Dave Nonis speaks to Hockey Central at Noon about rebuilding the Maple Leafs, the Franson & Santorelli trade, and more.
How long were you working on the trade?
Quite a while. We played in Nashville earlier in the month. I stayed behind and spent a couple of days, with Dave [Poile] and I after that just talking about potential of a deal involving various players, including the two we ended up moving. Dave is a very thoughtful guy who takes a long time to evaluate things. We spent a few days doing that and then over the next 10 days or so we continued talks. Once David was willing to put in certain pieces, which happened on Saturday in the Montreal during the game — we had a discussion between periods – it picked up pretty quick once he made the decision that this is what he wanted do and that he was going to put the pieces on the table.
How important was Brendan Leipsic to getting the deal done?
Very. We talked to a number of teams. We were in a position where we were looking to see what value was out there for these players. There were a number of teams that were offering a prospect as part of the package, but there is a difference between a name that is under contract and a real prospect and in some cases we were just getting a name. We got the player we thought had a chance to play, by no means a lock, but has a chance to play because of his skillset and determination and the way he plays the game. Once that was for sure, it made it a lot easier. Then, obviously going from a second [round pick] to a first was important to us.
What’s the plan for Olli Jokinen moving forward?
I was pretty open with Olli. He hasn’t played a lot there [in Nashville], I think he has played 40 something games, but very few down the middle, which is his natural position. That stage of your career, I think most people want a chance at the Cup. We are going to play him, we are going to get him ready to perform at the highest level he can, and if there’s a deal there that makes sense I wouldn’t be surprised if Olli ends up on a team that’s pushing for it. He can still play the game at a pretty high level. He had a good year last year, I think he had 18 goals last year, and I think for a stretch run he would be an ideal person. First and foremost, we need to get him playing and playing well, and I think he’s excited to get back in the middle instead of playing right wing.
I’m certain that Olli was looking at where they were in the standings, and even though he wasn’t playing a lot, there was a good chance he was going to have a good playoff run. So, for him, at this stage of his career, there’s go to be some level of disappointment it’s not going to be a playoff situation for him. If there was an opportunity to get him to a spot, I think guys like that deserve it. If you’ve played this long in the league and you know you don’t have many left, and you can get a guy to a spot where he has a chance to win, I think you always try to do that.
Have you had other similar conversations about moving players to playoff-bound clubs, like with Franson and Santorelli?
They knew when we started talking about potential contract extensions, and not that it as going poorly, but it wasn’t one where we were certain we were going to get a deal done, that’s for sure. Both the players that we moved know that we like them, and that we’d always have them back. Two really good guys you’d love to have back on your team. But we were not in a position as we approach this deadline to take that chance. We took that chance a couple years ago with Tyler Bozak because we were in a playoff spot, but that’s different. This one, we’re looking from the outside and we are in a position where we are going to be selling for sure at the deadline and we were having a difficult time getting the contract done. So, you’re trying to put them in a good spot, and this is a spot both players were happy to go to. They know the city, the team, they have friends on the team, and I talked to both of them and they were both excited to get a chance to play in the post season.
A report came out about the board giving you and Shanahan approval to scorch as much earth as possible. Can you confirm that mandate?
No. I am not going to confirm anything that happens in this building in terms of discussions and things like that, but I will say nothing has really changed in terms of what we were looking at or are looking at, and what we are prepared to do. We’ve had a lot of discussion and we’ve developed a plan going forward; this goes back months. There also isn’t a firesale to get people out of here. If and when there are deals that make sense for us, whether it is free agency or trades, that will help us win and help us develop our team long term, we will do it. But there isn’t a time frame on it. Whenever I hear things like that, in terms of scorched earth or clean house, it’s not the way the league works. You have to get value if you are going to move players. There are players here who, despite the fact that we’ve gone through a very difficult time, there are players on this team that can be part of the solution, too, and you want to make sure you are taking your time and evaluating correctly in terms of moving pieces in and out.
Is there a feeling you need to adjust the core, given this has been four seasons in a row here there’s been some major slump?
I would say that, given where we are right now, it’s fair to say we have to make some changes. I also would say, regardless of changes we make, if we do trade a player, you want to make sure you are getting value for that player. That’s the most important thing. We don’t have players that have complete “no moves.” When we’ve signed someone we’ve made that point; for example, when we signed Phil Kessel, that day we made it clear that “yes, we signed Kessel long term, we think he is a good player” — I think he’s still top 20 in goals the League despite the fact that he’s having a difficult time lately – but he doesn’t have a full No Trade. We do have teams we can trade him to. You do have to have some flexibility to change your team and we have that.
How many conversations have you had regarding those type of players (core players)?
I would say some, I don’t know about significant, it might be too strong, but a number of them. Players that are that end of the pay scale usually get moved in the offseason if at all. There are very few that get moved during the season, but we have had discussions with other teams.
Peter Horachek, what do you say to him during a season and a stretch like this?
Peter’s been great. He hasn’t given up. He’s trying to get whatever he can out of the group. There have been some positive developments with him behind the bench in certain areas, but we haven’t had the success. When we made the change we headed out to California and played three really good games, and kept those teams – three of the top teams in the League – we kept he scoring chances to a minimum and had a lot ourselves, but we didn’t get a point. I think, from that point on, the players’ confidence was definitely waning at that point. But Pete’s worked hard, he hasn’t given up, he’s made a lot of changes to try to develop certain people and we’ve seen some positive elements in our game. Guys like Richard Panik I think have really improved and come a long way under Pete.
David Clarkson was scratched in a tough decision by Horachek, and he responded with his most intense game of the year on Saturday. Where do you think it hasn’t worked with Dave? What did you think of [his game] Saturday?
David’s had some flashes of being the player that we know he can be, but it hasn’t come consistently. He knows that. There have been games where he has played like that, like he did in Montreal – without getting thrown out obviously – and played with an edge. The game in Ottawa before the All Star game comes to mind, where he was one of the best players on the ice. Consistency has not been there for him. I think you have to be honest and say that’s been the case. It’s not that he hasn’t been able to do it, it’s that he hasn’t done it on a regular basis. He has to if he’s going to have an impact on our team. In Montreal, I think he played hard, he didn’t deserve to get the penalties that he got. It was a call that I understand why they made it, but I think David was just trying to play an aggressive style that night.
How many balls do you have in the air, two weeks to the day of the March 2nd trade deadline?
We’ve got some, but I would expect, the way it looks right now, the deals that we have or that we will probably pull of between now and then will probably be closer if not on deadline day. That’s the way it is looking anyway. If someone steps up and makes us an offer we think is really fair we wouldn’t wait, we would do it, but I think that’s how it is going to play out. Obviously we want to drive ratings for you on that day, and we’ve got to make sure we keep something for you.