If you look around the NHL, the Toronto Maple Leafs have emerged as one of the league's model franchises on how to execute a rebuild along with the Winnipeg Jets.
While they haven't reached past the first-round in this current regime, it was only a few years ago when president Brendan Shanahan pledged to turn around a franchise stuck in mediocrity into a sustainable, long-term winner.
Out was the GM, two coaches, and the faces of the franchise in Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel. The team broke away from long-term anchor contracts and opted to sign short-term deals that could be used to acquire future assets in the form of draft picks and prospects. A little draft lottery luck helped land cornerstone piece Auston Matthews before hitting on Mitch Marner and William Nylander, who helped build a formidable core with Morgan Rielly, Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner. Add in Frederik Andersen, John Tavares and the emergence of Travis Dermott, Kaspari Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson and suddenly the Leafs appear to be a contender for years to come.
But it's not just the on-ice product Shanahan and company have fixed. The organization has done an excellent job in repairing relationships and honouring former Maple Leafs from the past.
The running joke that Leaf loathers often use to take shots at the team is that they haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1967 - the final season of the Orginal Six Era. Following the Leafs cup win over the Montreal Canadiens, the Leafs missed the playoffs when the league doubled to 12 teams. The Buds lost players to the six-team expansion draft, and after years of tension, key components of the cup-winning team left after run-ins with team owner Harold Ballard and GM Punch Imlach over salaries.
One of those players was Larry Hillman, who asked for a $5,000 raise after the cup victory. Hillman wanted his total salary to reach $20,000, but Imlach refused to go any higher than $19,500. Hillman held out and was fined $100 a day for 24 consecutive days. A year later, Hillman signed with the Minnesota North Stars and declared the "Hillman Hex," essentially cursing the Leafs that they'd never lift the Stanley Cup again until his $2,400 plus interest was returned to him.
When Shanahan was hired, one of his goals was to repair the relationships with past Leafs who butted heads with the organization by honouring them with jersey retirements-- a policy that wasn't allowed -- and creating the Legends Row statuary located at the front of Scotiabank Arena.
In a recent article in Sports Illustrated, Shanahan reached out to Hillman and received the green light from the MLSE's board of governors to write the now 82-year-old a cheque of $2,400 along with the compounded interest of approximately 50 years.
Even if you don't believe in curses or despise the Leafs, you can't help but feel some admiration for Shanahan trying to patch up the past.
The Leafs are on the right path under the "Shanaplan," and this latest example further highlights that the team has turned a corner from their misfortunes of past decades.
We encourage you to read the full story on SI.com.