Shanahan looks to Red Wings’ glorious past while shaping Leafs’ promising future

Shanahan models Leafs' future on Wings' past

TORONTO — When Brendan Shanahan was traded to Detroit in the fall of 1996 the Red Wings were engulfed in a 42-year Stanley Cup drought. When Shanahan assumed the Maple Leafs presidency in the spring of 2014, Toronto’s dry spell was at 47 years.

The Wings won their first Cup since 1955 in Shanahan’s first season with the club and added three more by 2008.  Shanahan is intent on following a similar blueprint with the Leafs, hoping to restore glory to a long-beleaguered Original Six franchise.

“I’d say with him it seems that he has a very clear path and plan that he wants to follow — in the way the team’s run and the way we want to play and things like that,” said Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk ahead of Sunday’s Centennial Classic meeting between Toronto and Detroit. 

“There’s a very clear direction for all that stuff.”

Detroit won championships with a combination of skill, shrewd drafting and patient development that was unparalleled in the NHL for almost two decades.

Shanahan has made those elements cornerstones of a Leafs team booming with high-end young talent, including Calder trophy candidates like 19-year-olds Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, and a prospect pool that’s thought to be among the league’s best.

It’s quite the turnaround from three years ago when Toronto last met Detroit in an outdoor game. At that point the Leafs were a marginal playoff team without any real hope of Cup-contender status.

“Now, it’s almost like we expect to win every night,” defenceman Jake Gardiner said. “Back then it was ‘Are we going to win? Who’s going to win this game?’ It was more of an unsure feeling.”

Arguably Shanahan’s biggest coup as team president was luring long-time Wings head coach Mike Babcock to Toronto on a rich eight-year deal, later hiring Ari Vuori, formerly a scout with the Wings, as the Leafs director of European scouting. 

It’s the idea of what Detroit built that Shanahan is chasing, a team constructed around skill that can sustain itself for years with internally developed talent. The Wings famously replaced Hall of Famers like Shanahan and Steve Yzerman with future members like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, a process that seems to be finally slowing in recent seasons with Detroit now in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1990.

Shanahan has tried to build a winning culture like the Wings of old, a process which started with the hiring of Babcock and general manager Lou Lamoriello in the summer of 2015.

“It’s funny because people talk about the culture thing; it’s a word that’s thrown around a lot, but how do you ever accomplish that? And I think it’s by little details that you have to focus on every single day to do that,” van Riemsdyk said. “It’s not just that you say you want a winning culture and it automatically appears. It takes time to kind of build that.”

While Babcock built a structured program on the ice, Lamoriello immediately altered the way things were done off it. The Leafs general manager implemented rules governing how players dressed, cut their hair, and even spoke to the media. He sought to emphasize team and tradition rather than the merits of any one player.

“That’s a big thing with him,” Gardiner said of Lamoriello. “It’s about the Maple Leafs and not just one guy.”

He added: “People think it’s not a big deal, but it’s just little things like that that kind of just bring out the professionalism in most guys.”

Just as they do in Detroit, Shanahan has tried to better honour the Leafs’ past, including a new logo honouring the Cup-winning teams from earlier eras. He thought it important that today’s Leafs shared the same dressing room as the old-timers participating in Saturday’s alumni game.

Babcock even had the group of former Leafs, which included Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour and Curtis Joseph, sit in on a team meeting.

Dressing room stalls made up for Mats Sundin, Johnny Bower and other team greats mirrors a tradition that has its roots in the Motor City. Legends like Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay were known to hang around the Wings in the days that Shanahan played and Babcock coached there.

“We saw it as inspiration and it was a reminder, again, that you’re playing for something bigger than just yourself,” Shanahan said.

Toronto’s Cup drought will hit 50 years this spring, but the Leafs of today and tomorrow look a lot like the Wings of old. That’s no accident.

“We’re hoping to restore our franchise to its rightful place and we’re working on that,” Babcock said.

Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Sooke’s Canada 150 Pageant has historical roots

20 skits planned to lay out history of the region

VicPD officers hurt in separate weekend incidents

Both altercations involved aggressive individuals encountered by police

Material spill slows traffic on Highway 1 near Victoria

You may experience heavier traffic than normal if you’re headed from Victoria… Continue reading

Pumpkin Lady carves Halloween niche

Sooke artist puts new spin on jack-o-lanterns

Victoria couple hope unmanned boat drone becomes first to cross Atlantic

Colin and Julie Angus, UVic scientists to have drone collect environmental data en route

Flu could see greater transmission in 2017

Health asking the public to get their flu vaccinations leading into a flu season that could start early and affect many in 2017.

B.C. NDP convention set for Victoria

Premier, federal leader Jagmeet Singh to add energy

Silver Creek farm search expands north

RCMP were seen collecting evidence three kilometres north of the farm where human remains were found

Flu could see greater transmission in 2017

Health asking the public to get their flu vaccinations leading into a flu season that could start early and affect many in 2017.

Nanaimo man assaulted, tied up and robbed at his home

Incident occurred about 7 a.m. Monday, Oct. 23 at a home on Beverly Drive

B.C. school trustee calls LGBTQ school program ‘weapon of propaganda’

Chilliwack’s Barry Neufeld published the comments on his Facebook page

B.C. casino accused of illegal activity follows rules: operator

B.C. had launched review after concerns about money laundering at River Rock casino in Richmond

Opponents of LGBTQ program to file human rights complaint against Surrey School District

District denied Parents United Canada right to rent Bell Performing Arts Centre for rally next month

Red hot Vikes women to host playoff opener

UVic Vikes This Week: basketball season kicks off at home

Most Read