.
By the time the draft weekend came around, Shanahan felt he had such a good grasp on William Nylander’s personality and promise that he found the fact some were questioning his character in the lead-up to Friday humorous.
More importantly, those scouting reports were potentially beneficial to the Leafs, who wanted him to slip to their pick.
“I knew it wasn’t true,” Shanahan said. “I did a lot of homework on him.
“I called players that I played with in Detroit that had played with William over in Sweden. … To be honest with you, I did it a while ago.
“Everybody I talked to, people whose opinions I really respect, guys who are in dressing rooms, couldn’t say enough about the kid.”
Nonis, who was placed in the uncomfortable position of having a new boss looking over his shoulder back in April, admitted he was glad to have the added intel.
In general, Shanahan appears to have fit into the Leafs’ management structure quite seamlessly.
He places a similarly high premium on intangibles like leadership as Nonis and the rest of the front office – one of the things he asked scouts to concentrate on was finding “competitive people” – and agrees with the team’s continued push to bring back centre Dave Bolland on a long-term deal.
Shanahan was also heavily involved with wooing unrestricted free agents over the interview period of the past five days and didn’t hide his interest in long-time New Jersey Devils netminder Martin Brodeur – another former teammate – as a potential backup.
Shanahan made it clear, however, that he doesn’t believe July 1 is any way to build a quality NHL team, one indication that the Leafs may not be all that busy when free agency opens at noon on Tuesday.
“If you’re relying on July 1 year after year, it’s going to be tough,” Shanahan said.
Where he wants to see specific improvements, meanwhile, is with the franchise’s prospect pool.
Shanahan played nine seasons in the Detroit Red Wings system and saw firsthand how they developed prospects – such as William Nylander – into stars over the course of time, part of an organizational philosophy that pays off long term given homegrown talent is the most economical under the salary-cap system.
Turning Toronto Marlies into Toronto Maple Leafs will be one of his main focuses.
This is why he has preached patience right from the day he was hired.
“We have some good people in player development, but we have to be better at it,” Shanahan said.