‘We’re here to win’: New MLSE president backs Shanahan and Treliving

Joshua Clipperton, Associated Press

Published on Friday, May 10, 2024 2:27 pmEDT

Last updated Friday, May 10, 2024 4:59 pmEDT

Keith Pelley recalled the first time he saw Liverpool play up close.

The Premier League giant with an illustrious football history in both England and Europe is followed by rabid fans who crave success.

The club’s anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” plays at their historic Anfield home at every match.

Pelley saw similar passion from Toronto Maple Leafs fans this spring during a brief foray into the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Leafs’ short trip to the playoffs once again ended in disappointment, just like most of the last two decades, if they make it at all. The head of the team’s multi-million dollar parent company wants to change this.

And it looks like change could be coming.

“The fans here not only deserve, but demand, a championship,” Pelley, the new president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, said Friday.

“There is no complacency.”

Pelley, along with Leafs president Brendan Shanahan and general manager Brad Treliving, met with the media for the first time since taking the top job at MLSE for a post-mortem of an organization that has failed to meet expectations. A first-round exit to the Boston Bruins is the latest in a long string of postseason failures.

“We’re not here to sell t-shirts, we’re here to win,” Pelley continued. “We’re going to do everything we can to make it happen.”

That means considering all options, including potentially breaking up Toronto’s so-called “Core Four” of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares.

“There are times when patience is the right decision,” said Shanahan, who has one series victory in 10 years at the helm of the Leafs. “However, when we see that patterns persist and results do not change, we have to adapt.”

Marner and Tavares, both with full no-movement clauses, have one season left on their current contracts and are eligible to sign extensions on July 1, but time has clearly run out due to the Leafs’ unwavering belief that this core can achieve it.

“When you go through a season like we did, everything has to be on the table,” Treliving said, a year after taking over after replacing former general manager Kyle Dubas. “Everything needs to be examined. Everything needs to be considered.”

Toronto has made every postseason since 2017, but has only advanced once, last spring when the Leafs defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning, in that time.

The club lost all four winner-take-all games under head coach Sheldon Keefe, fired Thursday after falling on his sword and taking responsibility earlier in the week.

Shanahan, who has seen Toronto lose eight of its nine series in the much-hyped “Shanaplan” era, also raised his hand Friday.

“The responsibility falls on me,” he said. “Our results in the playoffs have not been good enough. That’s on me. The results we have had in the playoffs, our players know it, we know it, I know it, they are unacceptable.”

Treliving said Keefe was fired after taking into account his entire five-season resume, not just the season they worked on together.

Pelley was asked directly why Shanahan remained employed with the same level of success in his decade in charge.

The former TSN and Rogers Media boss, coming off a nearly nine-year tenure at the helm of golf’s European Tour Group, did not respond directly. Instead, he noted that he’s been in his own role for just over a month, in addition to listing the former NHL player’s past accomplishments.

“He’s a champion,” Pelley, who was around the Leafs in the playoffs, said of Shanahan. “He is a three-time Stanley Cup winner. What I saw in my four weeks with the two gentlemen by my side showed me that chemistry and unity are being built at the highest level.”

That chemistry will have to be used to chart a path forward for a team that has loaded the net during the regular season (Toronto was second in the NHL with 298 goals) but consistently can’t break through in the playoffs, even against the Bruins. when the Leafs scored just 12 times in seven games.

Shanahan, a staunch defender of his stars in previous reports about the playoff failure, was asked if he still believes that talented quartet can make it.

The response was not encouraging for the future of the four-headed monster.

“It’s certainly become evident that we have to evaluate all of those things,” he said. “And evaluate whether we have to make very difficult decisions this summer to improve the team.”

There have been evaluations every offseason. But it seems the winds have changed in Toronto.

“More information is coming to you, different information is coming to you,” Shanahan said toward the end of the 45-minute news conference. “Certain things that you may have felt in the past begin to change.”

The information, to date, has not come close to obtaining the desired result for a franchise that never played a game in June and that has an ugly Cup drought that now amounts to 57 unbearable years.

“Good is just not good enough,” Pelley said. “We need to win. Nothing else matters.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 10, 2024.

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