A natural break in the schedule has presented an opportunity to discuss the bigger-picture items on the agenda for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
More specifically, what’s earned a considerable share of the discourse over the last few days has been the looming executive crunch (if you will) that faces the crowded boardroom responsible for building the organization back to, and since beyond, respectability.
As is customary with these new Leafs, the public is left to work with incomplete information as it glances toward the future. But as we’re led to believe, Lou Lamoriello, the man currently sitting in the general manager’s chair (and at least considered second-in-command in terms of influence behind team president Brendan Shanahan), will see his contract, as it was agreed upon, reach its expiration sooner than later once the season has ended.
(It is believed that his current deal does include a natural progression to an advisory role, of sorts. Whether he remains in the office or not, however, decisions on the current arrangement within the managerial hierarchy are indeed imminent.)
It’s entirely possible that Shanahan has already charted out the path, and perhaps even handed the mandate down to Lamoriello and the remaining managerial prongs, Kyle Dubas and Mark Hunter.
It’s also entirely possible that he, like the rest of us, isn’t sure just yet on how this will sort out.
Regardless, there’s one course of action that seems to make the most sense for the immediate future — the status quo. And a reminder of why Lamoriello was brought aboard in the first place provides the most sensible rationale.
Lamoriello’s value to the Maple Leafs when the organization made the surprise decision to rescue him from his unwanted role with the New Jersey Devils was as a table-setter for the 31-year-old Dubas. He would use his 30 years of executive experience and relationships forged across NHL circles to carry out the consensuses from the managerial nucleus in Toronto. This, while showing Dubas the managerial ropes.
It’s proven to be quite astute.
Though the arrangement has resulted in some variable organizational behaviour (an apparent change in draft strategy, for one), all together, so far, the group has pushed the right buttons.
Toronto jumped from 30th to 14th in the standings last season, and this year sit sixth in the overall table. And despite the difficult road, the Maple Leafs are certainly in a position to make a meaningful postseason run just two years after winning the rights to the No. 1 pick from the pole position at the draft lottery.
All that’s happened since Lamoriello’s arrival (and with the wreckage before that), however, is light lifting compared to the work that needs to be accomplished in that boardroom this summer.
Lamoriello has been there to complete the teardown, make contracts go bye-bye, sign big-money free-agent deals and bolster postseason rosters at the deadline. What he hasn’t done is negotiate a long-term contract out of entry level with the face of the franchise.
Let alone three.
Lamoriello has built a reputation in the NHL as a tough, no-nonsense negotiator. Why would the Maple Leafs waste that expertise, or significantly diminish the leverage he brings by shifting him to a lesser role, before the organization signs the three contracts that will ultimately establish the ceiling for the most promising generation of Maple Leafs hockey in a lifetime?
The work toward signing long-term agreements with Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner needs to begin the moment the Maple Leafs’ postseason run ends. It should be managed in concert — just as it all has for the last 32 months.
If at any point they needed a team or, better yet, obscurity with regard to role, it’s now.
What sense does it make to rush to promote Dubas (an executive with less time on this planet than Lamoriello has years experience managing an NHL franchise) or Hunter (a proficient scout, but one with very limited experience in contract negotiation) and make their first order of business to sign the most important contracts in the club’s 101-year history?
What’s more, why have them answer for these negotiations when Lamoriello is nothing if not an expert at getting things accomplished in silence, and a master of muzzling the media?
Lamoriello was always a stopgap solution, but he was brought in to do a specific job and those duties have not been fully carried out just yet. So his contract expires? If Lamoriello has proven anything in his time with the Maple Leafs it’s that lines can be blurred.
Until Matthews, Nylander and (to a lesser extent) Marner are signed, it would be a mistake to make the 75-year-old forfeit his position one rung below Shanahan, and see either Dubas, Hunter, or any other candidate fill the vacancy.
What problems arise following Lamoriello’s tenure — whether it’s Lou’s unhappiness with a lesser role, feelings of resentment lower on the ladder, or a mass executive exodus altogether — will pale in comparison to ones brought on by missteps in negotiations this summer.
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