Shanahan considers changes to Maple Leafs core with own job in jeopardy

Elliotte Friedman joins Jeff Marek to discuss his biggest takeaways from the Toronto Maple Leafs management's media availability.

TORONTO — Surely, this was not the first time president Brendan Shanahan failed to be the most forthcoming man on the Toronto Maple Leafs dais, trying to soothe a furious fanbase.

This was, however, the first time Shanahan was not the most powerful man up there.

So, with his own job finally in real jeopardy, with a flesh-and-bones boss to report to, the Shanaplan has been mercifully crumpled up and tossed into the blue bin in favour of a much more dramatic and complicated blueprint. One that is being drafted on the fly and, perhaps, too late.

And yet, the man himself has miraculously survived another Game 7 blown lead.

His once-unwavering faith, his stubborn dream and his original vision have not.

“We will look at everything this summer, and we will consider everything this summer,” Shanahan said Friday, during his annual post-season post-mortem.

“Everything is on the table.”

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This signals a new, if unspecific, tone, an about-turn from an architect who has octupled down on a supremely talented quintet of players that has delivered all of one playoff series victory over Shanahan’s 10-season tenure.

A man who has routinely believed that some injection of mystical “killer instinct” or the right combination of inexpensive role players — some other team’s castoff captain or confident Cup champ — could push the chosen ones over the hump.

You think they’re treated like gods now? Just wait for the parades and statues and the confetti guns when they go the distance.

Trust us: One more pebble, and they’ll bust the door down. You’ll see.

The cavern between expectations and results begs a question: If Shanahan wasn’t such a shrewd politician and wonderful hockey player — one who casually name-dropped some of his Hall of Fame Detroit Red Wings teammates during today’s Leafs debrief — would he still be getting an 11th chance?

Of the few tangible truths we did learn from the brass’s 45-minute state of the union, Shanahan’s tepid return is one.

“Brendan Shanahan is the president of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’s a champion. He’s a three-time Stanley Cup winner,” asserted Maple Leaf Sport & Entertainment CEO Keith Pelley, just four weeks onto the gig and sitting close enough to peer directly over his employee’s right shoulder.

Pelley is still poking around under the hood, and Shanahan is still under contract.

Whether the 55-year-old’s position gets renewed is up for debate and, it sounds, actually depends on the outcome of Leafs hockey games this time.

Kyle Dubas failed upwards, and Sheldon Keefe was severance-packaged out to sea.

You don’t need to be a proficient reader of tea leaves to understand that Shanahan is down to his last gasp.

We’re running out of scapegoats in these parts.

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“Good is simply not good enough: I can assure you, that is the collective position of ownership,” Pelley announced, with the kind of conviction that earns a man such a prestigious post.

“We need to win. Nothing else matters. No doubt, you’ve heard that before. But I am 1,000 per cent committed to it.”

In case there was any doubt that win means four rounds, not one, Pelley said a Stanley Cup was the “undeniable” goal — yet was smart not to box himself in by placing a timeline on that objective.

“The fans here not only deserve but demand a championship. And there’s no complacency,” Shanahan’s new boss said.

“We’re not here to sell jerseys. We’re here to win.”

To that end, there is now a realization that the status quo of Leafs roster construction — split between the all-stars and next fall’s recruitment of one-and-done hired guns — will no longer cut it.

“We’ve got really good players, but it hasn’t worked, right? It hasn’t worked,” said GM Brad Treliving, who did hit the right notes. “Everybody has to feel important.

“Winning teams have the unique ability for everybody to feel if they weren’t a part of it, they wouldn’t accomplish their goal. Regardless of minutes played, dollars earned, everybody’s important. And that is what is going to happen here.

“Forget about, on the first and the 15th, what you’re cashing. We are not going to have success here [unless] the guy at the top of the food chain or No. 23 on the list is important.”

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The obvious next step, aside from hiring a head coach (yep, Craig Berube keeps popping up as the rumoured front-runner), is broaching Mitch Marner and captain John Tavares about the uncomfortable idea of waving their no-move clauses heading into the final year of their deals.

Toronto must spread the wealth, share some of those “important” feels, and build a Cup-contending blue line, bottom six, and goalie tandem.

Shanahan was asked specifically about Marner and Tavares. His answer was slick and elusive and vague, but the bottom line is that everything will be considered.

He was asked if he still believes his core — Marner, Tavares, Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Morgan Rielly — can hang a banner.

Shanahan’s 63-second verbal tap dance around this straightforward yes-or-no query did not include the word yes.

How does one expect the players to drive directly to the net when their unctuous leader is so content to stickhandle around the perimeter?

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There is rich irony in Shanahan saying, “The ultimate responsibility is on me. The accountability is on me,” when the sword is falling on everyone but him.

And there is an element of self-preservation at work when the urgency to modify the approach only sets in when you’re the only suit left in the crosshairs.

One league source watching Toronto’s theatre from afar praised Pelley’s clarity and called Shanahan’s podium performance “a disaster.”

No matter. The president’s next actions will speak louder than any rehearsed soundbite or outside outrage.

So, we’ll see if the president can Gordie Howe hat-trick his way out of this mess, if he and Treliving — still relatively fresh to the curse’s sting, still excited to shape a more complete, grittier group — can mould an offensive roster into one that scores when it matters most.

“We seem to be turning the other team’s goalie into the first star every night,” Treliving said. “We’ve got to find a way to do the hard, unsexy things longer — and those things don’t require skill.

“We’ve got to dive into this thing.”

Shanahan was asked point-blank if he has only one season left on his contract, as has been reported. He didn’t answer. He likes secrets.

“My contract status will not be a distraction to me or the team,” Shanahan said.

The last Maple Leafs executive to make such a declaration is now working in Pittsburgh.

In Pelley’s meetings with the Maple Leafs ownership board, composed of Larry Tanenbaum and various people at Rogers and Bell, surely the subject of retaining Shanahan came up.

One owner emphatically told Pelley: “Just win.”

Shanahan is grasping his final stone.

For his own sake, he better knock that wall down.

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