Where has the time gone? Brendan Shanahan repeats part of the question in a lengthy conversation as his sixth season as president of the Maple Leafs is about to begin.
So where has the time gone? There was the season of observation and firings. The season of tanking. The hiring of Mike Babcock, then Lou Lamoriello. The promotion of Kyle Dubas to general manager. The three years of buildup and some playoff progress, and more playoff disappointment.
And now this, Year 6 of the Shanaplan — where expectations are high, the pressure may be ever higher, and where he will barely comment on the hot topic of the day, a camp opening without the Leafs’ leading scorer, Mitch Marner.
“I don’t want to get into that,” he said, biting his tongue just a little.
He got into the William Nylander conversation last year and he wound up regretting it.
“I don’t think it’s productive in any way or helpful to comment about it while we’re going through it. It wouldn’t be helpful for either side,” Shanahan added.
He will talk about the eventual naming of a captain of the Maple Leafs. There will be one — maybe even to start the season. He isn’t saying when or who, but almost everything seems to point in the direction of Auston Matthews wearing the ‘C’.
“I like our leadership group,” said Shanahan. “I like that we have several different really good options. I’m not speaking out of school, I believe Mike (Babcock) and Kyle (Dubas) and I, we will have a captain this year. And I think we have several good options. Only one person is going to wear a ‘C,’ but you need lots of captains.
“You might be the leader on the ice, another guy might be the leader in the room, another guy might be the leader on the road, there’s nothing wrong with lots of leaders. What’s Matthews, 22? He’s 21, I think. He’ll be 22 soon. I feel that all players constantly evolve, you have to succeed. You’re never settled. The moment you get settled you start to decline. I see upside for all our (young leaders — Matthews, Morgan Rielly, maybe Marner).
“I see a lot of players reach their statistical peak at a young age and then I see their games evolve in a more intelligent way in their late 20s. I think Sidney Crosby, even though he won a championship as a younger player and had his statistical peak when he was younger, there’s a maturity about him that’s grown and grown over the years.”
He says that and you almost hear him talking about Matthews the same way. This may be Year 4 for Matthews — four of the six Shanahan seasons — but in each of them, his game has grown and his maturity has been on display, and that’s the Crosby-like growth Shanahan wants to see from his emerging stars.