Now that David Nonis has been pushed into the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager’s chair, there are a number of things he needs to do.
The most important involves upgrades to the lineup, especially in goal, but luckily for Nonis there is not much he can do there until the NHL’s 740 players finish their ratification vote by the weekend on a new collective agreement. That gives Nonis, 46, a couple of days to figure out how to handle his new bosses.
That, more than anything, will be crucial to his long-term survival. Nonis did receive a quick, hard lesson in this when Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. chairman Larry Tanenbaum and president Tom Anselmi told him his good friend Brian Burke was fired and he was the replacement.
That was lesson No. 1: Tanenbaum and Anselmi are more functionaries than overlords. The ones who call the shots are the ones with four of the six seats on the MLSE board, BCE Inc., chairman George Cope and Rogers Communications Inc., chairman Nadir Mohamed and their two sidekicks. It was Cope who led the charge on Burke, according to those who should know, although Burke’s abrasive and loud public style was not a hill, to use the current NHL vernacular, that Mohamed seemed interested in dying on.
But by firing Burke days before a new season started and months after they actually took charge of MLSE and months after the entire NHL sat idle in a lockout, Cope and Mohamed showed the world they can match any previous Leaf owner in buffoonery. This is why Send In The Clowns is the MLSE corporate anthem. It is why the Maple Leafs get no respect in NHL governors’ meetings even though they make more money than anyone else in the league.
Nonis, then, needs to make sure he fits the corporate image demanded by Cope and his pals. This is not a big problem for him, as Nonis is the opposite of Burke in both disposition and philosophy. He is a quiet, conservative fellow who operates by consensus-building among the Leafs’ large stable of executives, not a my-way-or-the-highway guy.
However, he will have to be aware his new bosses may dress well and use all the proper corporate buzzwords but they are just as capable of slapstick as crazy old Harold Ballard ever was. He also needs to be aware the Rogers and BCE factions are capable of turning on each other even though they pledged to always vote their four shares as a block and he could end up being collateral damage.
When it comes to the job itself, Nonis is not in any difficulty. He’s done it before and done it well, serving as the Vancouver Canucks GM from 2004 to 2008 after Burke was fired from that job.
As Burke’s right-hand-man with the Leafs, Nonis had a big say in the team’s current roster. At least the Cope-Mohamed sideshow doesn’t mean the Leafs have to start all over again with a new GM and a new program on the eve of the season.
The first roster job will be to pry goaltender Roberto Luongo away from the Canucks. As the fellow who made the trade that brought Luongo, 33, to the Canucks from the Florida Panthers in 2006, Nonis has more enthusiasm for a deal than Burke did. It doesn’t mean a trade will get done for sure but it does mean it won’t be for a lack of trying.
Nonis also acknowledged he needs to get more size and skill at centre and elsewhere among the forwards. Burke was never able to land the big No. 1 centre the Leafs need to make everyone forget his biggest mistake, the Phil Kessel trade.
What is intriguing here is that the Anaheim Ducks’ dynamic duo, centre Ryan Getzlaf and winger Corey Perry, will be unrestricted free agents this summer. They were a big part of the 2007 Stanley Cup winner Burke put together when he was running that team.
There is no doubt if Burke had survived until the summer he would have made a big play for Getzlaf and Perry. Don’t be surprised if Nonis does the same, as the Ducks are not the richest team in the league. In any event, there will be no shortage of encouragement from the media.
Speaking of media encouragement, do not look for Nonis to listen to certain parties who would like to Kessel shipped quickly out of town. Nonis is not likely to part with a 30-goal scorer just to erase memories of a bad trade.