An interview with Toronto Marlies head coach Steve Spott


MLHS’s Michael Stephens conducted an in-person interview with Steve Spott, head coach of the Toronto Marlies, at the Mastercard Centre earlier this week. Spott touched on a wide variety of Marlies-centric stuff, including the biggest challenges facing the team headed into the new season and the  opportunities the Leafs prospects will be embarking on in the 2013-14 campaign.

Here’s a handy list of links to all the other Summer Interviews:


Michael Stephens: As a Toronto boy you must be excited to be back here coaching for the Marlies.  What’s the experience been like so far?

Steve Spott: It’s been great.  I feel that the people here in the organization have been first class.  Just being back in the city, feeling the vibe of the Leaf Nation is exciting.  Being a boy from Toronto, being in this building and being around it now is humbling and I’m really excited for it.

MS:  They say the Toronto Marlies is the 31st best coaching job in hockey.  What are you going to do to make the most of this opportunity? What are you looking forward to?

SS:  Making the jump to pro hockey is something I think every coach aspires to do. And to leave the situation that I left, Kitchener was very unique.  The way they treat their staff and their players is first class.  Coming to Toronto it’s much the same but at the pro level.  But ultimately for me it’s about winning and it’s about developing players.  I think we’ve done a good job in Kitchener developing our players and here it’s no different.  We’re going to be graded not only on winning but on the amount of players Randy Carlyle gets to work with.  So, that’s a great challenge.

MS: Speaking of development, you’ve coached Joshua Leivo in Kitchener, who’ll be making the jump to the Marlies this year.  Have you talked with him about what it’s going to take to make the leap to the next level of development?

SS: Yeah, we have talked. Coming out of junior hockey it’s about learning to be a pro every day. Josh has to work on little things: shift length; training every day; eating right every day is something he has to develop.  But being around good character people is going to make him better.  We are going to have to make sure our veteran players are going to be like surrogate coaches for all of our young guys.

MS: Speaking of veteran players, there really aren’t that many on the roster.  You’re seeing a lot of guys who are recent grads from the OHL ranks.  Was that a big reason why MLSE wanted you to be coach of the Marlies? You’ve seen about a dozen of these guys for 3-4 years.

SS: I think that it was a staple of the interview, where we talked about the familiarity.  Not only with players I’ve coached in junior, but being a guy who played in the NCAA and now have coached in the Ontario Hockey League.  I will be able to relate to college players as well.  Then, through Hockey Canada I’ve dealt with international players.  So  I like to think that my war chest is where it needs to be to help develop the players and give them the comfort to come in and talk to me when times are tough.

MS: What’s the biggest challenge for you going from Junior to the AHL?

SS: Grinding the players.  And I think that’s where Gord [Dineen] and Derek [King] will be important.  You grind your guys pretty hard in Junior every day.  Here, there’ll be days where you’ll have to lay off and give days off.  So I think trusting your staff, and giving the boys a day off so they’re rested for the right time will be the biggest challenge.

MS: You’ve coached Jerry D’Amigo before in Kitchener, and he’ll be fighting for a spot with the Leafs in camp.  Where do you see him fitting with the Marlies versus the Leafs?

SS: It’s finding your role and playing it as well you can.  For Jerry, he’ll probably find himself getting a lot more power play time this year with me than maybe he’s had in the past.  But if he’s going to play for the Leafs, he’ll probably be used as a penalty killer.  So he’ll have to choose what skills he wants to focus on. If he wants to play for Randy he’ll need to learn his role.

MS: You mentioned earlier that you wanted to ice a fast team.  Do you think you have the personnel to do it?

SS:  Our backend is going to be pretty mobile.  But (generally) I don’t want our players sitting back.  If they are going to be viewed by the Maple Leafs management on a daily basis, I want those people to see what these players can do, and they’re gonna do it with speed.

MS:  How often are you speaking with Dave Poulin?

SS: Every day.

MS: What about? Roster decisions? Strategy heading into the season?

SS:  Right now it’s about our players, primarily.  Obviously that’ll grow once we have our team fully together.  And then it will turn to player progress.  We’re going to do player evaluation after every game and he’ll be a big part of it.

MS: I just saw Colton Orr walk by, and Nazem Kadri is on the ice.  How important is it to have everyday NHLers at the early stages of camp around the prospects?

SS: Hugely important.  It’s great for the prospects to see how they train, how they work, how they eat. So that’s a part of it.  But now, for a player like Tyler Biggs, having access to video of David Clarkson is going to be great for him.  We can show him Clarkson clips and he can say what David’s doing to be the player that he is today. And hopefully Tyler can replicate that.

MS: How often do you guys use video in this way?

SS: A lot.

MS: And do you pick a player as an archetype, break down the video, and say, ‘play like him?’

SS: Yep.

MS: So, would Jay McClement be a guy for D’Amigo to model his game after?

SS: McClement is definitely a guy we want D’Amigo to model his game around.  Crescenzi also.  For David Broll, Lucic in Boston.  It’s about teaching.  I was a teacher by trade for five years and it’s about trying to give these players every resource to be successful. And I think a lot of these guys are visual learners now; they need to see.  It’s a big part of what I do.

MS:  You’ve coached Morgan Rielly internationally a few times now, and you’ll probably get a chance to coach him again next spring.  What are your thoughts on him?

SS: Well… his offensive play, his skating ability and passing ability; I think they’re well renowned.  I think it’s responsibility.  That’s the biggest change in his game. Now you feel safe when he’s out on the ice.  He’s been eliminating risk out of his game.  [He understands that] One point can mean a playoff spot or home ice, and he’s taking the steps to round out the game.

MS: What do you think is going to be the Marlies biggest chall–

SS: Scoring.  Definitely scoring.  Our biggest challenge is going to be up front.  We’ve lost some players to Toronto who were world class players.  So now we’re giving a lot of new guys who haven’t had that opportunity – like the D’Amigo’s of the world – to have that opportunity in an offensive role.  Saying that, we also understand that we don’t have Nazem Kadri anymore, a player with things you just can’t teach.  So I think it’s going to fall on guys like Greg McKegg and Sam Carrick.  These are guys that are going to get a lot more offensive chances, I think, than maybe they have in years past.

MS: How does this affect the defensive make up?

SS: Well, I think the D are going to be a big part of our attack.  They’re going to be pretty active from the points.

MS: Who do you think will take over as Captain?

SS: Through team building, that will sort itself out.  I can’t say there’s a clear cut Ryan Hamilton in that dressing room yet.  So that’ll work itself out in the future.

MS: Are you motivating certain players to fight for a letter? Possibly someone like McKegg needs to take a step forward.

SS: Absolutely, I agree.  Yeah, all of the guys that are coming to their third or fourth camps, those are the guys that have to take not only on-ice leadership, but off-ice leadership.  Before games, saying the right things, becoming surrogate coaches to the other players in the room. He’s [McKegg] a guy who really comes to mind that’ll have to step up in that area.

MS: The Marlies have won the North Division two seasons in row.  Are you excited, or nervous to be stepping into that? Seems like a tough act to follow.

SS: Well, everyone’s telling me it’s going to be a struggle, but the expectation for coaches doesn’t change.  We want to make sure that we’re in contention.  We’re going to give an opportunity to our young players early, but then it’s going to be up to them to take advantage of that.

MS: Have Derek King and Gord Dineen helped in getting you prepared for the season? What’s the next step?

SS: They have been.  We’ll see [Leafs video coach] Chris Dennis tomorrow. We hired a new video coach, Mark Phalon, from Northeastern.  So we’ll meet now as a staff and get our technical plan in place.

MS: You also hired a new goalie coach

SS: Piero Greco, yeah.

MS: What can you tell me about him?

SS: Passionate, hard working.  He’s very demanding of his goaltenders: he expects perfection. He takes a lot of pride in his work and expects the same of those around him.

MS: What do you think his impact will be on a guy like Garret Sparks?

SS: He knows Garret from junior, we saw him a lot when he was in Guelph.  I’m sure they’ll get off on the right foot.  I try to give people  as much autonomy as possible and I think Piero will be a great mentor for Sparksy.

MS: Have you been able to figure out a roster in your head, or are you waiting till the end of September when you’ll know about Holzer or Brennan.

SS:  Well, I’ve got a wish list, yeah, and Smitty’s [Trevor Smith] on it too.  Sure, we’ve got depth charts, but ultimately it’s about if they’re able to play for Randy.  So, for me it’s wait and see.

MS: How often do you speak with Randy?

SS: Not often.  Maybe when he gets into town we’ll have a little bit more of a chance to dialogue.  Right now it’s mostly been Chris Dennis from the Leafs and Gord and Derek.  My guys.

MS: So you’ve been given a lot of autonomy to do your job?

SS: Dave Poulin said from day one that I’d have full autonomy to make those decisions.  And that there’d be no secrets.  If there’s going to be a player transaction, or maybe a player is going to be kept out of a certain game, that everybody is kept in the loop.  I can tell you, more autonomy than I expected coming in.  Having been a general manager and coach, I appreciate that.

MS: Who’s a guy that might be flying under the radar now, but you think could be poised for a breakout season? A lot of people have Petter Granberg penciled in there.

SS: Granberg’s a guy who just came off of the World Championships.  I think he might have a hard time flying under the radar here.  But I’m more excited in the Leivos and Crescenzis and McKeggs, seeing those kids develop into their own.

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  • Great Dane

    good morning everybody another fine day in Leafs Nation.

  • mcloki

    Great Dane Yes it is. And the excitement is building.

  • Burtonboy

    Thanks Mike . Another hum dinger of an interview and another notch in the belt for MLHS . The only other place I’ve seen Spott interviews in depth is the Leafs site.

  • Komas Taberle

    Good morning all, nice job Michael!
    I think he will have Holzer & Smith on the Marlies this year.
    That frees up 1.3M giving us 6.2M to give to Kadri and Franson and we roll with 21 players, until we trade Liles.
    I would have asked him about MacWilliam though, that guy is going to be a wrecking ball in the AHL.

  • Great Dane

    Komas Taberle  
    Nonis need to move Liles asap – Sending him to Ducks would be a good solution for everyone.
    Liles plus draft pick for mid-level prospect

  • wiski

    Great read thnks Michael.

  • leafscapguru

    Great Dane Komas Taberle it may be hard as they still want to sign Selanne which would screw them on the cap we would have to retain some salary, but I agree a window has opened for the leafs

  • MaxwellHowe

    That was an insightful interview, thanks.  Becoming clear to me that Spott is focused on development first, winning second.  Now thats tricky, because no one wants their prospects to get use to losing (and it does seem like the Marlies are going to have a tough time this year) – but one of the few areas the Leafs can flex their muscle is in terms of player development.  And Spott has a healthy comprehensive view of development – right down to healthy eating.
    The Leafs need to turn the Marlies into the Parris Island of hockey development. No less than the world’s best hockey academy.

  • dlb eh

    i can still (hear) some people’s comments who didn’t like the Spott hiring.  i hope its Spott that has the biggest breakout season on the Marlies.

  • Great Dane

    leafscapguru Great Dane Komas Taberle Souray goes of the cap, Leafs can always take back some salary in Jan or Feb

  • MaxwellHowe

    Great Dane Komas Taberle I think between the Ducks, the Isles and the Flames (off the top of my head), there are teams that would be happy to have Liles, but the Leafs may have to retain some salary.  I doubt Liles would oppose a trade, since the alternative is probably a season with the Marlies.  But I also wonder if the reason no such trade has been made is because Nonis would be ceding his position in his bargaining with Kadri and Franson.  If the Leaf ssuddenly have an extra $3 million under the cap, both players will seek to max out.  And Nonis will have lost his main excuse for not getting them signed

  • ingy56

    Yaknowwhat Maybe he is Batman?

  • dlb eh

    next up: Phook interviews Hendrick

  • MaxwellHowe

    ingy56 Yaknowwhat Capes on hockey players would be kinda cool.  Flowing as they fly down the wings.  Kessel could actually drag Bozak along by his cape, instead of continuing to do so in a metaphorical sense.

  • Great Dane

    MaxwellHowe  Komas Taberle 

    That may very well be so, now we have to wait and see who calls the bluff first.
    If Franson did a Subban I would be pretty happy.

  • Dink

    dlb eh  one and done

  • ingy56

    MaxwellHowe ingy56 Yaknowwhat Too bad Dick Beddoes isn’t still around, he would like that idea.

  • Cameron19

    MaxwellHowe We really need a couple of purely offensively gifted prospects to have a complete system.

  • dlb eh

    Grabo’s on Cap geek at 3m already?  i didn’t realize it was official yet.

  • wiski
    Robert, a season seat holder for 54 years, gets a from Orr, McClement and!

  • MaxwellHowe

    Cameron19 MaxwellHowe I do wonder if the Leafs ever contemplate trading one of the several defensive prospects to a team with an overabundance on the other end of the spectrum.  I would be all for trading Reilly for Sean Monahan or Ryan Strome, for instance.  Of course, no reason to think those teams would jump at that offer.

  • dlb eh

    MaxwellHowe Cameron19 
    i would be in no hurry to trade any of our prospects unless we’re sure:
    a.  we’re getting the better player in return
    b.  our prospect no longer looks promising and we’ll take our chances on another
    trading Rielly just to have a centre, though?  no way.  Reilly could easily turn out to be the most impactful player of the three, and it’s not a risk i’d take.

  • ingy56

    dlb eh
    Capitals announce one-year Grabovski deal. McPhee likes his speed:

  • wiski
    Agent says 12 teams were interested in Grabovski; Oates was the difference. “His enthusiasm to work w/ Mikhail convinced us this was right.”

  • MaxwellHowe

    dlb eh MaxwellHowe Cameron19 Its all about risk though.  Maybe Reilly is a poor example – how about Finn for a solid offensive prospect?  or Percy?

  • ingy56

    wiski 11 in the KHL and the Capitals LOL

  • Doorman

    Well;  It just keeps on Coming!  Another Great interview!!!
    I hope Spots doesnt pull that Mangy Cape Crap!!!

  • Leafbites

    Great job with the interview, MS. All eyes on Leivo it seems.

  • .JVR.

    Love the summer interview series :)
    Keep up the great work guys!!

  • ingy56

    Yaknowwhat wiski I’m interested in Kate Upton :-)

  • Leafbites

    ingy56 wiski His agent will now return to being Max Smart and fighting KAOS.

  • Cameron19

    MaxwellHowe Cameron19 See, and I would never do that.  Those guys are more likely to be good offensive centers than sure fire number one centers, whereas I think Rielly is far more likely to become a top pairing D. We almost surely lose those trades, in my opinion.  

    Now Finn and Percy, sure. Or either one of them + a 1st. But I think trading position for position with Rielly is far too big of a gamble for us.

  • dlb eh

    MaxwellHowe dlb eh Cameron19 
    trading from our strength is fine, but it will be tough to find one of our prospects other than Rielly to move for a high-ceiling forward.  if the opportunity to move Finn/Percy for Strome existed i’m sure no one would oppose it.

  • Dink

    Great Dane Komas Taberle I don’t think that will happen, maybe one of Phillys’ D heads there though

  • MaxwellHowe

    dlb eh MaxwellHowe Cameron19 No no, i don;t think you would get a Strome or Monaghan for a Finn or Percy – but just a similarly situated forward prospect.

  • dlb eh

    at 3 million, Grabo would still be on the team, yes.  but i think he’d also be “on the block” for the same reasons he was let go.  we’re trying to fill each and every role with the best suited player for the role…and Grabovski, unfortunately, didn’t please his coach enough to have a role.

  • Dink

    dlb eh MaxwellHowe Cameron19 
    don’t see reasoning on waiting until he no longer looks promising because every team will know that….
    thats how you end up with Stempniaks, etc.
    (not advocating trading Reilly tho)

  • dlb eh

    @Dink dlb eh MaxwellHowe Cameron19 
    true, but instead of promising perhaps i should have said “doesn’t factor into the plans as much”.  others over-take him in the depth chart or whatever.
    similar to Holzer making Aulie expendible, then trading him for Ashton.

  • Jmessih

    Brennen – Holzer
    Yeo – Blacker
    MacWilliam – Granberg
    Marshall – Percy
    Most likely the Marlies top 8 dmen next year (in no particular order), should be a good development year. Hopefully Blacker, Macwilliam, Granberg and Percy get enough games and minutes to develop well.

  • ingy56

    Yaknowwhat Only difference is Grabo bites instead of slaps.

  • Dink

    dlb eh MaxwellHowe Cameron19  ok makes more sense
    btw, I am sooo surprised Holzer hasn’t been dealt yet

  • MaxwellHowe

    dlb eh MaxwellHowe Cameron19 Thats a good example, yes.  Well, maybe not the best example because Ashton hasn’t really stepped up, but it was a reasonable risk to take.

  • ingy56

    Yaknowwhat ingy56 That’s the one.

  • dlb eh

    MaxwellHowe dlb eh Cameron19 
    it all depends on the players of course, but if Finn/Percy are hopefully top 4 D, would we be all that excited in adding another 2nd/3rd line centre/winger?  i think we have a number of those types already…and thought you wanted a potential franchise centre type?  Reilly’s our only chip for that, really…and i prefer the potential defensive star.

  • ingy56

    Yaknowwhat ingy56 Meow

  • Doorman

    Yaknowwhat ingy56 More like Bitch slapped!!!  lol

  • MaxwellHowe

    dlb eh MaxwellHowe Cameron19 No, we were only seeking upper end forward prospects, not a slam dunk.  Reilly was a clumsy example, but the point was the Leafs need more forward prospects – and i thought one way to get them was trade some defence prospects.

  • Ze_theLeafsFan

    Yaknowwhat how about we trade you for Jordan :)

  • dlb eh

    MaxwellHowe dlb eh Cameron19 
    to be honest, as much defensive depth as we  seem to have in the system now, i still think it’s too little to deal away.  and on the forward lines, while another 2nd liner would be nice, i think we can role with what we have now.
    i’m not sure i’d move any of the young D prospects that are worth something…when i look at the list it seems we have guys who are kinda worth more to us than in trade right now.  do you have anyone in mind?  otherwise, i don’t disagree with what you’re suggesting as a philosphy (i think)

  • wendelsfist

    Yaknowwhat ingy56  I’m surprised this type of player didn’t fit the Burke truculent style of play.