Below is the full transcript of Brendan Shanahan’s radio hit on TSN 1050 Overdrive this afternoon.
How do you cram 100 years of history into one season?
Shanahan: Luckily, we have all the way until our birthday, which is in December, 2017. So it’s a season and a bit. We’ve got a great team over there at MLSE led by Shannon Hosford, and the historical committee, and people that have been thinking about this not just in the past year but for the past few years, trying to make sure that as many alumni and as many fans get to enjoy looking back at this team and the 100 years they’ve had.
One of the fun things you guys are doing is naming the 100 greatest Maple Leafs of all time. You’re going to have a committee that decides who the top 100 players in franchise history actually are. You grew up in Mimico, famously, and grew up loving this team. Who would be your all-time great Leaf?
Shanahan: It’s funny, even though you grew up and knew the team, you sort of just love the generation that you know. I had heard of the names like Teeder Kennedy and Syl Apps, but it wasn’t until I started working for the Leafs that I actually started to hear their story. I started to feel what they were like as teammates and what they were like in the room and what they were like in the community. There’s so many to choose from, but I’m just going to cheat and go back to the guy I grew up admiring – and the good news is, when you admire someone from afar and then you get to know them and meet them up close and personal, and they don’t disappoint – Darryl Sittler for me.
What’s the plan in terms of unveiling the top 100? Will it be all at once, or will it be staggered? Do you guys have that plan yet?
Shanahan: I don’t know exactly how we’re going to do it, but I do think we’re going to have to keep the identities of the people who are doing the selection very, very private. You know as well as I – it sounds like a fun thing, and what it’s really going to do is create great debates and great arguments about whether or not people are slotted in the right place. People love lists. This will be one that will create a lot of debate in the city of Toronto.
How would you handicap the chances of Jeff O’Neill cracking the top 100?
Shanahan: Damn, 101st again. If they were doing a top 100 Hartford Whalers, I’d definitely have him in my top 10.
You mentioned today, when you were talking about the history of this team, what this year could represent in terms of the future of this team. It feels like you guys are planning on the 100th season feeling like a fresh start. You guys are planning on doing some different things with the game ops. You’ve got a different uniform. Auston Matthews will be a part of this upcoming season. Is that the plan? To make this feel like a bit of a fresh start, a different era, launching this upcoming season?
Shanahan: I think that’s sort of what happens when you start to make some changes and you recognize that, if you are going to make changes or you are thinking of making some a year or two or three down the road, maybe it’s good time to just go for it all now, and just make that clean break and sort of say, “this is going to be a new look, this is going to be a new uniform, it’s going to be a new feel.” We’ll see how it goes. We’re really in the business here to please as many of our fans as possible. You’re never going to please them all because some are going to have different opinions on what they want to see and hear. We want to make the experience of coming to a Leaf game as special as we can in this modern era. At the same time, people like us in hockey ops realize the most important thing we can do – aside from what we want to do in game ops, or wanting to change the uniforms back to something more resembling an original Leaf – is make a good hockey team. That’s the thing that we don’t lose our focus on ever. What’s most important here is our fans want to see a team that is turning the right direction and is poised to grow together and that they can see positive things coming in the future.
You said the word “grow” there about a young team. The focus of the growth of one particular player that people are very intrigued with, Mitch Marner… given your experience as a player, looking at the body of this young man – and there’s been a lot of focus on the fact that he’s 163 pounds – how vital is it in your mind that he does get bigger in the next few months to have a successful season in the NHL?
Shanahan: I think it’s a mistake if we focus on a number and say, “this has to be your weight.” I think all we have to say to Mitch is just, “become as strong as you possibly can by the time September rolls around.” If that means you’re 163, or you are 165, or are you 170 – it really doesn’t matter. You can’t manufacture weight, especially for a guy like Mitch. He’s not a player that, even if he’s at 170, is necessary going to be using his weight as an advantage for him. What our strength and fitness guys and dieticians are trying to get Mitch to focus on — and he might have his own goals about weight and things like this, but when we’re putting him through the workouts at the Mastercard Centre — what we’re really just saying is, “forget about weight; just be as strong as Mitch Marner at this age can be, and see where that gets you.”
On the other side of the spectrum when it comes to size and physicality are a few guys you just signed. One would be Roman Polak returning to the team, the other being Matt Martin. In this era, I think there’s a real debate throughout the hockey world and outside the hockey world on the importance of physicality, the importance of size, the importance of hitting, fighting, etc. Where do you stand on that – the importance of balancing out your lineup when it comes to toughness, or physicality, or size?
Shanahan: I think what you said there is an important word – balance. That being said, if you want to say, “what is the balance of size and strength on our team versus speed and skill?” I’d say we have a whole lot more guys who fall into the speed and skill category. I think it’s important to have some guys that can provide that presence as well. The important thing is I like our management group. We work well together. We’ve got a diverse group of guys that have varying opinions on the way the game should be played, but the way that we worked the draft, the way that we worked free agency, the way that everyone was able to be heard and contributed… at the end of the day, we felt these two players were a good fit for us right now. We have cap space. We know what Roman Polak is. A couple of years ago he was coming to us as a number five or six. Now he’s coming to us as a bit more of a depth guy to support some of our young players, and he understood the role he’s coming into. I have no problem with the character and the type of people we’ve brought in. At the end of the day, when you sign a couple of good guys like that, it doesn’t change our philosophy. We are not suddenly going to go into Calgary and run them out of the building. We just simply have one or two answers for teams that are trying to run us out of the building.
You got Auston Matthews number one overall to a lot of fanfare. And yet Auston Matthews is not signed to his entry-level contract as of yet. The second overall pick is. The third overall pick is. How should fans look at that?
Shanahan: They should not be worried at all. I’d like to think — we haven’t been here a long time — but I can promise our fans that our management group didn’t get stupid in two weeks. We will take care of it. We understand what we have in Auston Matthews. Auston Matthews will be there in camp and we’re excited to have him. It will all get taken care of. We are not a group that likes to give a heads up as to what we’re doing and what we’re thinking. I’m sure there will be people wondering about it the day it ends up getting announced. I would just say that people can trust this group. Lou Lamoriello has been at this a long time. One thing he said when he came here – Lou, Mike, myself, we all met – was “this is not New Jersey, this is not Detroit… this is Toronto.” So, it will get done. I’m fully confident that Lou will have that done and people don’t have to worry.
What have your early impressions been watching Auston down in Niagara?
Shanahan: He’s impressive. He really is. Obviously when you take a guy first overall, you know he’s a special player, but when you see him up close… maybe a couple of the things that jumped out at me more than I expected – you see the size, you see the speed, you see the hands and the skill level, but I would say his speed has surprised me. His quickness, his first step. He’s got a long, heavy stride, and he’s not a skater like a Connor McDavid, who you look at and it looks like he’s flying. He’s got more of a lengthy, muscular stride. It might not look like he’s going as fast until you get him up beside some people and you realize he’s pulling away from everybody on the ice. I would say his speed is something that has really impressed us all. And the maturity of him. He’s got his first taste of Toronto media. He’s polite, he’s been raised well. He also knows how to handle himself. So far so good.
I don’t get an impression from afar that this kid can be shaken up. I don’t know if you know anything different than we do, but that’s going to be a big part of it, right? People are going to be tracking how he handles the scope of the situation. How will you guys go about helping him when it comes to his role in the city and what fans and media will be expecting out of him?
Shanahan: I think that the team has a responsibility in a city like this to work with our media. I think that was a big change last year. I can tell you that started from day one in training camp as a message from myself and Mike and Lou – our players were going to be respectful to the needs of the media and the passion of the fans in this market and their need for content and information. When they get asked to do something, they’re courteous. I think that last year was a complete flip flop. I think on the flip side, it’s our job to make sure that — if one guy is being identified too much, or singled out too much, or being requested too much – we take a little bit of the burden off at times and give guys a day off every once and a while so that they can recharge their batteries.