General Manager Lou Lamoriello
Lou Lamoriello: I’ve been extremely impressed with Dion from day one. As I mentioned consistently, I came in with no preconceived notions, so I really didn’t know what to expect other than what there was as far as hearsay at different times. He’s been impressive in every way. The phone call I had with him – I expressed that, and I meant that sincerely. He’s been a great leader. He’s handled every situation that’s been asked of him. He’s going to be missed, there is no question, but a transaction like this has to be made for the reasons that they’re made, and that is staying with the plan that is in place.
I’m wondering if you can speak about Tobias Lindberg, the young player in Binghamton this year, and what made him attractive to you.
Lamoriello: We have a scouting staff with Mark Hunter and his group. Mark had him very high on his list, and we felt very comfortable that when we had to select a player… he was the one individual prospect that we targeted and he became part of the deal. He is a size and strength forward and he’ll be given every opportunity. He’ll be reporting to the Marlies certainly but we’ll look and see exactly how he’ll fit into the prospects that we have.
Can you say for the record what plan is and how this trade gets you closer to being a good team two or three years down the line?
Lamoriello: First of all, I think the length of Dion’s contract and the amount of cap space that is there, where that would put us at a given time – certainly not knowing where the cap will go, and I’ve always had a feeling that it’ll sort of level off – this gives us the opportunity to do things. But also it gives us the opportunity, when some of our younger players are coming at the end of their ELCs who we have high expectations for, to be able to sign them. This is a transaction that certainly wasn’t for today. Dion is going to leave, certainly, a hole in our lineup – there is no question…. I don’t think we’re going to sacrifice anything up front, we hope, with the players that we did acquire, who have potential. One being an established forward who should fit into our top six next year… Sometimes a change of scenery brings the most out of someone. This is a transaction that I think we had no choice with.
As far as trading Dion, what does it take to trade a captain of a marquee franchise like the Toronto Maple Leafs? Even though you mentioned the salary cap numbers and all of that stuff, that’s got to be somewhat of a gut check to have to trade the captain of a marquee franchise like the Leafs.
Lamoriello: It certainly wasn’t easy, and that would be an understatement. All of the right things come into place, especially when you have a quality individual. Unfortunately, this is part of business. You have to separate the person and the player when you make these types of decisions, and you have to make sure you separate your head and your heart, and you have to make the decisions with your head. With all things when you weigh positives and negatives, the positives certainly outweigh whatever the negatives are. You have to go forward. This certainly wasn’t something easy, but I don’t think it’s ever easy when it comes to moving a player from one team to another and their families. I’ve always said that whenever you feel it’s something you’re used to you should get out of the business.
Can you speak a little bit to how Dion received this news? Do you intend to give the captaincy to anyone else at this time, or wait a while?
Lamoriello: First of all, I spoke to Dion as soon as the trade call was finished. I called Dion and spoke to him in Calgary. I’m still here in Toronto. I explained to him what transpired. He was as classy as anybody could possibly be. At a time like that, you put yourself in that person’s position and you know that they’re listening and you question what they’re hearing, but he responded in an extremely positive way. He understood – whether he agreed or not you’d have to speak to him – but he understands what we’re doing here. He’s been a part of that throughout the year. I just expressed to him how much I appreciate what he’s brought to the things that we’ve tried to change and how supportive he’s been. He was just outstanding. I just can’t say enough about him.
I’m wondering if you could talk about how critical it was that the Senators pick up the entirety of Dion’s contract and whether that would’ve been a deal breaker? As a follow up, was there any interest from another team that also gave you pause for thought, or was it Ottawa all the way here?
Lamoriello: First of all, we did not retain any salary, so that’s extremely important. As far as Dion and how he affects Ottawa, I think that only Ottawa can answer that, but they’ve certainly got a quality player and a quality person going there. We did this because we certainly felt this was in the best interest of what we’re trying to do long term with the Maple Leafs.
I’m curious – you’re known very famously as a straight forward GM. How difficult is it in this day and age with the salary cap being a little flatter to pull off a deal of this magnitude, and how quickly did it come together?
Lamoriello: It’s an understatement to say how difficult it is these days. Bryan and I have done a big deal – when I say a big deal, not as many players – back in the early 2000s. I think the relationship is where when you get into a conversation you either know if you’re going to go forward or not. There’s not any back and forth. The respect and the understanding that we have of each other – we’ve been in the business a while. I think it was something that came about. We had conversations, we spent the time necessary that had to be done. As far as how long it took, this is something that came up over the last week or so.
You obviously have a handful of players who are on expiring contracts at the end of this year or maybe have a year left. How active do you expect to be over the next couple of weeks up until the deadline?
Lamoriello: I have no idea. You never know. We’re certainly going to do whatever we can to make ourselves better, not only today but tomorrow. I wouldn’t even know how to answer that. If there was something evident, we’d have it done.
Can you tell us the origins of the trade? I gather Bryan Murray said you were talking about something else and they brought up Dion. From the time Dion’s name came up, how quickly did it come together?
Lamoriello: It came fairly quickly. I’d prefer not to get into timeframe because I’d probably be wrong about the timeframe with these type of things. There was discussions like you have throughout the NHL with reference to GMs. You talk about one situation and then a question comes up about another. You get intrigued with the question, you extend another question, and that’s what came about. Here we are today with a major transaction.
You have yourself, Mike Babcock the coach, Brendan Shanahan the team president. How much were these guys consulted on this deal? What was Mike’s thoughts on you trading the team’s captain?
Lamoriello: Mike will certainly be speaking and he’ll express whatever thoughts he has. We’re a very tight knit group here and I think we said that from day one. We work together very closely. We’ve got Mark Hunter, we’ve got Kyle Dubas, we’ve got Brandon Pridham, Mike, Brendan and myself… in other words, we’re all on the same page when we’re going forward. Our communication is open, it will continue to be open, we’ll discuss whatever has to be done internally, and then whatever decision is made going forward is a unanimous one.
In terms of the overall plan with the Maple Leafs, you mentioned the ability to do things going forward. Would those things be sort of an aggressive look at free agency? What sort of approach do you plan on taking with the Maple Leafs going forward?
Lamoriello: I don’t think there’s any letter in the alphabet left out. I think it’s A to Z. Whatever opportunity there is to make the Maple Leafs better, certainly it will be considered. If it’s the right situation, it’ll be done. As far as pinpointing one area and not another area, no matter what it might be, whatever the availability is to us within the framework of the CBA, within the framework of our salary cap, within the framework of our own players and our young players that are coming, and when our plan is to get them in here – there are so many different variables that come into play. I couldn’t really answer what’s going to happen next. I’ve always said, “we’re going to have a five-year plan, it’s going to change every single day.”
Head coach Mike Babcock
Mike Babcock: Dion was our leader and a real, real good man. I’ve only had a short time to work with him besides Olympic experiences in the summers, but he’s a real good person. Did it right everyday. Really tried to be a huge influence on our team. The problem with us with Dion is that Dion is ready to win, we’re not ready to win. So it was a hard decision. I think it’s a good decision for Dion – not today, but tomorrow. And it’s a good decision for our club moving ahead.
What excites you about Cowen, first of all?
Babcock: He was a player who had it going in the right direction, got hurt, and hasn’t got it back. We feel we have a real good medical team, a real good medical science group. We’ll take a look at him, obviously, physically and do what we can to help him get his game back.
Is this a tough day for the players?
Babcock: Absolutely it is. Someone has to step up now. Someone has got to step up in the room and provide the leadership that he provided. I can’t emphasize this enough – he did it right every single day. He did it right when he wasn’t at the rink, he did it right when in the weight room, he did it right with the coaches and he did it right with the coaches. That’s not easy to do, but that’s what you need on good teams to have success. We’ve talked about that as a group already. It’s a hard, hard business at times. It’s an unbelievably great business, but it’s a hard business.
As you move along as a coach with the rest of the staff, you will be managing the last 31 games and being as competitive as you possibly can be?
Babcock: I don’t think like that. We’ve got a game tonight against Calgary and we plan on winning.
Extra bodies the next couple of days with this trade?
Babcock: We’ve got a game tonight. Plan on winning. We’ll work that all out. When they show up, they show up and we’ll work it out from there.
The prospect you acquired – DJ obviously knows him well.
Babcock: He better be right eh? A little heat on him never hurt anybody. No, Hunts knows him real good too. The second round pick and this kid as well. Also getting us into a position as we improve as a team to be in a better cap situation.
No captain for the rest of the year?
Babcock: We’ll have some assistants, and we’ll encourage guys to step up. We’re a work in progress as you know, so we’ll go the course with the captaincy.
There will be another full-time alternate then?
Babcock: Yeah, but you know what I’ll do? Bozak’s injured, so on this trip we have Polak and Leo, and they’re good men and do it right, and Hunwick. The three of them do it right every day. They set a good example. Someone is going to have to be a little more vocal than they were in the past.