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What We Learned: Preparing for Toronto Maple Leafs civil war

Ryan Lambert
Puck Daddy

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(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese)

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese)

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

All the changes made this summer to the Maple Leafs' front office have been fascinating, especially because they're so antithetical to everything the Leafs had pushed for years.

In the past, possession numbers have been poo-pooed, to the point that one assistant coach revealed the team doesn't even look at them. Anyone who would question “the process” put into place by Dave Nonis and Randy Carlyle, which led to two seasons of winning early and collapsing late, were scoffed at not only by the team but by friendly and immovably obtuse media members as well. But two collapses in a row prompted a new hire — Brendan Shanahan — who has taken it upon himself to make sure the Leafs no longer toil in the dark ages.

He got rid of the assistant GMs who were long-time NHL guys and whose ideas were decidedly stuck in the long-time-ago. He got rid of the assistant coaches who probably Great-Idea-Boss-ed Randy Carlyle to death at every opportunity. He brought in people, like new assistant GM Kyle Dubas, who better fit the mold of someone who'd help put the team on the cutting edge of the NHL's new frontier. He also made it clear that any and all moves would run through him, meaning that Nonis was, effectively, no longer the actual GM. And then this past week, he (and Dubas, presumably) built a three-person analytics department made up of two Yahoo bloggers and the Extra Skater guy.

Nothing in the world has ever sent a clearer message to a GM and coach in hockey history: “Your days are numbered.”

But because they're numbered means that they aren't over yet, and that must make for an uncomfortable and potentially mystifying work situation. Nonis knows, more or less, what his job is now. He comes up with an idea for a move, he asks Shanahan about it. The “stats guys” who are technically still under him then get input. Nonis then waits for someone to sign off, or tell him no. Given what we know about Nonis at this point, from his years of experience, the moves he probably wants to make will be met with refusals.

But Carlyle is in a much tougher spot. Because he and Nonis worked so closely for the last few years, and are of a single mind when it comes to how they think the games should be played, he has a lot of toys laying around that he really likes. Toys like Colton Orr and Fraser McLaren. Toys that actively hurt his team's chances to win every night. And so the question becomes one of whether management will step in and basically tell him that he can't use those guys every night, or at all. It's a pretty simple concept: If a player makes your team worse — and Dubas and the new analytics guys would obviously agree that this is exactly what Orr and McLaren do — then to allow your coach to play him is to allow your coach to cost you games.

This is especially true because they just spent the latter part of the summer adding actual useful players (Mike Santorelli, Dan Winnik, David Booth), and the inclusion of an Orr-type player in the lineup would necessarily preclude their full use. Which, again, runs counter to the apparent and new organizational philosophy.

Further, it should be noted that it wasn't just Carlyle's use of demonstrably bad players that weighed the Leafs' down in their efforts to make the playoffs, but also his ultra-conservative system. If Toronto lost a faceoff in the attacking zone over the last two seasons, it was like a footrace to see which Leaf got back to the far blue line first. Forechecking was almost non-existent for many stretches as a consequence, and teams were given free passage into the Leafs' D zone more often than not. The system, though, is apparently being revamped this summer, but the new form it takes might still not be conducive to getting possession of the puck even after losing it. There is no guarantee.

Clearly the ideas long espoused in Toronto are no longer the ones that successful managers who want to keep their jobs there will have. And so it becomes a question of whether these leopards can change their spots.

Not that one should expect Carlyle to have lengthy pressers about the merits of improving the fourth line's corsi numbers, but if he can start managing the club in accordance with the mostly new front office's wishes, then he just might be able to keep his autonomy — and his job — longer than most probably expect. But if things go wrong, Carlyle might find his new assistants starting to suggest different ways to fill out the lineup card every night — maybe without Tyler Bozak as the No. 1 center for once — until such time as a replacement can be brought in.

On the other hand, the new guys are probably looking for just about any reason they can find to give him a pink slip, and so the first streak of six losses in eight games with a pair of shootout wins mixed in could afford a double-sided opportunity. Those who want this new tactic to fail will be able to laugh at it just as they reveled in the team's early “Where are the critics of Nonis' off-season moves now?” type of way, and those who want the team to be good sometime in the next decade will be able to safely justify cleaning house.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Ummm. “What should expect from Gibson this year? If he plays to his abilities and is given the confidence to play the lion’s share of the games than he could have a Calder-type season, maybe even Vezina.” Ummmmmmmm.

Arizona Coyotes: You know this sport is out of control when even the announcers are picking up serious head injuries.

Boston Bruins: How are the Bruins going to replace Jarome Iginla? Oh, I don't know that it matters. I'd heard you can just go out and make anyone a 30-goal scorer.

Buffalo Sabres: I don't know that a team has orchestrated a “we're tanking” announcement as crass as the Sabres' idea of getting Connor McDavid to play a game in Buffalo this year. It would be great if they finished like 23rd.

Calgary Flames: It's like Brad Treliving woke up on Saturday and realized his No. 2 right wing was Brian McGrattan. Devin Setoguchi should be a decent player for the Flames, after all he's “only five years removed from a 31-goal, 65-point season while playing alongside Joe Thornton with the San Jose Sharks.” Yes, only.

Carolina Hurricanes: Basically everyone is just sitting around and waiting for Cam Ward to lose his job to Anton Khudobin. Tough to argue, either. Ward's game fell off a cliff.

Chicago Blackhawks: There's not a single ice cube in that bucket, Toews. Some captain you are.

Colorado Avalanche: The Avs seem poised to move their AHL team to Denver. (And the Colorado blue line.) (That's a good joke.)

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COLUMBUS, OH - APRIL 23: Ryan Johansen #19 of the Columbus Blue Jackets celebrates with Brandon Dubinsky #17 of the Columbus Blue Jackets after Dubins...

COLUMBUS, OH - APRIL 23: Ryan Johansen #19 of the Columbus Blue Jackets celebrates with Brandon Dubinsky #17 of …

Columbus Blue Jackets: Ryan Johansen apparently wants $7 million a season on a bridge deal. Only 18 players will make that much against the cap in 2015-16, with the bottom of that list consisting of the Sedins, Paul Stastny, and Alex Semin. Johansen wants to make more than Anze Kopitar, Patrice Bergeron, and Joe Thornton. Come on bud.

Dallas Stars: This headline can be applied to basically all Stars defensemen. That's the one potential hole in this team.

Detroit Red Wings: Yeah, Riley Sheahan is going to “develop offensively,” because he's 22 and that's what 22-year-olds do. But you probably need more from your projected second-line center than 0.6 points per game. Especially given that his usage was the easiest of anyone on the Red Wings all season.

Edmonton Oilers: I really want to believe the Oilers are finally taking a big step forward. I love watching their forwards play more than just about any young group in the league.

Florida Panthers: Nope, not a chance.

Los Angeles Kings: Great story here about Darryl Sutter's contented summer in his home town.

Minnesota Wild: Is Minnesota really a “desired destination for NHL standouts?” Thomas Vanek was their only signing of note this summer, and while that's not nothing, he also came in with the shine a little worn off.

Montreal Canadiens: Yo, just because PK Subban's dad is from there doesn't mean Jamaica is going to get a team into the Olympics any time in the next decade. There's a better chance of Cool Runnings 2 opening in theaters this winter.

Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: A new two-rink facility just opened in Nashville, and it's apparently pretty nice. Always great to see more hockey in Nashville.

New Jersey Devils: The Devils have a much tougher March and April ahead of them this season than last, including 10 of their final 19 being on the road. Bad luck already for these guys?

New York Islanders: The Isles will wear a patch on their jerseys this season to constantly remind fans on Long Island that they will no longer be playing there.

New York Rangers: Brian Leetch says Ryan McDonagh is good. Of course, he also says the same thing about Dan Girardi, so...

Ottawa Senators: Why, it's almost like being the captain doesn't actually bear the weight that media people like to pretend it does. So weird.

Philadelphia Flyers: Vinny Lecavalier needs to change his game? The devil you say.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Dan Bylsma on the changes Pittsburgh made this summer. “If Ray Shero wasn't the best GM in hockey, he was definitely top three. That's what I believe.” Sorry, no.

San Jose Sharks: It's a little early for this type of pronouncement.

St. Louis Blues: All the former Blues playing in that Pavol Demitra memorial game was really very nice.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts having a decent following in Tampa doesn't “disprove a myth” that Florida is a non-traditional market. It's a non-traditional market. Tampa just does well there. There's a difference.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The best part of all this turnover for Toronto is the ret-conning of how things used to go. Darren Dreger says they used their own analytics, for instance. This despite the fact that they 100 percent did not and told everyone so repeatedly.

Vancouver Canucks: Is there anything Trevor Linden can't do?

Washington Capitals: The NHLPA rookie showcase kicks off in Virginia this week, and the Caps will have some serious representation there.

Winnipeg Jets: Last week, Andrew Ladd favorited a tweet that made fun of how bad the Jets' summer has been. It is being written off as an honest but regrettable mistake. Hey, remember that time Evander Kane favorited a tweet that said he should be traded to Philadelphia, and everyone in Winnipeg got really mad? Hmm, I wonder what the difference between these two favorited tweets is.

Gold Star Award

Hockey season being back overseas means we already get to watch stuff like this. I miss you, hockey.

Minus of the Weekend

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(Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

(Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)


Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “mtgoul89” is mixing in all the classics here.

To Toronto:

Eric Staal
Jay Harrison
2015 3rd round pick

To Carolina:

Nazem Kadri
Jake Gardiner
2015 first round pick.

Even the people who get paid to be in there don’t want to be in there! That’s how terrible it is!

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here

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