MLHS’ Anthony Petrielli chatted with assistant coach of the Maple Leafs Scott Gordon this morning. A wide range of Leaf topics are touched on in a more rapid-fire style of interview. If you missed them, be sure to check out previous MLHS interviews with Greg Cronin, Dave Morrison and Dave Poulin. .
AP: What was your role last year?
SG: I did the penalty kill. But we’re all involved as far as input in our system play and practice planning. It’s not just one thing for all the coaches, it’s a shared effort.
AP: How much input do the coaches have on management decisions? What’s the process here?
SG: That’s really a question for Randy. He’s more involved in that type of thing. Randy will ask us our thoughts on players but at the end of the day that’s between Randy and Dave. There’s a lot more factors than just liking a player; obviously salary, years in their contract, age. We as assistant coaches don’t have a lot of input on players other than our opinions that are asked, that’s usually between the head coach and GM.
AP: How familiar are you guys with the Marlies coming into training camp this year?
SG: Last year, during the lockout, all of us coaches came in at different times and we were able to watch them usually one or two weeks at a time. That way everybody was getting watched on a regular basis. It wasn’t about all of us being there at the same time as opposed to trying to stagger it so there’s an eye in the sky all the time.
AP: What’s the takeaway on Colborne, including his stint in the NHL to end the year?
SG: I think he’s starting to get stronger and all indications are that he’s having a great offseason. He’s put on some good weight, his legs are getting bigger, and that’s going to make him harder player to play against if he can maintain that over the course of the season. So we’re encouraged by his willingness and wanting to get better and stronger. To him that’s an important thing because when he was drafted he was about 180 pounds, 6’5, and there’s a lot of work that goes into being bigger and stronger and he’s putting in that time.
AP: Do you view Colborne as a center or winger?
SG: Well he’s been a center his whole career [editor’s note: he played wing in college], so I don’t know if that will change based on what our personnel is but as of right I will imagine we’ll see him mostly at center.
AP: So that means McClement moves to the wing?
SG: I guess. I mean, those are things that are still being talked about.
AP: Your top six is basically full, whereas last year you had Kadri on a scoring line and he thrived there. Since the roster dynamic doesn’t allow that for Colborne, does that mean you’re comfortable with him as a grinder?
SG: Yeah. The makeup of the team is a little bit different. Last year we had what would probably be considered three lines of scoring, maybe not as much depth on each line as far as scoring numbers. Whereas this year our top six is all guys who have had pretty good track records of scoring goals so hopefully that has the same effect as it did last year.
AP: In 2008, Ron Wilson said he’d only take Luke Schenn at 18 on the Leafs if he could crack their top 4. Is the thinking similar for Morgan Rielly now?
SG: That hasn’t been a discussion at this point. I think you go into training camp and let everybody do what they can do and then you make your judgement on them. We haven’t spent much time talking about Morgan Rielly and what his role will be or anything like that. It’s just a question of how he’ll do in training camp and then you go from there. That’s a discussion you have later down the road after training camp.
AP: Why was Gardiner in and out of the line-up, and what’s the plan this year?
SG: Well, obviously he had a pretty good start last year with the Marlies. Then, he had the concussion and I think it was about six weeks off, and it was a little bit harder for him to get up to speed. He just didn’t seem sharp, then he went down to the Marlies. Even coming back from the Marlies he wasn’t the same player we had seen before. Then, he ended up finishing the year with us and I think he figured out something and ended up having a pretty good playoffs for us. I thought he was strong defensively [in the playoffs]. Randy had some pretty good talks with him down the stretch, he seemed to take it to heart and got better in the areas he needed to get better in.
AP: Do you envision him as a top four guy next season?
SG: Whether it’s next year or down the road, he has that ability. He just has to put it altogether.
AP: What does a bigger role for Bolland mean?
SG: His role with Chicago might have been a little different just because they have a lot of guys that can put the puck in the net. Not that we don’t but, you know, he’s for us a guy that Randy seems to have a lot of confidence in just having seen him play against his teams in the past. That in of itself might lead to a bigger role than he had in Chicago.
AP: You dressed two enforcers for most of last year, and then stopped in the playoffs, so is the plan to go back to two enforcers or add another guy to that fourth line?
SG: As far as adding another guy, that would come down to what happens with the players that aren’t signed, and where the salary cap is, and if we have room or not. I’m not sure what the exact numbers are, but something will play out in the next month. But, as far as Frazer and Colton Orr, we all like that element they have as far as making our players feel comfortable, so I’d say there’s probably no reason that that would change.
AP: Why are two necessary?
SG: Well, I think part of that is the confidence that the coaching staff has in their ability to play the game. Some teams might have two on their roster but only dress one because they are maybe not the same calibre of player that our two guys are. You have to be confident that they can step on the ice and not cost your team. I think our two guys do a great job at that.
AP: Randy talked about three types of giveaways this year; do you split scoring chances up the same way?
SG: There are probably around six categories, whether it’s the result of a neutral zone play, offensive zone forecheck, faceoff, power play, penalty kill, defensive zone coverage/turnovers, there’s probably six or seven categories that we track just so we can keep tabs on where our breakdowns are happening or where we’re generating our scoring chances from.
AP: What are the plans to reduce own-zone time?
SG: The best way to reduce that is to spend more time in the offensive zone. Those are things that since Randy’s come in we talked about and it doesn’t happen overnight. We saw a significant improvement in our team being able to use the offensive zone more effectively even though it didn’t show the results in each zone as much as we’d like. I think some groundwork has been done that’s going to make it easier for us next year.
AP: Do you view Clarkson as a key guy in this regard?
SG: Well, New Jersey is probably one of the better teams in the league as far as puck possession in the offensive zone. He’s a bigger body, he uses his body effectively to get in on the forecheck and manage the puck down low. When you have more heavy players it’s a little bit easier to maintain puck possession.
AP: Cronin mentioned “quality possessions” as a point of emphasis, can you explain them?
SG: It’s a different thing. It’s more of wearing down the opposition by keeping puck possession in the offensive zone. Just being able to make the opposition defend entire areas and create confusion in the offensive zone. That’s something that you can’t really measure in a stat other than time of possession, but certainly it’s something that we work on all the time and stress it.
AP: How reliable are NHL.com stats?
SG: Every building is different. The people that take the stats, they have different discretion from building to building. It’s not so much the shots as those are usually pretty much a standard rule of thumb, it’s blocked shots and hits. We’ll chart hits after a game and it’s clearly not right because we’re watching the video. If you’re making contact with somebody that’s a hit, but there’s some buildings where the discretion is you have to separate the man from the puck. But that’s not how you define a hit. A hit is a hit. That’s where you look at the NHL stats and there are some inconsistencies from building to building.
AP: Do the shot counts not do you justice?
SG: Well, as far as shots go there are a lot of things that factor into your team giving up a lot of shots or getting a lot. I don’t think we look at the numbers as far as totals on just shots. Where our concern is, is the more quality of shots we get. We had a discussion yesterday and usually the goalie coaches are pretty good at deciphering whether they think your team gives up a lot of shots. Our goalie coach [Rick St. Croix] was of the opinion that we did a good job of keeping shots to the outside. And that’s usually what most teams say when they give up a lot of shots, but I think it is a good indicator because our scoring chances were pretty much even with the opposition all year long. Even though we might have given up more shots, I think there’s a commitment to making sure that we defended the front of the net better and the middle of the ice versus the perimeter play. There are areas we can get better at on the perimeter play, and like I said, the biggest way to cut down your shots is to spend more time in the offensive zone.
AP: Are you guys okay with getting better scoring chances, while getting outshot?
SG: Well, at the end of the day the most important stat is the actual score. We don’t judge our games based on shots for and shots against, we base it on the score. But we’re also judging our players on other categories that don’t show up on the stat sheet that have a lot more significance than what the shots are.
AP: Do you think Bernier’s puck handling can help reduce own-zone time?
SG: If your goalie is effective at getting out and stopping the puck, putting it to good spots and making not just puck plays but the right puck plays at the right time, then yeah it can help you. But just to go out and play the puck doesn’t make you a good puck handler.
AP: What about Reimer and his puck handling?
SG: It’s something he has improved at. There’s still room for improvement, he wants to get better at it, and if he continues to work at it I’m sure he will.
AP: Upfront you added Bolland Clarkson, and subtracted Grabovski, MacArthur, Frattin and Komarov. Are you concerned about losing depth?
SG: Well I think with adding Bolland and Clarkson those two players are probably guys that are going to fit our style of play more consistently, with the exception of Komarov. Komarov was a guy we would have loved to have back but obviously he got a good deal in Russia and has to do what’s best for him. But the style of play of Bolland and Clarkson play fits our team identity and we’re excited about them.
AP: Do you view Kadri as the eventual 1C?
SG: I mean it’s something that he needs to grow into and if he does we’re a better team for it.
AP: What about Colborne as a top six center?
SG: It’s hard to say right now, but we’re hopeful. Sometimes when you don’t get it right away, it’s better to grow into it by being a good third or fourth line center. Opportunities present themselves from injuries, and different play. I think with Joe he might have a bigger learning curve but at the end of the day there are a lot of tools there and we just got to try to get it out of him.
AP: What are your thoughts on Ranger?
SG: Well, obviously he’s not a rookie. He’s played some significant time in the NHL. From the reports that we had from the Marlies he was a very good player for them and he’s trying to get back into the NHL and if he’s going to be near the same player he was when he was with Tampa Bay that’s obviously good for us.
AP: Is Ranger a guy you’d throw in the top 4 from the get-go?
SG: It’s too early to say. He hasn’t played an NHL game in I don’t know how many years. We have to give him an opportunity to get back a feel for the pace of the NHL game and get comfortable. I don’t think any player that’s playing his first games in the NHL or been away from the NHL, I don’t think you want to jam it down their throats. He’s going to want to have a comfort level of knowing that he can go out there and play and not feel like he has to be the saviour. But you know, in saying that, he’s a guy that’s played in the NHL so it’s a different situation.