Dave Nonis on Leafs Lunch

New Toronto Maple Leafs President Brendan Shanahan, left, looks over at Maple Leafs General Manager Dave Nonis during a news conference in Toronto on Monday, April 14, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

LeafsLunch: As far as the culture that’s something that’s been talked about today. The way the hockey team plays, what has to change for them to be a more difficult team to play against and basically play better in their own end?

Dave Nonis: Well, I mean you’ve watched us play for a couple years. You know, you never want to just point back to last year but, we by and large had the same personnel this year with a few exceptions but, the bulk of our team was back and if you look at our GF and GA they’re almost inverted from last year. They, we were a much more difficult team to play against uh then we were this year. We were tougher on the puck. We were more committed to playing umm

Dave Nonis: there was more of an identity and more players I would say played a little bit outside their comfort zone. You know players that weren’t necessarily great defensively paid more of a price to be a better defensive player. Ummm, that to me, you know, what needs to change I think a lot of it is committing to what needs to be done. Are there personnel issues? Yes. Of course you can look at changing some personnel but uh it’s more than that. It’s about committing to the system and committing to things that you just don’t want to do.

LeafsLunch: Are you surprised or shocked, you said during the beginning of the season they were getting away things, playing a certain style. That they were getting points they maybe shouldn’t have got but, there wasn’t a change in the structure in the defensive zone as opposed to committing a system that didn’t really work at the end?

Dave Nonis: Well, I think the system works if you execute it. There’s a big difference between a system doesn’t work and not executing i and as a player you know, you start having success and you have a month, month and a half winning hockey games and you have a coach and a coaching staff, or anyone else, media saying “You know what, you’re not going to keep winning like this” the players mindset is different. It’s ” Well, we just won, we just won again, we just won again” and I think that, that once it starts to crumble it’s hard to get that back. It’s hard for them to get back the time they weren’t playing well as a team

Leafs Lunch O’Neill: I know I also hate coaches yelling at me Dave and if he’s telling me to do a certain thing out there and I don’t do it consistently I don’t like the coach yelling at me so I want to change according to him.

Leafs Lunch:That’s what we were talking about a lot especially down the stretch. I mean is it the chicken or the egg. Is it the coach that is responsible to make sure that the players do it or is it the players that are responsible to make sure they do what the coach wants?

Dave Nonis: Well, I think that everyone holds some responsibility. I think if you’re pointing at one person I don’t think that’s a fair assessment of how a team operates. I also think that if you look and ask the players did they felt like they were beaten by the coaching staff ummm I would expect that 90% would say no. You know umm, Mike Babcock is pretty hard on his players uhh I don’t think anyone ion Detroit is arguing with the results. They’ve…there are people that are harder on players than others and some that have a soft way of doing things. The notion that Randy beat the players into submission all the time is not true. It’s just not true. Ummm you know, are there issues of how the players played down the stretch for him? Of course there are but uhh this isn’t a guy that was yelling and screaming and if you look and say this is the new age, the new wave of player that can’t handle it uhhh any kind of pushing or uhh the stick as opposed to the carrot again I wouldn’t look too much further than the Detroit Red Wings to show you that that’s not true. You know he…Mike Babcock is a very difficult coach to play for……

LeafsLunch: Demanding, yeah

Dave Nonis: and they played very hard for him so I don’t buy that

LeafsLunch: A lot has been made of the challenges of the leadership group in the room Is that something that is certainly concerning for you? Is it something that needs to be addressed or is it something that’s being overblown?

Dave Nonis: Uhh I think it needs to be addressed to a point. I think to throw everything on the leadership group it’s very popular uhh but I don’t think it’s uhh a necessarily fair assessment. Uhh I think the leaders on our group, we have a larger group, people look at the captaincy or the guys who wear the ‘A’ as the only guys who have an influence. You know when you have a team that’s fairly young, I think were still the 5th or so in terms of average age you need the group collectively to show some leadership ummm did we fail in that regard down the stretch? I think we could have done a better job but to point the finger directly at certain people I don’t think that’s a fair assessment.

LeafsLunch: Did you get the impression like this team quit down the stretch?

Dave Nonis: No. I don’t think it’s that at all. I think obviously disappointed with our play but I don’t think the players quit. I think that they lost confidence in uhh themselves and more importantly at times they lost confidence in each other and that led to a spin that just couldn’t get out of. uhhh I don’t think they mailed it in. I think there’s a lot of disappointed people uhhh but I do think that the confidence level, maybe the lack of maturity ummmm showed itself

LeafsLunch: How does this final 14 game stretch, where going into it you guys were 9 points into a playoff spot and you finish 9 points out, that’s a remarkable run of failure. How does that change you evaluation of the team.

Dave Nonis: Well, I don’t think it changes it, it should be part of it. If we weren’t, if we didn’t have the slide at the end we would be talking about playing this week so I think it has to be part of the evaluation or else you’re not doing a very good job of evaluating your group ummm It’s easy to look and again I think that’s why we have to step back a little and take some time. If we look at the last 3 weeks of the season we want to get rid of everybody, right? [Chuckles from LL crew] And that’s not a very smart thing to do.

LeafsLunch: You can’t

Dave Nonis: You cant and you’re going to be getting rid of some pieces that help you long term that are important pieces on winning teams that you know are sought after by other teams for a reason ummm that is not a very wise way of moving forward. uhhh it’s important to step back,as hard as it is and really take a good look at what we do have and the changes we want to make. If we were making decisions as a group and your listeners and you guys talk to them all the time if we made those decisions today this would be a much different looking team next year and I’m not telling you it’s going to be for the better

LeafsLunch: We mention of course the cap era, we are well aware of it. You guys have about 49 million committed to 12 players going into next season. With that being the case, in the cap era, how much change really can happen in the course of one off season?

Dave Nonis: Well it’s funny in the cap era that’s a lot of money. A lot of money available it’s not a little. You it’s, look at a lot of teams that may have zero available or cap hits for bonuses that are going to come off next year. So there’s opportunities for us umm there’s opportunities for us to add people, there’s opportunities for us to move people that have fairly significant contracts but we’re not starting with 2 million dollars in cap space which is nice. It’s difficult when you’re right up against it, having the cap go up, we don’t know what the number’s going to be yet but we have contracts that are burning off, we have some penalties that are burning off as well that are going to give us some more room ummm you know we have to find ways of spending that money wisely.

Leafs Lunch: Looking back on it now what would you have done differently?

Dave Nonis: Well it’s easy to say that today but again if we’re all being honest and looking at a team the night of the trade deadline we’re 10 games above 500..so…ummm…thee thee changes you’re going to make don’t come after the deadline they come before and for us to make changes and we did try to make them at the deadline to address certain things but they were not in the best interest of our team long term. They were not, they were what we were just talking about. They were moving young players that could help us for 10 years for players that could help us for 2 years uhh That wasn’t something that you know I think uhh was in our best interests you know when we were having the success early on, looking back now uhhh may have wanted to do more to address the feeling of the team despite the fact we were winning but again that’s easy to look back now after we’ve gone through what we’ve went through.

LeafsLunch: Last one, after you signed Clarkson you said you weren’t worried about ears 6 and 7, you were worried about year 1. We know what happened in year 1 not only with him but with the team. Was there too much focus or expectation with this team and are you going to take a step back and say considering what happened we have to think more long term.

Dave Nonis: I don’t think we have to think more long term than we have. uhh You know again every move in terms of giving up assets that we have have been players that are young, uhh have time to spend with us you know. Trading a 2nd for Bernier wasn’t giving up a pick for an old goal tender it was trying to think long term. Not moving our 1st round pick at the deadline when that was what it would take to get a player like Vanek uhh that was something we chose not to do. ummm Historically one of the problems with this organisation has been succumbing to the pressure of the now and not thinking about the long term so..umm..I think.. you know our group was committed to the long term success and, and as painful as you know, you might feel along the way uhh if we’re going to have any true success it’s going to be with long term thinking not thinking about next year or the year after.