In 1986, Shawn Simpson was the top goalie prospect heading into the NHL Draft. He would be the first goaltender taken in the Draft, 60th Overall, by the Washington Capitals.
He represented Canada at the World Junior Championships (arguably the most infamous tournament in history when Canada and the Soviet Union were both disqualified for the ‘Punch Up in Piestany’).
Simpson was on a path to NHL stardom until injuries derailed his promising career in 1991. He was only 22 years old when he played his last game in professional hockey.
Even more admirable than his accomplishments on the ice was his rebound from what others would consider a significant setback. Shawn became one of the brightest young minds in the NHL in the 1990s, serving as a scout until he was promoted to Director of Hockey Operations for the Washington Capitals before he turned 30.
Over the next decade, he would work for the Capitals, the Leafs, and go to the KHL as Director of Hockey Operations for the Dynamo Minsk.
In 2012, Simpson came to Ottawa and immediately became a favourite of many Ottawa Senators fans for his insight and analysis on TSN 1200. Over the last 9 years, many fans have been calling for him to get into hockey ops with the Ottawa Senators.
Though a shot at the NHL would be a great fit for Simpson, many would miss the insight, humour and analysis that he brings each day to TSN Mornings with co-hosts John ‘JR’ Rodenburg and Matt Hamer.
Shawn now lives in Ottawa with his family. His girlfriend, Mira Yasiri, is one of only three CIBC Business Development Managers in Ottawa and the only female in the role. She regularily connects business owners with experts to help them achieve their financial goals. Mira’s success with CIBC can be attributed to her own entrepreneurial experience. Mira was running a successful business by the time she was only 24. After two decades of leading her own company, she switched her focus to her two sons, and began a career with CIBC to provide the support to other business owners she wished she had during her own forays in entrepreneurship.
Mira and Shawn have been together for 5 years, and continue to challenge each other to grow within their new careers. We caught up with Shawn and Mira to discuss Shawn’s early career highlights, his transition from the ice to the boardroom, and how the couple continue to pursue their dreams in the Ottawa community.
You were drafted 60th overall by the Washington Capitals in 1986. Tell us a little about the day you were drafted. Did you have a feeling it would be Washington taking you?
This was definitely long ago but certainly some great memories. I played a year of Junior Hockey in Sault Saint Marie, which was a pretty long year. I was rated as #1 by Central Scouting, so I had a pretty good idea that I was going to be drafted. I had previously met with Washington going into the draft. It was a neat experience for me because I grew up as a Montreal Canadiens fan, and the draft was in Montreal itself. I had a strong idea that I was going to become a Washington Capital leading up to the draft and with that I sort of became a fan of the team. It was an extremely exciting day, and a really big deal to be there live. Going down to the draft table and getting to put a jersey on is a really tremendous memory.
Unfortunately, you had to retire quite young due to injury, but you quickly transitioned into television broadcasting for the Capitals. What was that transition like for you?
It’s actually really interesting… back in the day, Baltimore was the American League affiliate for Washington, and when I was the third goaltender, I did some colour commentating on the radio. I didn’t necessarily have a dream of that, but I did end up becoming a huge Washington Capitals fan. I felt like a fan doing TV; I knew all the players, they were all my buddies. I got to travel with the team and do TV at the same time, it was always a lot of fun.
You weren’t even 30 years old and you became the Washington Capitals Director of Hockey Operations. What were your main responsibilities in the role?
My main responsibilities when I started were scouting and running the summer development program, and I moved up from there. I was fairly young at the time, but I was basically the assistant GM in Washington, meaning I was heavily involved in all amateur scouting and contract negotiations. I was also the General Manager for Portland at the time, in the American Hockey League.
I was very fortunate to get that opportunity, it was quite the job and the title. I was really proud to have been a part of the Washington organization from ‘86 to ‘04.
You also worked as a Scout for the Leafs, then again as a Director of Player Personnel in the KHL and President of an IHL team. With that resume, do you have any aspirations to one day get back into management? Or have you found your true passion now with broadcasting?
Absolutely I’d love to. If the right opportunity came along at some point, and made sense from both a personal and professional standpoint, then for sure. I’ve been back in Ottawa for exactly ten years now and if I look at my life, my job, and where I’m at now; I am extremely happy. I’m not necessarily looking around for it, but if the right situation came along, I would consider it. But I feel very lucky to be where I’m at right now.
In 2016, your former co-host Ian Mendes wrote a very touching article about your relationship and a conversation you shared where you opened up to him. Tell us a little about your time working with Ian Mendes.
Ian was great. I ended up learning so much as a broadcaster, professionally and personally. He is such a respected person: both in the industry and as a human being. There was no doubt that we had really hit a nice stride when working in the afternoons and we had quite the following. So, it was a little bit of a shock when things switched up. I must say, sincerely, between Ian and J.R, who I work with now; you are talking about two of the best broadcasters in all of Canada and I don’t just say this because I’ve worked with them. It’s a simple fact. So, I’ve really been blessed to have worked with both of them. For the job I do and the experience I bring in, you couldn’t have asked for anything more, and I’ve been very fortunate.
Let’s talk about the Ottawa Senators. Would you give DJ Smith another season as Head Coach?
Absolutely. It’s certainly been a learning experience. I think he’s been given a lot of responsibility: in picking players, who dresses, tactically… and this past year I think he has learned a lot and made adjustments. The real key is that last year, all the young players played, and they’ve all improved. No matter who you talk to, the guys certainly love playing for him.
So yes, without a doubt. For where the Ottawa Senators are right now, he’s a great choice as a coach. And much like the young players, the young coaches involved are improving and I expect that to continue next year for both the coaching and the players. So, absolutely he deserves to be back.
Would you trade Logan Brown?
My philosophy with Logan is that he missed so much time and was injured so much, that at this point, if you’re moving him there’s going to be a lot coming back. I have a preference to stay patient and stay the course with a player like that. I hope he can have a good summer and stay healthy, and I would bring him back to training camp next year. That is still a big question mark for the Ottawa Senators Center Ice, and he’s a young man with a lot of skill, who has not been able to stay healthy. But no, I would not move him at this point.
You have Matt Murray locked in for another 4 years, after what has (to this point) not been a great season for him. What are you doing about the Goaltending?
What I would do, towards expansion, is that I would actually protect Gustavsson. Only because I don’t think Murray would be taken and then from that standpoint, you lose somebody. They’ve made their bed with Matt Murray and I think that a lot of the fortunes of the franchise, short and long term, rests with Murray. In the next three years, he will be making twenty-one million dollars, which is an average of seven million dollars per year; he quite simply has to be a top ten goaltender starting next year and really for the remainder of his contract. To be quite honest, I don’t know if there’s anything more pivotal for this franchise than where he’s at now. I don’t mind Forsberg as a backup, Gustavsson, Sogaard, and Daccord will be good; but if we’re talking about a team trying to get close to a playoff, get into a playoff and trying to win, like I said, in the next three years, it’s going to be all about Matt Murray. So, it will be absolutely critical that he be much better than he was this year.
Who is your Team Captain and why?
I would lean towards Brady Tkachuk and I would also say that I think Thomas Chabot would be tremendous. I think someone like Connor Brown is not bad, but I think this is a two-horse race at this point. Thomas is a tremendous leader, a good young player. It’s really nice that he’s a Francophone; I do think it might weigh on him a little bit. I’m not big on captains in Canadian markets, I think it does more harm than good at times, and puts undue pressure on these guys. But in Brady Tkachuk’s case, I think he can handle that, I think he’d be great with it and boy, I haven’t seen many natural leaders like him in all my years in hockey. It really feels like he’s got the pulse of the group, brings the group along and I think he’d be very deserving to be the captain no matter what kind of contract he is on going forward.
What do you like most about this Senators team, and what troubles you the most about them moving forward?
What I really like is that it is homegrown talent. I love the way thwey’ve drafted, the way they’ve developed, and how they’re developing; like the Ottawa Senators in the late 90s and early 2000s. It’s an identity. Fans know from draft day that they’ve got talent up front, talent on the blue line, talent in goal. I just like the way the process is going. I like the patience that they’ve shown so far, and I hope they continue.
What don’t I like? There’re still some questions about the center ice and more than anything, I just hope they can stay patient with it and that they don’t rush things and try to make Duchene-style trades or Bobby Ryan-style trades and just continue to stay the course; draft, develop, be good. I think they’ve really got volume both in quality and quantity, they are in a very good spot. My biggest fear is that they’ll try to push things to win now and to sell tickets; but I think that if they are patient, I think we could have something very special here in Ottawa.
Let’s talk about your life away from work. Tell us about your girlfriend, Mira Yasiri. How did you meet?
Mira and I met at a Redblacks game through some mutual friends. That’s coming up on five years and it’s been absolutely tremendous. We were both divorced. To meet somebody that I fell in love with, that I respect, and who is also my best friend, to be quite honest, I don’t think there’s much more I can ask for. I’ve been back in Ottawa for 10 years and personally and professionally, in the last five years in particular, things have just really come together where I’ve been able to sit back and enjoy. In this phase of my life, both personally or professionally, I feel fulfilled. I mean, you always want more on the professional side, but personally, I feel just very thankful to be where I am and to have her in my life.
You’ve been together for over 5 years. What is your favourite thing about her?
Honesty. That’s probably the greatest thing. I just find her to be such a salt of the earth, directly honest person in the kindest way, and I just really respect that about her.
Finally, Shawn, you’ve had an incredible journey with your career changes, your experiences with divorce, losing your job at one point, and more. Tell me about how you overcame those, and what advice you have for anyone going through something similar?
I think any phase of life can bring some ups and downs, I recently took a little time off work in the last few months. It’s important to be prepared and understand that things can happen that you can’t always control, professionally and personally. I think the biggest thing is to have yourself in a good place, to have a good network of family and friends so that when everything comes down it’s not the end of the world. I think the real message I would give to men at any age, especially over 50, is to never be afraid to seek professional help. Never be afraid to understand how the right medication can work on people. That true understanding of reaching out is a step forward. Educating yourself so that when resources do go south, you know there are things available to you that can help you out. I certainly understand this now from working and having gone through it, that there’s a lot we can do to make ourselves better. I think there’s a lot of men out there that need to not be so stubborn and need to reach out for help when needed.
Mira, what are your favourite things about Shawn?
Mira: One of my favourite things about Shawn would be his sense of humour. He always makes me laugh. He makes fun of himself and takes things so lightly. Life is easier with him around.
I also love his honesty and compassion. I never have to wonder what is on his mind. He knows what he likes and doesn’t and is honest with himself and me.
He is a wonderful human being and a great role model for my boys. I am blessed to have my little family.
Tell us about your two boys. What is your favorite thing about being a mother?
The boys are amazing. They are super in I don’t have one favourite thing about being a mother. I appreciate that I get to watch them grow. Then, I sit back and enjoy the show as they become their own little people. They make me a better person and fill my heart with love. They are my little piece of heaven.
They are super intelligent, compassionate, athletic, and ambitious. And of course, great looking!
I love their generation’s outlook on the world; they want to make the world a better place for everyone. So many of our conversations are about the importance of inclusivity and acceptance. There is no room for hate, exclusion, or judgment in our hearts. I am so proud of them every day.
Zach is thirteen, the teenager. He has grown up so fast. He’s only 6” away from being my height, and we often measure (laughs). We are friends and talk about so much. He’s athletic, but his passion is his education. He is very dedicated to school, and going into grade eight next year, he is already discussing Majors and University. He hopes to get into an ivy league school one day and is working on a path to make it so.
Matthew, who prefers to be called Matty, is eleven. Like Shawn, Matty is also a hockey goalie, and Shawn has been giving him pointers. When COVID19 is over, Shawn’s promised to be on the ice with him! Matty’s smile lights up the room and he’s the best hugger. Fun fact about Matty, ask him a sports stat and he will have the numbers for you and his future endorsements. He and Shawn often debate what they think teams should do with players and trades.
Tell us about your work at CIBC?
Having been an entrepreneur myself, my position as Business Development Manager at CIBC has allowed me to maintain my entrepreneurial spirit while playing an integral role in helping business owners navigate their way in the banking world and ease the pressures of running their own business.
Sometimes, I also help connect Business Owners with experts that can help them achieve their business and financial goals. Now I am completing my MBA to enhance my skills and develop my career to help clients and organizations achieve their objectives.
When you’re not working, what are your favourite spots in Ottawa to go out and eat at?
That’s a tough one. There is so much we like to do. We often get in the car, go for drives, and see where we land. For food, we love to eat Tapas style: little plates, and we share.
In the city, our favourite places are:
– Tavern on the Falls at sunset. Just beautiful. Enjoy a drink, have the fire going, and just perfect
– Most recently, we have loved Zizi’s in our Riverside South Neighborhood, of course. I mean, YUM!. It’s even been a great place for dates with the boys. Great family location.
– Chucks at the Trainyards and Nicastros, great sandwiches for picnics.
– Merivale Fish Market, just try their lobster, you will see.
– The Wood on Wellington, The Wellington Diner and Broadways are perfect pubs. Exactly the feeling we want in a pub. Friendly, good beer, delicious food, and great guys there.
But I feel we must recognize all the restaurants in the city. They have done a fantastic job pivoting during COVID, and we can’t wait to be out again enjoying all they have. Do I ever miss going to Sens and Redblacks games. I can’t wait for that day again. I’ll want to hug everyone, just like that Excel Commercial. That is 100% me.
Photography by Sean Sisk