Brendan Shanahan, who signed a six-year extension to remain as president of the Maple Leafs, says signing Mitch Marner to an extension is the priority for a team that believes its window to winning is wide open.
“The makings of a potential agreement are there, in that we love the player and the player loves Toronto,” said Shanahan, who said the team met with Marner’s agent Darren Ferris on Tuesday. “It’s really our job now to make that happen.
“As (GM Kyle Dubas) said, it’s really our No. 1 priority. We think he’s a special player. That is probably the best basis you can have for a starting point, that both sides would like a deal to occur.”
The 50-year-old hall of famer and Stanley Cup winner from Mimico — whose vision has helped turn the franchise from a laughingstock to a playoff regular — said there was never any danger of him leaving the team. He said it’s a job, now secure through the 2024-25 season, that he feels lucky to have and feels confident about the future.
“I sometimes hear people say the window is small. I think it the window is small if you make bad decisions,” said Shanahan. “The evidence would say if you look at San Jose, or Washington, or Pittsburgh — and I’m only talking about the salary-cap era — or Chicago, I would say if you’re smart, the window can be quite significant. If we’re intelligent and we continue to plan and we continue to scout and develop, the window can be quite significant if it’s built the right way.”
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Shanahan was hired in April 2014, after the Leafs completed an epic regular-season collapse that saw them go 2-12-0 through the final 14 games and miss the playoffs. The Leafs missed again — this time more by Shanahan’s design — in 2015 and 2016, capturing high draft picks the used to select Marner (fourth overall in 2015) and Auston Matthews (first in 2016).
After the 2014-15 season, Shanahan fired GM Dave Nonis as well as dozens of front-office and scouting personnel in a bid to change how the Leafs operated. He brought in, among others, Dubas and current coach Mike Babcock.
The Leafs have made the playoffs the last three years and are generally considered to have a core of young players that will keep them in contention for years, so long as Dubas manages the salary cap effectively. That includes finding a way to sign Marner, Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson with very little room to play with.
“I feel like the organizational structure is sound,” said Shanahan. “We’re going to have our good times and, given the nature of sports, we’re going to have our heartbreaks and our disappointments and our mistakes. But I think the organization is going in the right direction.”
That first-round loss to Boston still smarts, he said: “It feels that way for every team in every season when your season comes to an end, because you’re so used to playing hockey.”
He said it won’t help any if the Bruins, now playing in the Eastern Conference final against the Carolina Hurricanes, win the Stanley Cup.
“I don’t think it will make us feel any better,” said Shanahan. “If it happens I think it will make us feel worse, which can be a good thing.”
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One of Shanahan’s keynote moves, which improved the image of a club worn down by years of mismanagement, was creating Legends Row to honour the 10 best Maple Leafs of all time, while also retiring the numbers of 17 Leaf greats. They had been honoured in the rafters, but still in circulation. They joined Bill Barilko’s No. 5 and Ace Bailey’s No. 6 as officially retired.
That included bringing Dave Keon back into the fold. The former captain had a long-running feud with the franchise. Shanahan also got Larry Hillman to lift the “hex” he’d put on the team after he bolted in a salary dispute by paying him the $2,400 that Hillman said the Leafs owed him — plus 50 years’ interest — in 2017.
“Brendan’s positive impact on this team has not only been felt on the ice, where the team is on an impressive path, but throughout the league, with the Leafs alumni and in the community,” said MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum. “We look forward to continued success for the Maple Leafs under Brendan’s leadership over the next six years.”
Shanahan grew up in Toronto, but never played for the Leafs. He won the Stanley Cup three times in Detroit. He also won Olympic and world championship gold for Canada. He was instrumental in creating rules that sped up the game following the 2005-06 lockout and served as an NHL senior vice-president, largely overseeing the department of player safety, following his 21-year playing career.
But this, he says, is his dream job.
“I feel lucky to be in the organization,” he said. “It’s the exact place I want to be.”
Kevin McGran is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @kevin_mcgran
Published at Tue, 14 May 2019 20:37:30 +0000