They toppled loudly this week: Lou Lamoriello, the 75-year-old architect of three Stanley Cup champions whom Dubas replaced after a three-year apprenticeship in Toronto, departed for a president of hockey operations role with the New York Islanders. Mark Hunter, the 55-year-old assistant general manager whom Shanahan passed over in favor of Dubas, "mutually parted ways" with the Leafs to find a GM gig elsewhere.
One decision. Two departures. Many questions about the Leafs' future.
ESPN spoke with Shanahan on Tuesday, after both departures were made official.
ESPN: The common perception right now is that you promoted Kyle, and that made two guys leave. How do you push back on that?
Shanahan: I don't push back on anything. When you make decision as an organization, there are going to be people that wanted that position that are going to look to find it elsewhere. I knew going into my decision that if I had made a decision for somebody else, there would be other people looking to move on as well. I can't focus on the people who want to leave, as much as the person I want to put in the head decision-making role for the Toronto Maple Leafs going forward. I knew there was going to be interest in Lou, and that Mark wanted to be a general manager.
None of the announcements today have caught me by surprise. I never like having to say goodbye to people that you like and have good friendships with, but it's just part of the evolution of building an organization. I think right now Kyle is really well suited to take this team forward.
ESPN: There's also a perception that had you kept Lou in place, none of this would be happening. That he stays GM, Kyle and Mark are still his assistants, and that this front office that has put the Leafs on the right track remains intact. So, why not keep him? What's the reason to make this change now? Was it out of fairness to Kyle, to not keep him here on the promise of getting the big job one day?
Shanahan: You're obviously much nicer than I am. I don't make any decisions that are designed just to make someone happy. My job is to make decisions that I think are best suited for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
After four years, I was able to see behind closed doors, and up close, not only just the decisions that were made but the process through which those decisions came about, it was about being proactive and choosing the right person to run our organization right now. It wasn't about promises that were made. It was about doing what the organization needed right now.
As far as outside perceptions go ... I think it's important to be aware of them, but if you allow them to shape or change your decision, especially in a place like Toronto, then you're going to have a very difficult time.
ESPN: You put together an incredible front office. For three years, they were moving together, building a contender to bring a Cup to Toronto. Now, because of one decision, it falls apart because of one personnel move. Are you at all disappointed that the cabinet couldn't be kept together?
Shanahan: No. I really do believe that there are different people meant to be with an organization for different stages of its development. I also think that although our organization isn't where we want it to be, we've had some success. And because of that, different organizations want to approach your people. That's never going to end. If certain people are doing well, you're going to be approached. If someone has something better to offer, then you're going to see people move on, unless you're willing to give that person the ultimate job. And the general manager job can only go to one person, so for me it was about picking the right person now, and going forward.
Lou's contributions were exactly what we needed at the time. But he did a great job mentoring our candidates, and they were just ready. The contract that he and I agreed upon three years ago ... it's not that he or I couldn't have changed things, but as I reassessed where we were, I felt it was the right decision back then and the right decision going forward.
ESPN: You've known Lou since you were a teenager. When he was announced as a "senior advisor," that meant he was gone, right?
Shanahan: I don't think Lou would have signed a contract three years ago if he didn't think that was a possibility [he could stay]. Things can change. People can feel differently three or four years down the road. I knew that was certainly a possibility. I thought he was energized coming to Toronto. If he wanted to take on a new challenge, that's entirely up to him. I think [the Islanders] are a good fit for him. And I've got nothing but good things to say about Lou.
ESPN: What have your conversations with Kyle been like in the last week? Was there ever a moment when you had to kind of say, 'Hey, don't take any of this personally?'
Shanahan: No, no. Kyle is a pro. People keep focusing on his age a little less than his experience. I think he understands the way this works. It's been four years with the Maple Leafs. Our conversations have really been about what we do going forward. He knows the organization as much as anybody. He's helped me build a lot of the infrastructure around him, whether it's the R&D or player development or the sports science ... these were all challenges handed to Kyle that he handled for us.
The organization, as it's built currently, Kyle has been an important architect of it. Like I said before, I have the ability to look behind closed doors and see decisions that were made and decisions that weren't made. Seeing where people stood in those decisions. I felt very comfortable I was making my decision based on what I've seen here with the Leafs.
ESPN: Are you saying that in knowing what happened in these internal debates, that your ideology for the team better aligns with Kyle's than that of Lou or Mark?
Shanahan: I'm not saying I'm down with his thought process over theirs. I'm saying I've been able to see his process, to see the mentoring that's gone on with him, and I've been able to see the work that he did with the Marlies -- to maintain success with them, despite graduating so many players. It's not to say his decisions were better than anyone else's. It's about assessing Kyle. I made him general manager. I like the way he sees the game.
ESPN: Finally, do you think the coverage of Kyle has been fair? In Toronto, we've had anonymous sources talking about Mike Babcock steamrolling him or now saying the decision to promote him cost the Leafs two executives, and of course all the Harry Potter jokes you could deal with.
Shanahan: I don't think it really matters. What'll matter is his body of work. People have short memories, but when I hired Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello three years ago, and I have Kyle and Mark Hunter, I heard a lot of these same exact concerns. That there were too many chefs in the kitchen and that this would never work. That the coach and GM would clash. That it just wasn't going to work.
I heard those things three years ago, and I said, it's our challenge to make it work. I think there will be some people that say it's a great idea. Some that say it's not. Ultimately, we're all going to be judged by our body of work.