Maple Leafs Relying On New Faces To Spark Turnaround
The Toronto Maple Leafs have a few new faces heading into the 2014-15 season, beginning at the top with the hiring late last season of Hall of Fame member Brendan Shanahan as the team's new president and alternate governor.
Though Shanahan never played for his hometown team, he has brought a wealth of NHL experience to his new role as head of the Maple Leafs, both on the ice and in the executive suite, having left his job as the NHL's Senior Vice President of Player Safety and Hockey Operations to come put his stamp on Toronto.
General manager Dave Nonis was retained, as was coach Randy Carlyle, who saw his staff replaced by former Florida Panthers interim coach Peter Horachek and Steve Spott, who previously served as coach of the Maple Leafs' American Hockey League affiliate, the Toronto Marlies.
Nonis also had his office purged when assistant GMs Dave Poulin and Claude Loiselle were let go.
That's where things really changed for the Maple Leafs.
Shanahan made his mark on July 22 when he hired 28-year-old Kyle Dubas as the Maple Leafs' assistant general manager. Dubas brings an emphasis on statistical analysis to his role, as well as a fresh approach, one that he garnered as general manager of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League.
Though Dubas has no NHL experience, he impressed Shanahan with his voracious appetite for all things hockey.
"I probably was expecting to have a two-hour meeting with him, and we spoke for seven hours the first time we met in Toronto," Shanahan told the National Post. "I finally begged him to let me take him to dinner because I was starving. He just had a lot of energy. He was challenging some of my own ideas and some of my own thoughts, and I was challenging some of his. He seemed to enjoy that banter and I enjoyed that."
As much as Maple Leafs fans can hardly wait until their team opens the season against the Montreal Canadiens at Air Canada Centre on Oct. 8, it's where they will sit in the Eastern Conference standings when they host the Canadiens in their regular-season finale on April 11 that will matter most.
After losing 12 of its final 14 games last season to miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the eighth time in nine years, Toronto will be looking to return to the postseason with a revamped lineup. Roman Polak and Stephane Robidas were added to shore up captain Dion Phaneuf's defensive corps, which features young talents Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner; the latter was signed to a five-year, $20.25 million contract in July.
"We liked our defense individually, but we didn't necessarily like how they fit together," Nonis told the National Post. "We feel it's a better mix."
Forwards Matt Frattin and Leo Komarov are back for a second go-around in Toronto while other additions up front include David Booth, Petri Kontiola, Mike Santorelli and penalty-killing specialist Daniel Winnik.
Phil Kessel's 37 goals and 80 points last season provided consistent offensive production while James van Riemsdyk had 30 goals and 31 assists. Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri were 20-goal scorers and Tyler Bozak had 19 goals and 49 points in 58 games. So the personnel on the top two lines is well established in Toronto.
And though it looked like Jonathan Bernier would have the No. 1 job in goal locked up, the Maple Leafs signed James Reimer to a two-year contract worth $4.6 million. Reimer struggled in 2013-14 and will be returning with what he understands to be a legitimate shot at claiming the lion's share of the goaltending duties.
"That's pretty much what I've been told," Reimer told the Toronto Star. "That's all a guy can ask for. All you want is a chance, and I intend to make the most of it.
"My goal is to go in there and be the No. 1 guy. Worst-case scenario: me and Bernier push each other and we get great goaltending."
MAPLE LEAFS' OFFSEASON OUTLOOK
2013-14 record: 38-36-8, 84 points. Sixth in Atlantic Division, 12th in Eastern Conference
2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Did not qualify
Pending FAs: C Jerred Smithson
Top 2014 NHL Draft pick: C William Nylander (No. 8)
Author: Sean Farrell | NHL.com Correspondent