On his reaction to the hire, having played for Lemaire in Minnesota:
Honestly, I think it’s another great hire. I think the Leafs have had a tremendous offseason. Not just with moving a guy like Phil Kessel, but just, ultimately, putting the pieces in place to have success. You’ve got young guys – guys like Kyle Dubas, Scott Pellerin in a player development – and then you’ve brought in Lou Lamoriello, [who has] a wealth of experience. I know people talk about his age – he’s going to be 73 soon – and Jacques Lemaire is 69 years old, but ultimately, these guys, the two of them have forgotten more about hockey than most of the people, the executives, in the National Hockey League. I had the luxury of playing for Jacques in Minnesota, the first expansion year there. He was the smartest coach I’ve ever had, and I’ve had some great coaches. I’ve had Joel Quenneville, I’ve had Al Arbour. Jacques Lemaire – the one thing, as a player, he just had answers. You’ll ask him, in certain scenarios, “what should I be doing here?” He always knew the consequences. He was very strict, he was very thorough in his preparation, but the one thing I noticed is he’s very cerebral. He thought everything out, and that’s what made him such an amazing coach because he was able to communicate that. I think he’s a terrific hire by the Toronto Maple Leafs. I don’t know what capacity – adviser to Mike Babcock – I’m not sure he’s interested in the day-to-day rigors of flying with the team and being there every hour on the hour that coaches have to put in. But, I think there is no downside to this hire whatsoever.
Is this another piece of the mentor puzzle, with the experience of Babcock and now Lemaire, for a guy like Kyle Dubas? Maybe this is just another guy to have with all this experience that Kyle can soak up and maybe be the General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs down the road?
I think so. I mean, you look at Lou’s comments, and he said basically if Kyle doesn’t become GM when I leave, that’s Kyle’s fault. Ultimately, that quote stuck with a lot of people because, whether it’s the mentor role – you bring in that certain type of attitude, where you’re talking about culture change and you bring in character people, people that have installed that type of structure in an organization. You look at what Brendan’s been able to do in the short time he’s taken over – ultimately, in hockey terms, it hasn’t been that long since Brendan took the reigns of the organization – he’s changed the front office, he’s changed the coaching staff, he’s working on changing the players – that’s a work in progress. Ultimately, you’re trying to put a stamp on the culture of the organization. To bring in a guy like Jacques, to bring in a guy like Lou Lamoriello, and have younger, progressive thinking guys like Kyle Dubas and Brandon Pridham in the organization… you’ve kind of got all the bases checked off. That’s what the fan base and the people have been waiting for. They have a wealth of finances at MLSE. Use them, and hire the right people, so that moving forward it puts a stamp on your organization and says, “this is how we’re going to be run, if you want to join this organization these are the type of people that are going to be around.” Again, I think this is amazing, and a guy like Kyle Dubas can not only be a benefactor of it, but he will soak up that knowledge and it’s going to make him a great GM in the future.
No one really knows what he’s going to do yet. Can you see him in a role in training camp, where he’s actually on the ice with these guys, or will he just be an observer and just give his take on what he’s seeing?
I think, for me, looking at Jacques and looking at his age, I think his best role is suited as an advisor. As I said before, hes such a great hockey mind. I don’t know if it would be better suited for him to be on the ice as opposed to just kind of watching and putting in his thoughts. The one thing – if he was on the ice – maybe it’s more about implementing systems, but I think Mike Babcock and his staff will be able to put those in place and execute them. Ultimately, I could see Jacques sitting with the management team, putting his input on players that he likes, players that he believes need improvement and maybe a little discipline or structure in their game. Whenever I think of Jacques Lemaire, I think of Marian Gaborik. The reason I think of that is that Marian Gaborik was the high draft pick for the Minnesota Wild their first year in expansion. If you talk to Marian about his structure and his learning curve in the NHL, it was all because of Jacques Lemaire and how hard he was on Marian. He gave him a long rope some days and a short leash other days, because he wanted Marian to play hockey the right way, he called it. There were some tough-love lessons, but ultimately I think Marian became the player he is in the NHL and has had tremendous success because of guys like Jacques. It’s that interaction. I think that’s where Jacques will be most rewarding for the Leafs. Basically, to be around the guys, talk to them, but instil that structure in the game and how they carry themselves on a day-to-day basis.
His system – What would you say to the Leafs fans who are like, “oh boy, he’s got Cups and that’s great, but are we going to see a boring Leafs ’05 forecheck now because we got a Jacques Lemaire, New Jersey system coming and he just wants to be defensive minded.” Is there that fear maybe in the fans of Toronto, going, “is this going to be a boring product?” Or is it just going to be a more structured defensive zone that Jacques Lemaire can implement in the Leafs’ program?
I think he’s obviously going to work with coach Mike Babcock and install some defensive structure. If you’re a Leafs fan and have been following this team, maybe that’s what you’re begging for. Ultimately, you’ve watched this trainwreck in their own zone for the last couple years. I’ve been in Toronto for four years and there are guys on that team who can’t even check their coat, and they’re playing in the defensive zone. Ultimately, you bring in that structure of Mike Babcock, which is up-tempo-style puck possession, and then you have a guy like Jacques Lemaire, who understands how to work the defensive zone. What we’re seeing is – maybe some nights will be a little bit more blanketing and let’s call it boring or frustrating, but how frustrating was it to watch your team give up 40 shots a night and get dummied in their own zone, and maybe go the other way and score a lucky goal and think they’re in the game. To me, it’s doing it the right way. The one thing I’ll point out with a guy like Jacques – and I’ll go to a guy like Darryl Sutter – is, the trap doesn’t work in today’s game. There’s modifications of it because coaching is too good. You can break the trap by just changing the point of attack into the zone. It’s more about growing with the game. Darryl Sutter was able to grow with the game when he was back into coaching with LA, and I think Jacques is the type of guy who is so smart that he knows what works in today’s game and not what worked in the mid-90s to kind of lock it down. I think you’ll just see another piece of the pie to help this team turn a corner, and as I mentioned before put a stamp on it as far as how things are going to be working moving forward in the organization of the Leafs.
There had be some talk that David Conte was going to be the first guy brought over with Lou Lamoriello. Are you surprised it’s Jacques Lemaire instead?
I was very shocked. I got an email from a buddy yesterday, who is a pretty tapped in guy, and he said, “this is what I’m hearing.” My initial reaction was, “there’s no way he’s going to want to be an assistant coach.” At 70 years old, he’s done everything, and I know how physically and mentally demanding coaching is. I just wasn’t sure that was what Jacques would want. I thought maybe as an advisor this would be the perfect role as him. You’re right, I think David Conte is a guy who may end up with the Leafs because he’s always been Lou’s right arm in New Jersey, but I’m not shocked. Knowing Lou and Jacques’ relationship, they weren’t far separated from each other. You look at Ray Shero and what he wants to do in New Jersey – I think he wants to bring in his people. It’s only the natural progression that I think Lou surrounds himself with people he knows and trusts. It’s the same thing with Shero in New Jersey. He brings in his people so he can put that stamp on his organization.