By Stan Smith & The Old Prof

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs Quick Hits, we’ll look at the unique situation of the next general manager (GM). As well, given what we’ve heard about how decisions have been made over the last few seasons, it conjured up the idea of simply hiring a “Yes man” for the GM job.

In this post, we’ll look at what the new GM might have to personally negotiate in his job with the Maple Leafs. We’ll also look back at the disastrous dismantling of the Maple Leafs’ hockey team under the leadership of iconic owner Harold Ballard.

We’re not saying there’s any link at all – except that the idea of a “Yes man” reminded us of a previous time in Maple Leafs’ history that did not turn out so well.

Related: Just How Attractive Is the Job of Maple Leafs GM?

Message to Next Maple Leafs GM

Message to whoever becomes the next Maple Leafs’ GM. You are not the boss. This is Brendan Shanahan’s show. The Shanapan is not dead, at least not yet.

It won’t matter whether the position is filled by an experienced  GM with a considerable track record, like Brad Treliving, or someone like acting GM Brandon Pridham, who has never held a GM job before. The new Maple Leafs GM needs to realize the position they will be in. 

Brad Treliving, perhaps Maple Leafs new GM?

On that note, the person will have to be someone who shares a similar vision with Shanahan about how a team should be built. It is obvious now that the former GM, Kyle Dubas, and Shanahan did not share the same vision. While the two of them tried to compromise their beliefs, ultimately they failed to do so. 

Must the New Maple Leafs GM Be a “Yes” Man

By the way, we are not advocating that the job be filled by a “Yes man.” The upside of working with a “Yes man” is that there are no arguments. The downside is that there’s no extra thinking or input taking place. And, as the old saying goes, two heads are better than one. “Yes men” provide no extra insight.

What we don’t know is how much input the new Maple Leafs GM will have. It would be good if the person had a pulse and an insight or two to contribute to the running of the team. We would suppose that the new hire would do more than just what they were told. Even if authority and autonomy are lacking, the person should be someone who shares similar ideas about how the game should be played and the best way to build a team and to see those ideas through. 

Heck, for all we know, maybe it does have to be a “Yes” man. Someone who will simply do the grunt work and handle the day-to-day operations. Perhaps, all the important decision-making will be left to Shanahan.

Related: Complexities of the Maple Leafs Signing Matthews to an Extension

Remembering a Failed Season of Maple Leafs “Yes Men”

All this talk of “Yes men” reminded us of another time many seasons ago with the Maple Leafs. Harold Ballard, during his time as owner of the Maple Leafs, had several individuals who were known to be “yes men” during his tenure. One example was Floyd Smith, who served as the coach of the Maple Leafs from 1979 to 1981 at a time when significant changes were occurring.

The 1979-80 season was a turning point for the Maple Leafs, and not in a good way. The team underwent a major overhaul. Before the season, Ballard dismissed GM Jim Gregory and head coach Roger Neilson. Ballard then brought in Punch Imlach, who had previously served as the Maple Leafs’ coach and GM during their last Stanley Cup win in 1967. Imlach hired Smith as the team’s head coach. Smith, a former Leaf player, had previously coached under Imlach during his tenure as the Sabres’ GM.

A team that was promising the year before was dismantled. Not only did management and coaching change, but several key players departed. Lanny McDonald was traded to the Colorado Rockibefore to the 1979-80 season, in a controversial move that was made to undermine Darryl Sittler’s influence on the team.

The 1979-80 Maple Leafs Had Successful Regular Seasons, But Poor Postseasons

The Maple Leafs had enjoyed success in previous years, particularly in the regular season. However, they had struggled to beat the Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs. These changes were an attempt to bring success to the team. However, despite the moves, the Maple Leafs never achieved their desired playoff success during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Head coach Smith was a loyal supporter of Ballard – a “yes man.” He wouldn’t challenge Ballard’s decisions or provide independent viewpoints. While Smith’s relationship with Ballard allowed him to keep his job, it didn’t help the team attain on-ice success.

Ballard’s management style was autocratic and almost always controversial. He almost always surrounded himself with people willing to defer to his authority. This approach limited dissenting voices and led to a lack of accountability within the organization.

While we don’t see the two situations as directly comparable, the 1979-80 season shows the poverty of employing people who only agree with management’s decisions.

The Bottom Line

However the hiring of the next Maple Leafs’ GM goes, given the team’s situation that includes core player’s contracts ending in the foreseeable future, there’s no room for error. There’s little time to grow. 

This team, as it is presently constructed needs to take the next step now.  It mly be now or never.

Related: Why Brad Treliving Is Growing on Me as Maple Leafs’ GM

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