We know last season was a really tough one for the Maple Leafs. And yet, in the win-loss column this year, this one has been equally as difficult. I’d like to hear what you’re seeing on the ice night after night in terms of the team’s overall performance.
Shanahan: I think that we really prepared ourselves and prepared our fans and prepared our owners and prepared everybody for what had to happen here in order for us to make what we felt were the right steps necessary to not just have a team that can contend for the cup, but a team that, once you arrive in that contention category, could sustain it over a number of years. I’ve been really pleased. The competitive side of you, when you go out to play every game, you want to win. But it’s not just how many guys have taken to coach Babcock’s philosophy — the right guys have. The guys we were maybe a little bit concerned [about] – “we really need this guy to step up, and this guy to buy in.” I’ve been proud of this team. We haven’t won as many games as we may have deserved, but you go into Montreal and you lose by a goal, and you throw 52 shots on net on, at the time, the hottest team in the NHL. You compare our record with the record we had last year at this time – we had a winning record at this time. But I didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. I see one now. I like the way our prospects are playing, but I really like the way our guys are playing and the foundation Mike is laying.
Last season, before Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello got here, you made a very concerted effort to let the market here know what you were doing, what the plan was, and how long it was going to take. Why did you do all that? We haven’t seen that in this city. Not just the fact that you were doing it, but you went to such extent to explain it to the market and the fans here.
Shanahan: I think during the season that it wasn’t really appropriate to say certain things that I felt. Not to say I wasn’t saying them to people internally, to people within the organization. Everyone’s got a boss. I’ve got a board. Explaining it to them what we need to do to really become what the Toronto Maple Leafs deserve to be. When the season ended, I addressed the media and the fans. I don’t think I did anything except be as honest as I could be. I pulled no punches. I’m respectful person; I try to be to as many individuals as I can. I walked away from that press conference at the end of the season and people were saying that was refreshing. I just told the truth. I think that we’ve got a sophisticated market of media, of fans. I don’t think anybody here wants us to lose. I don’t buy the excuses I’ve heard in the past that it’s too hard to play here or the media is happier when we’re losing because it’s better for the news and better for ratings. I just thought they were all excuses. Doesn’t mean it’s easy to do, but like I said I just spoke from the heart and I just spoke as honestly as I could.
You’ve always believed in the notion of possibility in this market, but why did you believe in it?
Shanahan: I guess I just have the mindset that, if you show me one mountain and ask me to climb it, but before you do you point to another one and say it’s bigger, I want to go climb that one. That’s sort of the same philosophy I went after Mike Babcock [with] and I was one of the few people who thought he would come here to Toronto. Same with Lou Lamoriello. Same with Mark Hunter. Kyle Dubas. Run down the list of the guys we’ve brought in over the last year and a half, and they were all very comfortable and had safe and secure situations, but they all saw the potential of what we could be. Having grown up here, having grown up a Maple Leaf fan my whole life and never really considered cheering for another team as a kid – but also recognizing where some of the warts were and some of the frustrations were – I just saw the Toronto Maple Leafs as a tremendous place for potential. With a lot of hard work and some breaks, we plan to get there.
You have a story for almost every occasion. One time I was in a room with a bunch of soccer guys, and you had a soccer story.
Shanahan: They’re usually involving fights.
Actually, that one did, I think.
Shanahan: Yeah, my one soccer game. Got ejected for fighting. What a clown.
Could you tell me a Nick Lidstrom story?
Shanahan: There’s some I can’t. The best ones I can’t. I’ll just say this: It was actually really hard. I flew in Detroit a while back when they retired his sweater. He’s a hard guy to talk about because he’s so superb and so fantastic, and he ranks in history as one of the greatest defencemen ever. But you wouldn’t talk about him like you would, say, Paul Coffey – he had this blazing speed – or Ray Bourque, who was just this powerful guy who got from corner to slot and shot everything. Scott Stevens, who put fear in your eyes and laid you out at center ice. Nick made the extraordinary look ordinary, and he did it night after night after night. It’s really hard. It’s almost a disservice to him when all I can say is, if you were open, he passed it to you. When it was time to shoot, he shot. The pass was on your tape. The shot was on the net. When you needed him to be in position or break up a 2 on 1, he broke it up. He just did it without missing a lot of games, without taking any maintenance, without needing anything. He was just a great guy and a great teammate. The one thing I will say that people don’t know about Nick – first guy down in the lobby during a road trip, ready to go for a beer before dinner. You might want to call him the perfect human but he likes his beers, too.
What’s the worst mistake you ever saw him make?
Shanahan: I can’t recall one specifically, but when he would make a mistake, we would laugh and cheer, whether it was in practice or sometimes even in a game. We’d wait until we were alone and say, “Hey Nick, you got beat tonight!” Often times, it was in practice and it was usually Pavel Datsyuk doing something to him. When he did make a mistake, we enjoyed rubbing it in.