Brendan Shanahan stopped by Prime Time Sports to discuss the Leafs’ logo change, Nazem Kadri’s progress since his team-issued suspension a year ago, the conundrum of wanting a high draft pick vs. a desire to win hockey games, and more.
“If the process of development happens quicker under Mike… we’ll find players later in the draft”
– Brendan Shanahan
Shanahan: Word got out that we were looking to change our logo. Once you go through a process like this, you’ve got to go to the league, you’ve got to get other people involved. Me not being here when the Raptors did this a couple years ago, I had the people at MLSE say all the things that possibly they would have done better when they went through it with the Raptors. One of the things is that it leaks out and all a sudden other people are delivering the news for you. It’s a little strange for us, a little past the midpoint of the season, to be making this announcement, but if we didn’t take control of the message and release it at this point here… some people were already starting to leak things out. We wanted to be able to tell our players first, we wanted to be able to tell our alumni first, we wanted to be able to tell our fans first. When word got out that we were changing it, I thought, “well, probably the prevailing sentiment when people see what we’re actually going to do is, ‘oh wow, all that fuss over this?’” It’s really something very similar to what the original Maple Leaf looked like. And that’s precisely what we were going for. We asked ourselves the same question; when I came in last year, I said, “such a beautiful logo when they started, when Conn Smythe changed this… why did they ever go to the logo that I grew up on? It’s not a bad logo, but I loved the original more.” Look, changing our logo is not going to win us a Stanley Cup, but we do believe lots of little things matter. Mike and Lou have done a great job this year in changing the culture of the dressing room and changing the work ethic on the ice. When we start to tell ourselves and tell others what it means to be a Maple Leaf, and when we looked at our history, it’s guys like Syl Apps and Teeder Kennedy and George Armstrong from that era that we want to set the bar with. We want our players to aspire in our future to have that same sort of championship pedigree.
Will you make other changes to the uniform?
Shanahan: I think people are going to like what we’ve done. It’s simple, it’s clean, and it’s about the logo. Or, as Conn Smythe first talked about when he talked about the inspiration from soldiers that he had fought in World War I with, “the badge.” He called it the badge. He wanted his hockey team to have the same sort of pride, honour and courage as the people he fought in the First World War with. He wanted it to be Canada’s team and have the Maple Leaf on the front. I believe that fans will be just as happy with the rest of the sweater as they were with the logo itself. We wanted it to really be about the Maple Leaf. We wanted that to be the focus – what’s on the front of the jersey.
Would you categorize the other changes – as yet unseen – as subtle?
Shanahan: Yes. I would say they’re subtle. I think people will be happy with what they see.
Did you have to educate yourself to a degree to really feel confident and authoritative making this decision? I know you grew up here, you were a Leafs fan, you know all that, but did you really have to dig into the archives or have people walk you through some of the history? What was that experience like for you?
Shanahan: The short answer is absolutely. You hear about these names — like I mentioned Syl Apps, Teeder Kennedy – [but] going through this Legends Row process has really helped me bring those names to life. Just recently, Dave Keon – I remember him as a Leafs captain, but I really didn’t know how good he was. I sort of remember him at the tail end. I remember Darryl Sittler, that was my era. Borje Salming, Ian Turnbull, you know? I remember being at an All-Star game in 1996 and Lanny and Darryl were coming on the ice for an alumni group as I was going off the ice for our practice. I went over and I had a photo taken with them and I said, “this has been my dream to push Errol Thompson off your line and play with the two of you, so let’s take a photo.” Those are the guys I knew, but it’s been a real pleasure for me getting to know the real facts about – just a couple weeks ago – how Dave Keon played against Montreal, and what he actually did in elimination games, and things like that; that this guy who averaged five minutes of penalties per year was called a fierce bulldog. When it came to doing this sort of thing, I didn’t do it by myself. I did it with a lot of people in the organization. I talked to a lot of the alumni about what it meant to them and who meant a lot to them as Leafs. I didn’t tell them we were also thinking about changing the logo, but the more people that you talk to that loved Toronto, and the Maple Leaf meant something to them, you got a sense of where it really started and who we would love to emulate and what era we would love to emulate.
Last night, Kadri had another in a long string of really solid performances. It was only a year ago that you handed down that suspension and the circumstances remain pretty vague about it. But if you just take yourself back a year, when you gave the three-game suspension and the way he’s performed – seemingly week by week he’s gotten better – would you have seen this March of 2015?
Shanahan: I had said at the time that one of the reasons why I was sitting him down and I wasn’t sweeping it under the rug was hopefully to get him to change once and for all. I think the easiest thing for us to have done, and also the worst thing for us to have done for Nazem Kadri’s development, would have been to sweep it under the rug. If we just wanted to move on, if we didn’t care about him, the best thing would’ve been to keep it quiet and try to move him. I had said at the time that I thought he was an important part of the future. I hoped to make some changes over the offseason and I did. I brought in a great coaching staff, I think, that is doing a really good job in changing the way that some of our players play and then Lou. I guess I’d just say that I hoped he’d respond positively and so far he’s responded very positively. I’m very pleased with that. I said at the time as well – it happened to me. I was young and immature as a player with the Devils as well, and Lou sat me down for three games for missing a practice or being late for a morning skate. It’s really not about avoiding or hiding from adversity. It’s about how you come out of it. I’m really pleased with Naz so far.
As you sit there as the President up there in the box and watch games, how do you stop yourself from hoping for losses? The reality is you’ve painted the picture very effectively for this marketplace – we’re going to change it, it’s going to take time, there’s going to be pain. You and your head coach and everyone in the head office has painted the same picture. I think, for the first time in my memory, fans have bought into that notion. There’s no yelling and screaming over the way this team is playing. But the truth of the matter is, in order for you to be as good as you can be as quickly and effectively as you can be, you’d like the highest draft choice you can get. Winning doesn’t achieve that. How do you deal with that conundrum?
Shanahan: It’s a great question because I think a lot of people asked me that question at the beginning of the season, even people who work within MLSE. Not even with the hockey team, they’re just not sure – “what am I rooting for?” I said we’re going to be who we are going to be. If the process of development happens quicker under Mike then that’s where we are. We’ll find players later in the draft. Detroit has found a way to do it over the years. I think Dylan Larkin was their highest draft pick since Marty Lapointe – they took him 15th overall. We like our scouting staff. The real honest truth is we’re realistic. We understand that we were moving, last summer, our leading goal scorer, that we’ve got some young players we like in our system that aren’t quite ready yet for the NHL and they’re thriving with the Marlies and they’re thriving in other cities. But while the game is on, we’re just like the fans – we want to win. I don’t feel bad at all for getting mad when we don’t win. Mike is the same and Lou is the same. We wouldn’t be who we are… we can take a step back and kind of make plans in the summer and take a long view approach, and ou fans have been great at buying into what we’re doing here, but if we were numb to losing we wouldn’t be the people that we are. I’ve had a lot of bad language while I’m in that box watching games, but it doesn’t change our vision. That’s just who we are. That’s who Mike is. We’re competitive. We want to win. We also are going to stick with our vision.