The day after the end of one of the worst seasons in franchise history, the Toronto Maple Leafs have begun clearing house.
Leafs president Brendan Shanahan announced the firings of general manager Dave Nonis and interim head coach Peter Horachek on Sunday afternoon, finally severing the organization’s last remaining ties to the Brian Burke regime (2008-2012).
The Leafs also let go assistant coaches Steve Spott and Chris Dennis, goaltending coach Rick St. Croix and the majority of the scouting department, including director of pro scouting Steve Kasper and director of player development Jim Hughes.
In all, more than 20 Leafs staffers lost their jobs on Sunday.
Executives Kyle Dubas and Mark Hunter will fill the GM role on an interim basis as the Leafs’ search for a replacement begins in earnest. The leading candidates are currently Rob Blake, who is now an assistant GM with the Los Angeles Kings and worked with Shanahan at the league front office, and Sean Burke, the Arizona Coyotes goaltending coach who is being pursued by several teams around the league.
The Leafs ultimately won only 94 of 212 games in Nonis’s tenure as GM, which originally began in 2008 as a senior vice-president and director of hockey operations when he joined long-time friend Burke in the Leafs front office.
Two years ago, Nonis was surprisingly elevated to GM only days before the start of the 2012-13 season in January when the new Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment ownership group led by Bell and Rogers decided it didn’t want the cantankerous Burke as its front man.
The Leafs made the playoffs in that lockout-shortened season thanks to some fortunate circumstances, but Nonis’s first off-season in 2013 proved disastrous as he undercut some of that team’s strengths and attempted to customize the team to former coach Randy Carlyle’s outmoded style.
Nonis’s biggest mistake was ultimately signing winger David Clarkson to a seven-year deal for $5.25-million a season, a nearly $40-million blunder the organization was forced to eat when Clarkson was dealt to Columbus for an all-but-retired player (Nathan Horton) at the trade deadline.
In one clear sign of ownership dysfunction, Nonis was given a five-year extension weeks after the Clarkson deal was signed. Clarkson ultimately produced only 15 goals and 26 points in 118 games in Toronto.
Sunday’s firings came exactly one year and one day after Shanahan was brought in as president to clean up the organization, a process that started last summer with the firing of all of Nonis’s assistant GMs – the first sign his power had been significantly diminished.
The Leafs then fired Carlyle in January with the team in what appeared to be another tailspin, handing the reins to Horachek in an attempt to fix some of the on-ice issues and evaluate the roster before making changes.
Instead, Toronto cratered in the standings, and management began to dismantle the team in order to add prospects and draft picks.
The Leafs ultimately won only 11 of their final 51 games and finished fourth last in the NHL.
As a result, they will have the first, fourth or fifth overall pick in the NHL draft in June, depending on the results of Saturday’s draft lottery.
Getting a future star there will be key as the Leafs enter an almost wholesale rebuilding process. Shanahan has consistently stressed drafting and development will be the new pillars of the organization, and he is expected to trade much of the Burke-built core of the roster in the coming months.
Captain Dion Phaneuf, leading scorer Phil Kessel, centre Tyler Bozak and alternate captain Joffrey Lupul are all considered likely to be moved before the start of next season. All four have no-trade clauses, however, and can choose a number of teams they cannot be dealt to.
Whoever is hired to replace Nonis will have a key impact there, as the Leafs front office currently lacks much experience at the NHL level and they will need to be creative in order to get value for what are clearly diminished assets after such a poor finish to the season.Report Typo/Error