What’s done is done. Or, is it?
This offseason’s curious and sudden decision by Toronto Maple Leafs’ team president Brendan Shanahan to not renew general manager (GM) Kyle Dubas’ contract is in the books. At the time, the belief was that he would renew the contract and hockey life would go on much as before.
Alas, a comment about the pressure the Dubas family was experiencing as part of his job seemed to be the tipping point that suggested to Shanahan that the former Maple Leafs GM was no longer up to the task. Despite Dubas’ tenure being marked by postseason challenges, he had built a solid team that competed each season.
The Impact of This Decision Will Be Worked Out This Season
As Maple Leafs fans know and have watched over the remainder of this offseason, Shanahan hired a new GM in Brad Treliving with new insights about roster building. New players have come to the team and a new philosophy is being shaped. Dubas quickly moved to the Pittsburgh Penguins, leaving Shanahan in Toronto.
Logic suggests that Shanahan, although carrying out what a large portion of Maple Leafs fans wanted when he let Dubas leave, now faces mounting pressure to deliver playoff success in his role as a more hands-on team president than many expected. With only one playoff-round victory in the past nine years, the expectations for the Maple Leafs remain high and, in fact, grow higher every failed season.
Is the Man on Top Prime for a Fall?
This season the stakes have never been higher. Furthermore, Shanahan’s decision to part ways with Dubas has severed his ties with a scapegoat. It would take some deft sleight of hand to keep blaming Dubas when so much of the roster has changed from last season as I noted in a post on Sept. 8.
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The long-term repercussions of Shanahan’s decision on his own legacy will be measured by the team’s performance – now. I suspect thousands of fans are closely watching and will be comparing how the Penguins do alongside the Maple Leafs throughout this season.
The on-ice play of any team eventually falls on the man at the top (in this case both presidents of hockey operations – Dubas in Pittsburgh and Shanahan in Toronto). Both presidents oversee the team’s hockey operations, which include decisions about coaching staff, player acquisitions, and the team’s overall direction.
Shanahan’s tenure has been marked by a lack of playoff success. His decision to part ways with Dubas is now in the history books as another move of the many that reflect his role in shaping the team’s direction. He will be judged based on all these decisions and on the team’s overall performance. It makes this season a crucial moment in assessing his impact as the team’s overall leader.
The Season Could Have a Significant Impact on Shanahan
The outcome of the NHL season could have significant ramifications for both Dubas and Shanahan, considering their roles with the Penguins and Maple Leafs, respectively. If the Penguins, under Dubas’ leadership, have a successful season while the Maple Leafs falter, it would likely enhance his reputation and job security. Conversely, it would add pressure on Shanahan, who decided to part ways with Dubas.
A successful season for the Maple Leafs and struggles for the Penguins would likely ease the pressure on Shanahan and erase any leftover questions about his decision to let go of Dubas. The season’s outcomes will shape perceptions and could have long-term implications for both Dubas and Shanahan and their teams.
Moving On from Shanahan?
If Dubas succeeds in his new role with the Penguins, while the Maple Leafs underperform yet again, here’s how a potential scenario might unfold:
First, if the Penguins have a successful season under Dubas’ leadership, it will likely enhance his reputation as an executive. Achieving significant success, such as making a deep playoff run, would underscore Dubas’ ability to build and manage a winning team.
Second, if the Penguins excel while the Maple Leafs struggle, the contrast in performance between the two teams would raise questions within Leafs Nation.
Third, because fans and media often play crucial roles in shaping public perception, if they see Dubas thriving in Pittsburgh and the Maple Leafs are underperforming, you can bet they will vocalize concerns and demand accountability.
Fourth, speculation about the effectiveness of Shanahan’s leadership and decision-making could intensify. Media analysts would dissect the situation, discussing whether Shanahan’s recent decisions, including parting ways with Dubas, were good moves for the franchise.
Fifth, Maple Leafs’ ownership and upper management might evaluate Shanahan’s tenure and the decisions made under his leadership. Contrasting outcomes between Dubas in Pittsburgh and the Maple Leafs’ struggles could prompt a reassessment of the team’s direction.
Finally, if the pressure and scrutiny persist, Maple Leafs ownership might consider changing the organization’s leadership. This would reevaluate Shanahan’s role as president of hockey operations and explore other options for overseeing the team’s direction.
In short, if Dubas thrives with the Penguins and the Maple Leafs face challenges, watch out. Expect pressure on the Maple Leafs organization to reevaluate Shanahan’s position and leadership.
Dubas Has a Longer Leash than Shanahan
Because he’s new to the Penguins’ job, and because his new team didn’t even make the playoffs last season, Dubas will have more time and a longer leash in his new job. In contrast, Shanahan’s longer tenure with the Maple Leafs will matter.
Dubas is entering his first year as president and GM of the Penguins, which often comes with a honeymoon period where expectations might be more forgiving. Fans and owners understand that it takes time to implement one’s vision and make significant changes to the team.
With the Penguins’ challenges last season, there’s an understanding that Dubas needs time to make adjustments and improvements, given the circumstances he inherited. In contrast, Shanahan has been with the Maple Leafs for ten seasons; and, during that time the team has limited playoff success. Without significant achievements for a decade, he’ll face more scrutiny.
In contrast, Dubas will have more time to shape the Penguins as he sees fit. He also has a reputation as an innovative thinker and a modern executive. If he demonstrates positive changes and improvements in the Penguins’ performance, it will strengthen his position and buy him even more time. His fresh perspective would be seen as a catalyst for turning things around.
Dubas Was Hired for a Long Term
The Penguins’ ownership and management showed confidence in Dubas by hiring him for a significant leadership role – the word is that his contract was worth around $40 million over seven years. He will have the benefit of the doubt that changes won’t happen overnight.
In addition, Pittsburgh is a smaller city. However, it also has more sports options. The truth is that the Penguins are not THE deal in Pittsburgh that the Maple Leafs are in Toronto. As a result, expectations for the Penguins and the Maple Leafs differ due to their respective histories and fan bases. Life will be easier for Dubas in Pittsburgh than for Shanahan in Toronto.
The Penguins also have a recent history of Stanley Cup championships, while the Maple Leafs have faced a long period of playoff frustration. This history will influence the level of patience afforded to each leader.
Shanahan’s Perfect Storm
As the 2023-24 NHL regular season unfolds, several factors point to the possibility that Shanahan, by letting Dubas go, has created the possibility of a perfect storm where his future depends upon his team’s immediate success.
Given the makeup of the Maple Leafs’ current roster, not making the postseason would be a huge surprise. That said, I can’t even begin to imagine the fallout if the Penguins go on a tear this season while the Maple Leafs languish and fall out of a playoff spot or barely make it to the postseason.