The NHL world was abuzz last week with the news Brendan Shanahan and Trevor Linden are getting into the front office game.
Shanahan, an NHL Hall of Famer and former NHL director of player safety, joins the Toronto Maple Leafs as their new team president and alternate governor. Linden, the popular former captain of the Vancouver Canucks and former president of the NHLPA, returns to the Canucks as president of hockey operations.
Both fast the difficult task of improving the fortunes of their teams. Despite their playing careers and their respective experiences as league and PA executives, they have no front office experience with NHL teams. They’re being asked to succeed where so many before them (with considerably more front office experience) failed.
Linden’s appears the easiest task of the two. He’s beloved by Vancouver fans, and the Canucks until this season enjoyed a five-year run as Northwest Division champions, which also included two President’s trophies and marching to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
Canucks fans, however, are a demanding lot. They’ve come to expect their club to be among the league’s best, but are also frustrated by its inability to win the Stanley Cup. The Canucks are now a team in decline, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
They possess an ageing core built for a speedy puck possession style and a temperamental head coach in John Tortorella who preaches a gritty defensive system. Either Tortorella is fired, forced to change his style or the roster will have to be overhauled to fit his system.
Linden’s first order of business is to find a general manager who can address the club’s lack of depth in goal, secondary scoring and checking, as well as restock their depleted farm system.
Shanahan faces a taller order, joining a franchise which last won the Stanley Cup in 1967 and missed the playoffs eight of the past nine years.
GM Dave Nonis will reportedly retain his job, but coach Randy Carlyle is likely to be fired. Nonis didn’t do himself any favors by signing third-line free agent winger David Clarkson last summer to a ridiculously stupid, virtually unmovable contract. It’s likely any significant future contract decisions will have to get Shanahan’s blessing.
The Leafs possess talent but they’re lousy defensively and are among the worst puck-possession teams, to the point of denial in the latter category. They lack a couple of good shutdown defensemen, quality depth at center, reliable secondary scoring and fourth-line skill.
Shanahan is also entering arguably the most demanding hockey market in the world, with a media that won’t waste time tearing him down and second-guessing his decisions, especially if the club fails to improve.
Though Shanahan lacks previous ties with the Leafs, he comes in facing the same expectations as Linden. The fans and pundits are welcoming now, but that good will will turn sour if their respective teams fail to make significant improvement in the near future.
Succeeding where their predecessors failed will only burnish the already-stellar respective hockey legacies of Shanahan and Linden. Given the respective histories of both clubs over the past four decades, the odds appear against the duo. Only time will tell if they can overcome them.