For those of you keeping score, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks have just handed the keys to their kingdoms to two men who have – just a second while we add it up – um, zero experience at their new positions.
So in hiring Brendan Shanahan as their president and Trevor Linden as their president of hockey operations, the Leafs and Canucks have accomplished absolutely nothing to this point aside from winning the news conference. And if that was the intention here, to try to assuage the fan base by hiring a big-name personality, it runs the risk of providing them with nothing more than more of the same.
The Canucks and Leafs undoubtedly looked at the hirings of Steve Yzerman in Tampa Bay and Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy in Colorado and that might have made them more comfortable bringing in legends. But in all three of those cases, there was a significant learning curve and valuable experience gained. Yzerman and Sakic got theirs by actually apprenticing in the front office, while Roy got his by having his boots on the ground in junior hockey.
So if you think that Shanahan and Linden are going to be successes in the front office just because they were smart, dedicated and driven players on the ice, let us remind you that Rocket Richard and Wayne Gretzky both proved to be in way over their heads as coaches and Phil Esposito and Brett Hull were not exactly executives of the year material as GMs. That’s not to say that Shanahan and Linden will suffer the same fate. They might turn out to be geniuses. But the point is nobody really knows what kind of job these guys are capable of doing.
But you could see why Gretzky was brought into Phoenix and Hull into Dallas. Those cities are not hockey markets and the franchise needed an identifiable personality to run things and promote the team as much as it needed an able hockey person. But Vancouver and Toronto? You could argue there might not be two teams in the NHL that need to sell themselves less than they do.
There were reports that fans in Vancouver were threatening to cancel their season tickets and they may very well have followed through on that threat. But the guess here is that the Canucks probably also have a pretty significant waiting list of people who would have picked up the slack on that in hopes they could get in before the team got competitive again. As for Toronto, seriously, we don’t even have to mention how loyal those fans are.
What the Canucks and Maple Leafs need more than anything is a person with a vision. For the Canucks, they need a decisive person who can come to grips with the fact that the Stanley Cup window for this team has closed and it’s time for the rebuild to begin. The team needs a coach that is compatible with the personnel and must figure out how to deal with an aging roster that is rife with no-trade contracts and players who have exceeded their best-before dates. He has to hire a GM that shares his vision and has the ability and experience, both at the draft and in the trenches, to carry that out.
Shanahan on the other hand, faces just as big a challenge. His team, as it turns out, isn’t nearly as good as it has been hyped. Last year’s playoff appearance was an aberration. The Leafs are weak at almost every position but goal, and the strength there lies only in Jonathan Bernier’s still-to-be-determined ability to handle the workload commensurate with being a No. 1 goalie. There is a serious void in leadership and the roster, as a whole, is small and weak at playing the style of game that dictates success in today’s NHL. Even though Shanahan will oversee all aspects of the Maple Leafs, his true mark will be made with his impact on the roster and the team’s hockey department. How the Leafs look, what approach they take to drafting and development and the way they play the game will start with Shanahan’s vision – or at least it should.
These would not be easy jobs, even for the most savvy and experienced hockey men around. They will be even more difficult for those who have none. During the 2004-05 lockout, Linden saved the game from losing even more time by personally brokering the deal and Shanahan saved the game from the Dead Puck Era by leading the charge on how the game is called.
They’ll need all that magic and more to succeed in their new jobs. And once the real work begins, their shiny reputations won’t mean a thing.