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Dave Nonis staying on helps the Leafs

Since the early 1990s, two NHL organizations stand out as ‘best in class’: the New Jersey Devils and the Detroit Red Wings.

Lou Lamoriello is the face of the Devils, and unmistakably the guy who calls the shots, but he still relies on his long-time Chief Scout David Conte and many others. Lamoriello employs a diverse, extensive and knowledgeable brain trust. As I’ve posted in the past, he appears to be a difficult man to work for if you’re a coach, and his track record of hiring and firing proves that (click on his name above to read the earlier post). But there’s no doubt that, since he arrived in the late ‘80s, he has built a strong organization that is competitive every year.

In Detroit, it all started with Mike Illitch taking over as owner of the Wings from the Norris family in the early 1980s. The Norris’ had slowly sheperded the team into decline, though former Red Wing legend Ted Lindsay did work hard to re-energize the moribund organization during his tenure as GM in the late ‘70s and early 1980s.

But when Illitch hired a young hockey scout, Jimmy Devellano, from the Stanley Cup champion Islanders to run his hockey club, it led to the drafting of Steve Yzerman and the team slowly grew from there. Since then, the Wings have won 4 Cups, and are consistently one of the best teams in hockey. They generally make shrewd trades (e.g. Kris Draper, Chris Chelios), judicious late-round draft picks (e.g. Zetterberg, Datsyuk and others) and hire first-rate coaches.

It’s been an organization that has somehow merged top hockey minds without irreperable conflict. Scotty Bowman, Devellano and Ken Holland formed a brilliant trio for many years, along with top assistant Jim Nill, and more recently, Steve Yzerman, all in conjunction with an outstanding scouting staff.

The thing is, a good organization needs a lot of top hockey minds—as long as they work in harmony, share similar values and are on the same page.

That’s why the recent announcement by the Leafs that they have signed assistant GM Dave Nonis for another couple of years makes tremendous sense. He may have been in the running in Tampa Bay for the GM opening, but looking back it’s likely Yzerman was their guy all along.

That said, Nonis is a top hockey guy who did a good job in Vancouver and is obviously valued and respected by Brian Burke. When you add Dave Poulin to the Leaf executive think-tank, the Leafs have strong hockey minds that can direct this organization for years to come. (Those who remember Poulin as a player with the Flyers and later Boston know he was a very solid player—and smart. His years coaching at Notre Dame no doubt provided valuable insight that will make him all the more instrumental in decisions going forward.)

As has often been said, there is a player salary cap, but there’s no cap on hiring at the executive level. The Leafs are doing the right thing by re-building not only the player base, but the hockey department as well. They’re a long way from being in a league with Detroit and Jersey—you need a track record of success in the market to earn that reputation—but they appear to be on a strong path, at least.
Toronto Maple Leafs hockey blog

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