This morning, the Toronto Maple Leafs officially confirmed the rumor that’s been the talk of hockey for the past 48 hours: Hall of Famer Brendan Shanahan is leaving his post as the head of the NHL’s department of player safety to take a senior role in the Leafs’ front office.
As an objective hockey journalist who doubles as a raving Maple Leafs homer, I was asked what I thought about the story on a Toronto radio station Thursday morning when it was still an unconfirmed rumor. My answer then was that I was cautiously optimistic. Now that the deal is official and I’ve had a few hours to mull it over, I’m sticking with that.
Here’s where the caution comes in: We don’t yet know exactly what the role will involve. Shanahan has been named president of the entire team, not just of the hockey ops department, but that still leaves some room for interpretation.
If the idea is for Shanahan to be some sort of PR figurehead, there to smile for the cameras and act as a shield against mounting fan anger, then it’s no good. It would be just one more attempt at deflection from an organization that seems to excel at it. But that sort of career move wouldn’t make any sense for Shanahan, so that option seems unlikely.
If he’s expected to roll up his sleeves and start making decisions as a de facto GM, that’s also an issue, because he has no experience in the front office of an NHL team. But that wouldn’t make sense for the Maple Leafs, so it’s … well, this is the Maple Leafs we’re talking about, so “unlikely” doesn’t really fit. But it would be a surprise.
That leaves us with something in the middle ground, where Shanahan becomes the face of the franchise and drives the hockey side from a high level while leaving the day-to-day work in the hands of a GM (whether that ends up being Dave Nonis or someone else). And that’s where the optimism comes in, because that’s a scenario that could work.