Brendan Shanahan joined TSN Drive on Wednesday to discuss the organization’s logo change, the franchise’s history, the upcoming trade deadline, and more.
When you are charged with refining or remaking an iconic logo like that of the Toronto Maple Leafs, where do you begin? How do you do it? What were your goals?
Brendan Shanahan: I just think that, in some ways, it’s not so much a new logo as what we felt was our original logo. The more that I learned as I came to Toronto and really dug into the history of the Maple Leafs and the story of what motivated Conn Smythe to change the name from the St. Pat’s to the Maple Leafs – it was a story that sort of compelled many of us here [to think] that we should really go back to that history, and why was it ever changed? I think it’s a beautiful logo. I think our current logo is a great logo as well. I just thought that, if Conn Smythe was alive today, he’d be wondering where and why it happened and how did it change. Especially when you consider that we did have so much success with it. That doesn’t mean that putting a new logo on your sweater means you’re going to have success. It’s still always going to matter what we do while we’re wearing it, but we, quite frankly, liked it better and we liked the association with those teams and we felt that it was a nod to one of the first dynasties of the Maple Leafs.
Since you took the job as President, you’ve made it a priority to embrace the history of this club – especially the good history, the glory days of this club and the alumni of this club. Why have you felt that’s important and why do you see it as essential?
Shanahan: I’ve always felt, even when I was playing – I hate to talk about when I was playing because it was centuries ago – that it was an advantage to me when I knew the people I was playing for and also the people that I was representing who had played before me. It was important for me to walk into arenas in a certain way, where I walked by people who worked there, who had worked there for decades. When I was in Detroit, it was the first time I was with an original six team, and I got to know Ted Lindsay. We became quite close and we used to go to lunch or have dinner. To me, it helped to have that connection. When Gordie Howe would come into the room, or when I had the chance to talk to Ted about what it meant to be a Detroit Red Wing, it was inspiring. Detroit, at the time, I don’t think had won a Cup in 46 years. It was great just to have that connection. When I look at a place like Toronto, certainly everything we are doing now is talking about going through some difficult times for the future. So it’s not like we’re milking the past, but certainly for players that we’re going to be drafting and developing and the players that are currently here, if they want to look to heroes and if they want to look to standards that were set by great, great Maple Leafs, there’s no reason to hide guys like Syl Apps and Teeder Kennedy and George Armstrong.
There’s a lot of focus on later this month when the NHL trade deadline comes up. In a more general sense, how active do you imagine your team being between now and February 29?
Shanahan: It’s really difficult for me to say because you need a dance partner to do this. I’ll just say that we’ll be prepared. We’ve been talking about how it’s an important date — certainly for all 30 teams, but we’ll certainly be prepared. But at the same time, you don’t really know until the phone starts ringing. I’ve got a great GM in Lou Lamoriello who has been through this many times, and what I really like about Lou is how much he’s utilized the entire organization from all the people he has at his disposal. He’s embraced them all and gotten constant information from them all, and shared information. Probably people didn’t have that impression of Lou while he was in New Jersey, but he’s been fantastic that way here with us. Again, like I said, we can’t really predict what action there will be, but we’ll be prepared should there be any that we think will help us.
You scored a coup when you acquired Mike Babcock as a free agent coach last Spring. But if you look at the standings today, you might say to yourself, “What’s been the effect of Mike Babcock?” You guys finished 27th in the standings last year, and you’re 27th in the standings as we sit here talking right now. What has been the Mike Babcock effect in your eyes?
Shanahan: I think it’s very clear for people who remember a year ago, and can look at how this team plays today, the culture in the room and on the ice is different. I feel a lot safer about bringing people in and saying, “you know what, this is how you play.” We’ve got to keep finding him players. We’ve got to keep replenishing the system. We’ve got to keep developing the kids that we have with the Marlies and the kids we have scattered throughout North America and Europe that are property of us, but I really do think that, in spite of the fact that we have a long way to go, we’re no longer coming in where teams are sort of laughing and snickering at the Maple Leafs, and especially the Maple Leafs’ work ethic. But Mike has really changed the culture on the ice. I think Lou has really, in a positive way, changed the culture off the ice. I think we’ve just created a better place for people to come. Now, it’s just a matter of the Nazem Kadris and the Morgan Riellys and all these players continuing to improve. And then for Mark Hunter — as I’ve said before, he might be the most important person in this organization — to just keep finding players.
You say you feel safer having people come into the Maple Leafs dressing room. What are the chances William Nylander comes into the Maple Leafs dressing room this season?
Shanahan: I won’t name anybody specifically, but I think the chances are good – or very strong – that some of these Marlies… we think it’d be good for some of them to come up and see some games in the NHL this year. Depending on what happens at the deadline, and whether we need some guys up there, I think it would be great for the development of some of the players. I’m not going to name names, but I think the chances are good that we’re going to see some of them. They’ve had a fantastic year down with the Marlies and we wanted that. We wanted them to learn how to win and feel like winners, and sort of grow into a band of brothers down there. But I do think that, at a certain point, it’s good for guys to come up and get a look at what it is up here and what’s expected up here. It prepares them better — in the summertime, when they come back for the following season – to not spend any more time in the American Hockey League and make the graduation into the NHL.
About a year ago, or a little less than a year ago, when you started to articulate your plan for this organization, one of the things you did, in a pretty precise and calculated way, was change the expectations around this team in this city, which have forever been sky high. Whether the Maple Leafs had a good team or not, there was always that pressure from the fanbase, or from whoever, to try to chase the next step. And you went public with a plan to try to change those expectations. Why did you feel that was so important to do?
Shanahan: It’s funny, I spoke at the end of the season, and I really just did my best to observe and not speak too much and not be constantly finding the airwaves last year. There was a lot for me to watch and learn. There were things that I learned earlier in the season that I had to wait on until the end of the season. I really felt, at the end of the season, I didn’t say anything spectacular except the truth, and what had been on my mind and what my thoughts were. I wasn’t sure what reaction I would get from the city of Toronto or the fans. I had spoken to ownership about what our plans were and what I thought we needed to do. Our owners have been fantastic with me, but I wasn’t sure how the fans would take to hearing what I felt was the truth. It wasn’t calculated, it was just transparency. As hard as it is, and there are 29 other teams that are trying to do it as well, we’re not here just to get by, or to patch things up. We’re here to hopefully build a championship team that we feel the Toronto Maple Leafs deserve to be.
In terms of the expectations being different around this club, how has that positively affected Mike Babcock’s ability to coach this team?
Shanahan: Again, like I said, it wasn’t calculated. It wasn’t buying time. As you see right now, we were telling the truth. Somebody said to me, “how many years?” I feel like I could stand up here and give an X number of years and all I’d be doing is buying myself that many years. It was really just saying that we have to break things down before we can build them up again. We really started with the foundation. Going back to the earlier question, I really do think that there’s a foundation that has been poured. We’ve just got to start slowly building it up. I think that Mike has done a great job in that sense, but he’s not satisfied. He wants more, he wants better, he doesn’t want to wait. He understands the plan, but I like a coach who wakes up every morning trying to figure out a way to win. It’s frustrating for him after games, but he goes home after games like he says and somehow he shakes it off and he shows up the next morning with a great attitude, bringing a positive energy, ready to go the next day.
When you look at individual players – and you named a couple; Nazem Kadri, Morgan Rielly, two of your more talented guys on your roster – what do you think the effect of Babcock has been on them?
Shanahan: I wasn’t precisely sure, nor was Lou, how each and very player would react to Mike’s demanding style. He’s a demanding guy every single day whether it’s a game day, a practice day or a rest day. All I can say is the players who we really hoped would respond have responded.
The new logo has 13 veins in it, each representing one of the Stanley Cups the Leafs have won. Do you have a deal to have it redesigned during your tenure if you need to have that done?
Shanahan: It would be a great issue to have. As we like to dream, we did say, when we counted those numbers, hopefully we’re adding more in the future. Certainly, if we’re fortunate enough to reach our goal and win a Cup, the NHL will get a call from us that we’re making a small adjustment to our logo again.