TORONTO – There is an understated way about how the Maple Leafs are conducting business during another lost season, with modest attempts to lay the foundation for something better, but a tacit acknowledgment of where they are.
Really it is Brendan Shanahan’s way.
The man who scored more than 650 NHL goals has displayed a deft touch in the president’s chair. He’s managed to strike a respectful tone while staying largely out of the public eye, save for big events like welcoming Dave Keon back into the fold or this week’s unveiling of a new logo.
Shanahan spearheaded that project and ultimately decided that it was best for the organization to return to the 31-point Leaf worn during much better times – the period between 1940 and the late 1960s, when Stanley Cup parades were occasionally held here.
That’s not a coincidence.
“This is just one little piece,” Shanahan said Wednesday. “We’re trying to take care of all the details that we think are important to us. I thought it was important to us that we get back to the story of why we became the Maple Leafs. There are some subtle changes to the logo, but for those that thought we were going to look for some radical changes, we weren’t.
“We’ve got too much respect for our history, for the people that built this organization – guys like Teeder Kennedy and Syl Apps and George Armstrong. We thought that that era, our first real dynasty, was sort of the inspiration for what we wanted to do with the logo going forward.”
Somewhat incredibly, there were no outside marketing firms involved in the decision. Shanahan spoke to former players, team historians, NHL officials and others inside the organization before settling on a choice.
It’s not the sort of process a long, successful playing career or even his three-year stint in the NHL’s New York office could really have prepared him for.
But Shanahan is an extremely thorough guy – as my colleague Michael Grange eloquently documented earlier this season – and the logo issue had been gnawing at him since being hired by the Leafs in May 2014.
“I guess when I came here I just asked the question of why it ever changed,” said Shanahan. “I always loved the look of the original Maple Leaf. … It seemed most popular with our fans, our players loved whenever they had an opportunity to wear what they would call a throwback type of sweater with the logo. And then what we’re trying to build here and the history that we want to emulate is one that we identify more with that logo than the current one.
“I asked a lot of questions of why we ended up changing and didn’t get a lot of really good answers.”
There will be more nods to the past as the Leafs prepare to celebrate their 100th anniversary next season. Without getting into specifics, Shanahan acknowledged that he had other items on his to-do list.
Even if these appear to be small things on the surface, there is a significance to them for an organization trying to repair its image. All it takes is a quick look at the NHL standings – both current day and throughout much of the last 40-plus years – to understand it’s no small task.
Perhaps Shanahan’s greatest attribute is patience, which is something he’s brought to a front office notorious for having none. And yet even he acknowledges that the last couple months have been tough to watch – for him, GM Lou Lamoriello, coach Mike Babcock and everyone else working for the team.
“Mike’s a perfect example,” said Shanahan. “When he’s out on the bench during a game, he’s just trying to win that game. And we’re the same when we’re watching. It’s not like frustration doesn’t creep in; you wouldn’t be human and you wouldn’t be competitive if you didn’t feel that on certain nights.
“But it doesn’t change the fact that we’ve all come here knowing sort of what the ultimate plan is and some of the difficult roads that we’re going to have to endure as we try to get there. I can say this: That the ownership, our management with Lou and Mike and our coaching staff and our players and our fans, especially our fans, they get it and they’re supportive.
“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us still.”
For Shanahan, most of that work will be done away from view. He grew up a short drive from the Leafs practice facility in Mimico and has a lot of emotional capital invested in restoring some pride to the organization. Piece by piece.
“Everything that we do, big or small – whether it’s concrete or just gesture – it’s really about what we all have in mind of where we ultimately want to be,” said Shanahan. “We want to be a championship organization again.”
Every unlikely journey has to start somewhere.