Passing along the transcript of the in-depth interview by Bob McCown and Michael Grange with Brendan Shanahan and Lou Lamoriello from PTS on Thursday. Some of the more interesting passages are underlined.
On the thought process that’s gone into assembling his management group:
Shanahan: First and foremost, it was about finding who I thought were the right people and the right fit and the best people for this job. I think, in my short history here, the one thing that I really haven’t done is I haven’t just gone out and surrounded myself with a bunch of buddies of mine and friends of mine. But if you’ve been in the game a long time, you do end up crossing paths with people and having relationships with them. I did not know Kyle Dubas before I hired him, I hardly knew Mark Hunter at all, but I’d heard from people that I trusted that they were rising stars, and hard workers, and good team players. Same with Brandon Pridham, who really does a great job for us managing our cap. I knew from my time with the NHL; we didn’t have a strong relationship, but I knew the quality of his work. Babcock, I wasn’t alone in thinking he was a great coach who would be great in this city with a challenge so great as this one. I just thought, when I heard that Lou was stepping down from GM and moving to the President position, I was looking for a General Manager. I was looking for a GM that maybe wasn’t interested in a 4-5-6 year deal. I was also looking for somebody with some NHL experience that could complement the group that I had assembled. I was proud of the group that I had assembled. If critics wanted to point at one thing and say we lacked, it was some experience. My goal was always to find the best person, but certainly, if I had a young person and an experienced person and they were both equally adept at doing the job, I think the experience would’ve been the tiebreaker. I reached out to the Devils management and I asked for permission to talk. I think they were shocked that Lou would even consider it. I just started a conversation. That was several weeks ago. It cooled off at times, but I stayed with it. There were times where I’d back off because I could tell, knowing Lou and knowing that he had been lifelong with an organization, you couldn’t press too hard at times. He had to come to this decision on his own. To make a long story short, we were able to get him done yesterday.
On what even made him contemplate Lou Lamoriello for the job or think that he might say yes:
Shanahan: Well, I think the one thing I wanted to appeal to him, and in some ways I tried to appeal to Mike; I know certain types of individuals are just not the “I want to put my feet up on a coffee table”-type of guys. There are certain types of individuals where you don’t underscore the difficulty of a job that’s in front of them, you actually present it as big as the mountain that you see. You appeal to their sense of challenge. Despite what I was reading out of New Jersey, I just knew that there was a burning desire in Lou to compete. I had seen him at Board of Governors meetings when I was with the NHL, General Managers meetings while I was with the NHL, and then again while I was with the Maple Leafs. This did not look like a guy who was slowing down to me. It did not look like a guy that was losing his competitive fire. I could’ve got laughed off the phone, but it’s worth a phone call.
… The only thing we really accomplished with that first phone call was that he was intrigued. To me, that was a good enough first step.
On why he wasn’t looking for a guy on a 4-5-6 year deal:
Shanahan: Well, I take that back. I guess there were different scenarios that I could’ve gone with. I probably shouldn’t say because there are people that are in other organizations and I might get myself in trouble with tampering, but there was some other people that I was interested in that were maybe starting out in their career, or were at a younger point in their career. That was one scenario. Most of those guys aren’t coming to Toronto unless they’re getting a five or six year deal. And then there were situations a little bit similar to the one Pittsburgh has done with Jim Rutherford, where you bring in a senior guy to sort of mentor the group and see them through a transition. That was another option. The other option was just going with the current situation that we had, and just sort of doing it learning on the fly and learning as we go along. I think we did a pretty good job this summer. I’m proud of the summer we had. I thought that Mark Hunter was fantastic at the draft, as was Kyle Dubas. I thought that July 1st, that week, was great. It’s a time when sometimes you can help your club, but maybe the biggest thing we avoided, which happens to clubs, is that you hurt your club on July 1st – and we didn’t do that. We are, at this point now for the first time in a long time, we don’t have our noses pressed right against the salary cap ceiling. We have the ability to be buyers and not necessarily be sellers. I thought that they all did a great job. I guess what you’re really trying to get at is I see potential in some of the people we have here internally to possibly do this one day, and I wanted to leave that option there for them down the road.
On whether he consulted Mike Babcock early on in the process, given this is out of order for how things are usually handled:
Shanahan: I was in the unique position to be able to know who I was speaking to and not necessarily have to tell them as much information as I had, only enough to satisfy myself and know there was a great comfort between the two men and their respect between one another and the jobs that they would do. I didn’t tell Mike that I was pursuing Lou Lamoriello, but in some conversations — you bump into people at the draft and you have conversations, and New Jersey’s table was near ours and I saw Mike and Lou having a few conversations – you hear people talk about respect and how much they think of someone. I was privy to more information than either of them, and I was satisfied enough that this was going to be a good marriage if Mike and Lou were working together one day.
On how important it is that the two work together:
Shanahan: I think it is important. I think it is important for me to know that Lou has a tonne of respect for Mike Babcock. It just gets expressed through conversation, where Lou came up to me at some point and said, “I love what you did with the head coach, and I think he’s fantastic.” And similar conversations I’ve had with Mike. Now, what I’ve talked about since I’ve been here is a vision for how this organization would work and how the group would think together and sort of lean on one another. That was very important for me to continue to describe that environment to Lou so that he knew, with his eyes wide open, exactly what he was walking into. I said at the end of the season press conference –where some people said, “well, it’s a little unorthodox that the GM doesn’t hire the coach, or the GM doesn’t bring all his buddies with him” — I said, “that’s true, and that’s valid, and some guys won’t be for us, and we won’t be for them.” Lou happened to be a guy that liked the people that we had in place and is probably a lot more progressive than people give him credit for. He’s comfortable in his relationship with me. It’s a little bit different that the guy he drafted 28 years ago he now reports to, but such is the cyclical life of hockey. One day I’ll be asking William Nylander for a job.
An example of what makes Lou, Lou:
Shanahan: I think it’s so difficult to. What makes you, you? It’s very difficult to encapsulate an entire person with a few quips for a little radio interview, because he is a complicated guy and an interesting guy. Probably the biggest consistency with him is his belief in a team first structure. Something that he used to say, and I mentioned him when I was being inducted into the Hall of Fame that I had learned when I was in New Jersey, is that the crest on the front of the sweater is more important than the name on the back of the sweater. With team success can come a whole lot of individual accolades and success, presently and later in life. What I look back on fondly now is winning championships. I don’t look back on individual trophies, not that I won many of them. What you remember is – I’ve said this before to individual athletes – as great as tennis players are and golfers are and boxers, I feel sorry for individual athletes that they don’t get an opportunity to win something with a group of teammates and what that feels like. I watched the Canadian Men’s Baseball Team win that Gold Medal the other day in the Pan Am games. It makes you jealous and remember what it was like to see that sea of guys jumping on each other like that, and sharing that same feeling of working as a team. For me, that’s the biggest thing that Lou brings, is the team-first mentality.
On whether three years is long enough for Lou to build his culture:
Shanahan: I think that’s a start and we’ll see where we are three years from now. Nothing is set in stone. This is hockey. As I said, the vision doesn’t change but the plans sometimes do. Is it enough time? We’ll see. It’s a great start. We can’t necessarily always project what we’re going to look like in three years or four years or five years, but what we are in control of is what we’re doing now and I feel fortunate with the team of people [we have]. I read somewhere once that if you’re a really good executive, do your best to make sure you’re the dumbest guy in the room you’ve assembled. I can say I’ve done a pretty good job of putting myself in a room full of hockey executives that I really look up to and am in awe of, whether they’re older or younger than me.
On whether this is the last piece of the management puzzle:
Shanahan: I hope so. I joked around a little bit with some people, some colleagues in hockey that I would bump into at the draft. They’d see me with the bags under my eyes and say, “how’s the summer going?” I’d say, “remind me never to do that at the end of a season again.” You know, we’ve done some other things that might not get the same fanfare that we’re very proud of. What we’ve done with the Marlies and the coaching staff with the Marlies, and our development system, that’s going to be so important. Our sports science department we think is going to be the best in the NHL. These are all the little things we wanted to do. Then, the on-ice product is going to have to get better, and that takes time. We need more players. We need more from our current players. We know, as Mike Babcock said, pain is coming. As much as we’re doing right now, we haven’t won a single game. I think we’ve made our management team better, we’ve made some good decisions with our hockey team, but there’s still some pain coming. This is a process that will take time. We’re prepared for that. I think our fans in our city are prepared for that. I think that our ownership is prepared for that. We have a good group here. Some people ask, “how does this work?” We had a General Manager last year. It works very much the same. He’s just got a different name. We will find a way to make this work. I’m just excited Lou has joined this group and become a part of it.
On the story of Brendan Shanahan’s courtship of Lamoriello:
Lamoriello: When I decided to start the transition and brought Ray Shero in, that was something that ownership and myself had talked about for the past year. That came relatively quickly. I felt good going forward in that role, doing the things, and – I don’t want to say taking it easy – but overseeing everything in a different way. Evidently, Brendan at that time called our ownership and asked for permission to speak with me. They told him that if that was something that I wanted to do, they would never hold me back. They didn’t think that I would be interested. They were right at that time. And then Brendan, certainly, at different times we spoke – because we had the ability and Larry Tanenbaum had a conversation with me – and then we pushed it off because of the draft and free agency. As soon as that finished, Brendan and I spoke and it just heated up. As I said today in the press conference, if I need somebody to recruit anybody, I’m going to send Brendan and not even think of anybody else. He and I go way back and have had a great relationship throughout his career. I’ve been impressed with the things that he’s been doing here and the commitment that Toronto had. He really rekindled me in an excitement. He got me enthused, and here I am.
On whether three years is enough time to shape an organization as he did in New Jersey:
Lamoriello: We’ll have to find out. I really don’t know a lot of the intricate things. I have some information, but you never come in with a list and say, “this is what we’re going to do.” You just look at the little things that possibly you can get control of immediately that happen without someone even knowing. And then build off that. For me, the most important thing is getting players – and I know Mike is totally with me on this, Brendan is, everyone else here – getting players who love the game, and want to have success in the game as a team, not only success as an individual. Creating something where that logo is more important than that name on the back of the shirt. That sounds like a mouthful, but there are little things that you find out in people when that happens. If you look over a lot of the successful teams, and we’ve been very fortunate with some of the players that have their names on the Cups; you don’t see them in any scoring, but without them you would not have won. Everybody recognizes that. People have to realize that, no matter what their role is in a team, they’re just as important as the so-called most talented player. And the most talented player has to recognize he can’t have any success without the other person. That’s what we have to try to create. I know what Mike believes in without question – he has the history to show that, whether it be with Detroit, in the Olympics, or in Junior, or whatever he’s touched his hands on. So that’s the exciting part here. The question you asked is, “how long?” I could not answer that until I see what the character is of the individuals we’re talking about.
On whether he talked to Mike Babcock before he agreed to take the job:
Lamoriello: Yes, I did. Mike was very influential. I respect him as a coach, I respect him as an educator, and I respect him as a person. His work ethic, and he’s committed to winning. He doesn’t do it in words. He puts the effort in himself to have success and he also trusts the people around him.
On the patience required and whether there’s a clock on how long it will take:
Lamoriello: No, I really don’t [have a clock]. I’ve always had an expression I’d say in New Jersey: You have a five year plan that changes every day, and you adjust it. I think that’s the approach you take. You lay out everything, and then you keep adjusting it. Then what happens is, when you get to a certain point, it shrinks and you’ve got your plan and you have to maintain it, but I have no timetable. When I say “five years,” that was what my thought process was in New Jersey when we were winning. It’s not that it’s five years. I couldn’t tell you. I don’t know enough about the players, and Mike doesn’t, either. You don’t know enough about how they’re going to respond. You just don’t know.
On who has final say (and whether Lou said, “I’ll make the decisions,” or, “we’ll make the decisions” in his press conference):
Lamoriello: I think the people that are in place here, and I’ll get to that as best as I can answer it, and the way it has been set up with reference to the responsibilities in each area – for example, Kyle, who is the assistant General Manager, and Mark, who is the Director of Scouting, and Mike, the head coach — every one of them has an individual role and responsibility. No different than what I had in New Jersey. Here, it was a little bit more of the way it’s been put because there have been so many people speaking at different times. So it’s not unusual in the input, but there has to be one voice at the end to make that decision. I think that’s what I was alluding to. You take the input of everyone, and then you have to make that final decision.
On the positives, or negatives, of a star-studded management team like the Leafs’:
Lamoriello: I think you can dissect it and look at it any way you want. I think the one thing that we have, if you’re speaking of Brendan and Mike and myself at this point, the common denominator is the type of people. Everyone is team oriented. Everyone is committed to the same goal. I don’t feel, in any way whatsoever, that the respect and trust that each has for each other [won’t] come together as one. Because I was the last person here coming, I had the opportunity to see who the first two were, so I am so comfortable with that; not over-comfortable, it’s just because I know both individuals. I know the good, the bad, and the ugly, which we all have.
On the defence-first philosophies in New Jersey:
Lamoriello: That is the best answer that I could give. When we went to New Jersey, and we were where we were, and it was the philosophy I had in coaching in my past in college, is that defence wins championships, offence wins games. Unfortunately, maybe with the growing that we went through in New Jersey, we had ourselves accustomed to winning one goal games. We certainly had the luxury of a world-class goaltender, and our system that we had was to make him see the puck. We felt that we could win, and our players bought into that, and never got wrapped up with anyone talking about defence or letting it get in the way. It was an asset that we had, where people [said], “oh, we have to play the New Jersey Devils.” When Jacques Lemaire came in, he put that to the highest level you could have in the way he put the system together. Whether they called it the trap, or called it this or that, it was just everybody doing their own job collectively. Playing the same way on both sides of the puck, which you don’t always get. If it’s a defence system first, and that’s the way they want to create it, so be it. But you look back at some of those teams that we had, we were pretty well up there in scoring, too, but what got recognized was our defence.
McCown: Philosophically, you aren’t married to the notion of players who are primarily focused on defence?
Lamoriello: That’s accurate.
McCown: If there is a player out there who has a high skill set as a scorer, but maybe isn’t the best defensive player out there, you don’t automatically discount him as a possibility?
Lamoriello: No, I can give you an example in New Jersey. I have tremendous respect for him. We don’t have him, we don’t win the ’95 Cup: Stephane Richer. It’s who you put with him. You put Bobby Carpenter and John McLean. The key there is that those players and the team accepts the assets and the liabilities. That’s the only way to success. You can’t win with all one type of player.
On what he’s learned from past management failures in Toronto:
Lamoriello: I’m coming in with no preconceived notions. Each and every player that is on that roster, I was part of them being here, and each and every one of the staff members, I hired. That’s the only way I feel you should approach it. I did that going into New Jersey from Providence. I did that from going into the athletic directorship at Providence. I did it when I had to take the Nets. That’s the only way it works. Once you do that, then people start separating and you find out in players as to who is really committed, and who wants to be successful.
On whether Brendan Shanahan conveyed his philosophy on building the franchise in his pitch:
Lamoriello: Yes, he did. If I weren’t in tune with that, and if I weren’t on board with that, I wouldn’t have even considered it. I report to Brendan. Brendan is in the position he’s in. I respect that. I have no problem with that. I feel very comfortable in my own skin. I know that all the people here are comfortable in their own skin and they’re not going to be afraid to test and push each other.