As I wrote back then:
It is only a matter of time before the Computer Boys and Big Corsi are running the show. Until then, all we can do is sit back, grab another bag of popcorn and wait for the sequel. Maybe we can call it 200: Fall of an Empire.
Sure enough, Big Corsi has once again seized the means of prediction. Only this time, the revolution will be televised.
At 4:00 on Saturday afternoons. It is the Leafs, after all.
Anyway, the thing about successful revolutions is that when they happen, they happen all at once and they are far-reaching and comprehensive across the upper tiers of power. And that’s exactly what has transpired in Toronto over the last couple of weeks.
That being said, most revolutions aren’t usually publicly announced years in advance. But the so-called Shanaplan has been out there for all to see since early in Shanhan’s tenure. Even Lamoriello himself knew what was coming when he was first hired:
Lamoriello said Dubas represents the team’s front office future.
“I think he’s a young fellow who has tremendous abilities,” he said. “If he doesn’t become general manager here — I’m not going to be here forever — it’s his fault.”
Despite the fact Lamoriello was always intended to be nothing more than a caretaker GM, mentoring Dubas and allowing him to make the personal connections necessary to make it as an executive in the NHL, the hockey man did not go down without a fight.
But then, they never do.
So over the last few weeks we have seen a variety of efforts to prevent, divert, derail, undermine, subvert, and even co-opt the transformation going on in Toronto.
It’s like the hockey equivalent of the five stages of grief.
First there was denial, or at least efforts to prevent it from even happening. As soon as the Leafs’ season ended, and it became clear the Leafs had a decision to make in terms of extending noted hockey man, Lou Lamoriello’s tenure as GM of the Maple Leafs, the old boys network in the media went into overdrive.
The first stage was leaks to the press linking Lamoriello to the Islanders. First you had Kypreos on Toronto radio:
— SAB (@sab31nyi) April 26, 2018
While online, there was Eliotte Friedman musing aloud in 31 Thoughts:
This is me thinking out loud, but I’d be curious to see if the Islanders ask to speak to Lamoriello should Toronto not keep him in the same position. Son Chris is already there, and Lamoriello has a good relationship with GM Garth Snow. There’s some logic to it.
And then John Shannon came over the top rope:
As of last night, Islanders ownership had not approached MLSE to talk to Lou Lamoriello, who’s contract expires on June 30th.
— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) April 26, 2018
I found it quite interesting that these guys independently came up with the possibility of Lamoriello going to the Islanders on the same day. I mean, Kypreos said it on air before 31 Thoughts went up, and presumably Friedman had to have that in for editing before Kypreos was on the radio. And then there’s Shannon, hinting that he was talking to the Islanders the previous night about this whole thing.
But hey, maybe it’s just coincidence and they talked about it beforehand. Not sure insiders typically share that kind of info before making it public, but I’m almost willing to give it a pass.
Because the other option, is that this was orchestrated, and but the opening salvo in a PR battle to raise the pressure on Shanahan and Leafs to keep Lamoriello on as GM.
And when the prize is ostensibly the most sought after hockey role in the NHL, I wouldn’t put it past anyone to pull out all the stops to get keep it.
If this was the opening salvo, the media hand-wringing over a feud brewing between Mike Babcock and Auston Matthews was the casus belli. And coincidentally enough, that tempest in a teacup was started on the very same day by *checks notes* Nick Kypreos:
Nick Kypreos explains to Sportsnet’s Starting Lineup that somewhere down the stretch, Mike Babcock lost Auston Matthews, he went from his go-to guy, to someone he couldn’t trust as much.
And you really know an insider story is planted when it appears in two competing networks nearly simultaneously:
"Does Mike Babcock annoy Auston Matthews? Yes he does…I can confirm! But name any player you want – Mike Babcock is a button pusher."@DarrenDreger on the talk surrounding the Leafs star centre's relationship with his head coach: https://t.co/GT5rN3ahJG #TSNHockey pic.twitter.com/pxd9qbNBuE
— TSN Hockey (@TSNHockey) April 26, 2018
And what does this have to do with keeping Lamoriello on as GM? Because you can’t rely on a green-behind-ears whiz kid and his spreadsheets to mediate a dispute between your franchise player and one of the most intense coaches in hockey. No, you need a grizzled hockey man to do that.
Again, you can chalk this up to unrelated circumstances, but at some point you’re just another coincidence theorist:
Whatever the reason behind the full court press to keep Lamoriello on as GM, Shanahan stuck to his guns and his plan:
Shanahan says the original agreement three years ago was for Lamoriello to be GM three years and then transition for senior advisor for four years… The Leafs president stuck to that agreement.
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) April 30, 2018
And and as soon as the decision to bump Lamoriello upstairs was announced, things escalated quickly:
Lou Lamoriello won’t come right out and say he’s angry about being pushed aside as general manager of the Maple Leafs.
So I’ll say it for him.
He’s angry, he’s upset, he’s frustrated and he doesn’t understand or accept the logic Brendan Shanahan has applied in kicking him to a consultant’s curb with the hockey club.
But he won’t say a word about it. Not for public consumption. Not for a newspaper or a television camera. Not even to a close friend.
I mean, I don’t really know what to say about this other than either he clearly did say this to a newspaper guy, or if not, then the newspaper guy is clearly projecting his own feelings. Either way, the hockey establishment was in stage two: anger.
But outside that obvious outbust from Simmons, the rest of this anger was more passive aggressive in nature and largely revolved around undermining Kyle Dubas. The battle for the top hockey job in hockey was on.
Some were subtle:
If the baton is passed to Dubas, there will be questions. We know he’s young, we know he’s bright, but what we don’t know is, can he do the job? In sports, you don’t find that out until it’s decision time.
And some were not:
For the life of me, I can't understand why the Toronto Maple Leafs would choose Kyle Dubas over Mark Hunter for their GM, but that seems to be what the tea leaves are saying.
— Ken Campbell (@THNKenCampbell) May 1, 2018
That one was especially egregious, and Campbell doubled down on it in spectacularly bad way when called on it:
The worst part is that Dave Mayville was fired as GM of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds a full ten years before Dubas was there. But that’s how far the traditional hockey media was willing to go to undermine Dubas.
The attacks on Dubas quickly transitioned to threats that Mark Hunter would leave if Dubas got the GM job (let’s call this the bargaining phase). Sometimes, they did both:
“A lot of executives still believe that Kyle Dubas pales in comparison to the years of experience and multiple Memorials Cups [of Hunter],” Kypreos said. “The issue for [team president] Brendan Shanahan going forward is that if he decides to go with Kyle Dubas, he runs the risk of losing Mark Hunter, who would have a tough time answering to Dubas.”
You’ll notice there seem to be a lot of references to unnamed hockey men that unanimously think Hunter is the better option. Weird since it is Dubas who has been courted by numerous teams around the league, not Hunter. So you kind of need to ask yourself, just how “close” to Hunter is the “source” that gave Simmons this hot take:
A source close to Hunter said if Dubas is named GM, the car you hear on the 401 West will be Hunter heading home to London within minutes.
I could go on, here’s Glenn Healy sounding the alarm:
The poison pill is, Hunter didn’t come here to be a glorified scout. That’s your problem — you’re going to lose him.
You get the point. The hockey establishment was doing everything it could to keep a hockey man at the top of the league’s flagship franchise.
Alas, it was not to be.
Shanahan stuck to the Shanaplan, and the revolutionaries have seized control in Toronto.
The hockey media, however, seems rather depressed:
For the four years Brendan Shanahan has been in charge of the Maple Leafs, there has never been reason to doubt him or his nicknamed Shanaplan.
There is now.
When the hockey dust cleared early Tuesday morning and what was rumoured became unfortunate fact — Lou Lamoriello is now in charge of the New York Islanders, assistant general manager Mark Hunter has left the Maple Leafs mid-contract — the Leafs’ deep and strong front office had too many empty chairs and a rookie general manager calling the shots.
This may be the best or worst thing to happen to Kyle Dubas.
He can now surround himself with his people, his hires and appointments, build the front office the way in which he wants the front office to operate. Or, as one veteran hockey man told me on Tuesday: “He’d better know what he’s doing here.”
I wonder who that “veteran hockey man” might be…
That aside, I’m not sure Toronto’s hockey media will ever get past stage four and on to acceptance.
But enough about the entrenched interests trying to protect the status quo. Shanahan and Dubas have marched right over the opposition and now is when things get interesting.
As I said off the top, successful revolutions ensure they control all the levers of power. And make no mistake, this is a revolution. The hockey men have lost control of the NHL’s most valuable franchise.
And Dubas has so far done everything right in terms of building a management team that can withstand the inevitable challenges ahead. Lamoriello may have left on his own, but it was Dubas that decided it was better for Hunter to leave sooner rather than later. With those two out of the picture, he has been free to hire his own top lieutenants.
He started by promoting Brandon Pridham from Assistant to the General Manager to a full Assistant GM role, where he will continue to be in charge of contracts and managing cap space. And Thursday, Dubas brought in Laurence Gilman to take his old AGM role, managing development and player personnel. This is just the kind of hire Dubas needed. Not only is Gilman a progressive thinker about how to put together hockey teams, he has been around the league long enough that he can pass for a hockey man:
Leafs hire Laurence Gilman as 2nd AGM. He will be an excellent resource for Dubas. Strong ties to league office.
— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) May 24, 2018
Perhaps the hockey media has reached the acceptance stage after all. The Gilman hire was roundly praised by new and old hockey media alike:
Dubas hires Hockey Man who has Done His Time and Paid His Dues. Thumbs up from Hockey Insiders.
— LW3H (@LW3H) May 24, 2018
By letting Dubas not only start with a clean slate, but fill key positions with people who are open to structured, data-driven approaches to analysis and decision-making, Shanahan has helped to set his management team up for success. This is probably the most important thing to take away from the short-lived Computer Boy revolution in Florida. They never did have full control of the franchise. Tom Rowe was a hockey man in nerd’s clothing. You need look no further than the decisions he made as the coach, and the way he spoke about players and deployment:
Rowe on Thornton: "Go check our record when he's playing."
— Cats On The Prowl (@Cats0ntheprowl) February 11, 2017
We’ll see how things turn out in Toronto, but the signs so far are encouraging that this time, a balanced approach that brings together hockey knowledge and experience with analysis and data-driven decision processes might just stick.
While it’s true that they say the early bird gets the worm, it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese.