On Monday night, Dave Hodge and the cast of Bruce Arthur, Steve Simmons, and Michael Farber got together for a reunion of The Reporters at the Palace in Toronto.
The event was marked by a special guest who agreed to come on the show months earlier and probably did not foresee making a public appearance at such a tumultuous time for the organization.
Toronto Maple Leafs President Brendan Shanahan attended and regaled the audience with some tales of his playing days. He discussed Wayne Gretzky not shooting in Team Canada’s 1998 Nagano shootout loss (he noted they didn’t even realize it at the time that it was happening), shared stories about the classic Red Wings vs. Colorado games (it does make one wonder how Shanahan watches and accepts how soft this Leafs team is on an everyday basis), and even talked a little bit about his high school days here in Toronto. Shanahan had a number of friends in the audience, and once he got comfortable speaking, he was quite engaging with the audience. In general, he came across as very likable, as he seems to whenever he speaks or interacts with the public.
He did talk a little bit about the Leafs, too.
Asked about whether they considered firing Babcock in the summer, he offered up a number of notes we have already heard — namely, that the organization conducted a review like they do every offseason and they decided they not want to make a knee-jerk reaction after a Game 7 loss to a very good Boston Bruins team. He did note they wanted to see some things to change, but he also didn’t want to make it sound as if there was some huge chasm that existed between the coach and general manager. With quotes like this surfacing on an everyday basis since the firing, that won’t pass the sniff test for many fans.
Dermott on Keefe/Dubas: "They have known each other for a long time and that’s only going to be good for us. You don’t understand how much that means to a player when everyone in the organization is saying the same thing." #Leafs
— Terry Koshan (@koshtorontosun) November 25, 2019
Shanahan made his appearance on a day when news broke of an incident during the 2016-17 season between Mike Babcock and Mitch Marner, who was a rookie at the time, involving a list Marner was asked by Babcock to create ranking his hardest working to least hard-working teammates, one Babcock later shared with the players Marner ranked at or near the bottom. Asked about it today roughly three years later, it was obviously still a little difficult for Marner to talk about:
I would say it was just surprising. It was so long ago that honestly, I really kind of forgot about it until the report came out. It is over with now and it is done with. I was lucky enough that the guys that were there with me, none of them took it to heart. They knew it wasn’t up to me.
It was huge for a first-year guy… I didn’t really know what to think. I was lucky enough to have that first-year group with me. Our team was very tight and well-knit together. It was a lucky situation.
Like I said, it’s over with now. It’s out of my head. I’m looking forward to the future here with Sheldon and seeing what I can do to help this team.
Many fans naturally questioned who all knew about this incident within the organization, with Darren Dreger reporting that both then-GM Lou Lamoriello and Mike Babcock apologized to Marner. Babcock himself provided a statement to Dreger and Elliotte Friedman:
I reached out to Mike Babcock today about the Mitch Marner story, as reported by @koshtorontosun. Via text, he replied, “I was trying to focus on work ethic with Mitch — focusing on role models — ended up not being a good idea. I apologized at (the) time.”
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) November 25, 2019
Some openly questioned if the apology really took place, but Shanahan confirmed tonight that Babcock did indeed apologize to Marner. Shanahan also mentioned Lou Lamoriello brought the issue to him at the time.
The team went on to have a lot of regular-season success over the next three seasons before Babcock was relieved of his duties last week, a quarter of the way through the 2019-20 campaign with the team below .500. The market’s general reaction to the firing has seemingly titled more and more in favour of the decision in the days since as the reporting on the Leafs players’ reactions and the statements from ex-NHLers in the media — containing second-hand anecdotes about experiences from around the league of playing for the former Leafs head coach — have unfolded, culminating in reports by The Sun’s Terry Koshan and The Leafs Nation’s Ian Tulloch yesterday about the details of the Marner incident.
On Monday night, Shanahan called it “unfortunate” and conceded that it was handled poorly, while noting that there is no benefit to rehashing past stories, adding that he and the team would like to move forward and focus on improving this season.
Shanahan says Lou brought the Marner – Babcock issue to his attention at the time. Calls it unfortunate and that it was handled poorly. Also notes there's no benefit to rehashing past stories and expresses that he and the team would like to move forward and focus on improving.
— Anthony Petrielli (@APetrielli) November 26, 2019
with reporting from Anthony Petrielli