Lou Lamoriello joined Jim Tatti on TSN1050 before the game against the Boston Bruins on Saturday night. Full transcript below.
I think Leafs fans want to know, in terms of what you’ve seen so far from the kids, what are your thoughts?
Lou Lamoriello: I think we’re extremely pleased, certainly, with the players who have come up. They’ve lived up to all the expectations that we thought they could be and we’ve had quite few of them right now in and out. I’m extremely impressed with the whole Marlies team as far as the way they played all year. No matter who they’ve had in the lineup, they’ve done a great job.
When you look back at where you were in July and then where this team is today, how would you evaluate where this group is right now?
Lamorello: That’s a tough question because there have been a lot of changes. I think the most constant has been the job that the coaching staff has done as far as bringing a system in and sustaining it throughout the year, and having each and every player buy into it no matter who is here. I think right now the reason that we are playing well is because everybody understands what is expected of them, and the staff, in particular Mike, is holding them accountable for what’s been asked of them.
Were you at all surprised the kids picked up on it, or is that something that they got from the Marlies and brought up?
Lamoriello: Well, I think certainly the same system is being taught by Sheldon [Keefe] in the minor leagues. There were certainly some earlier growing pains, but they are quick learners and they find out quickly that there’s a right away and a wrong way and the only way you play is if you play the right way.
It should be a very busy offseason for this organization. There have been a couple players overseas that have been linked with the Toronto Maple Leafs. I just find that whole scenario interesting given your history. It isn’t the same day and age as getting Slava Fetisov out of the Soviet Union, but just how tough is it dealing with players overseas?
Lamoriello: I don’t think it is as difficult as what it was years ago — the education that the players have there, and also the different organizations are aware that more and more players want to play in the NHL, the best league in the world. I think that the reason it’s a little more difficult in Russia is because there is not an agreement with the NHL like each and every other country has. I think that it’s an easy transition right now, so I don’t think that there is any difficulty if a player wants to come, unless they’re under a contract in Russia – then you have to wait until their contract expires.
Obviously the kids have done well, but in terms of next fall, when everybody is back — all injured players, all the veterans are back — and you know what are going to do over the summer, or hope to do… how do you know what chemistry you have, or is that sort of an on-the-spot thing?
Lamoriello: I think we’re impressed with where the chemistry is now with some of the core players who certainly will be here no matter what. I don’t know where the roster will be next year compared to where it is today. There will certainly be changes. I’m not worried about that at all. The character of the people we have in the minor league, the character of the people we have here, we are certainly not going to bring anyone in here unless we know what type of character they have.
I know the expectations are pretty high right now for last year’s first round pick, Mitch Marner. How concerned are you that if he doesn’t crack the lineup he has to go back to the Ontario Hockey League – a league that, quite simply, he has already dominated.
Lamoriello: Right now we are not going to get concerned about that because it’s a hypothetical question. Right now we will just see how he is progressing, certainly throughout his playoffs in London. We’ll see him again the summer. He’ll be on a training program in the summer. We’ll get him into training camp and he’ll make those decisions for us. We are not going to get concerned about him now. We are just going to let the process take care of itself.
How crucial is this summer’s junior draft to the Leafs in terms of immediate returns?
Lamoriello: I thought they did a tremendous job last year [with the draft]. We have certainly a number of picks this year and I feel this will be an excellent draft. It is a good draft year. I’ve got total confidence in Mark Hunter and his staff. As far as how critical it is, I don’t think anything is critical is any one thing you do, but it certainly will add to the number of players that we have in the farm system right now, who really have a good chance of making it to the NHL some day.
You’ve been in this league since 1987. The league has changed, the players have changed, and in a way – outside of being a GM or President – you are kind of a parent as well to the young kids in this organizations. How has the way that you have handled these players changed over time?
Lamoriello: I don’t think that treating people changes at all. I think what you have to do is just be honest, tell them what’s expected of them, and hold them accountable and guide them. Give them some leadership. I think the coaching staff has done that, the training staff, the support staff, the office people. I think it’s the responsibility of each and every one of us to give a direction. They are young. They come in and they’re given big contracts, they are being made into celebrities before they’ve had a chance to have any success whatsoever. They need guidance, but they also have to be allowed to be themselves. They can’t be robots. It’s an ongoing process, but everybody is doing that, and everybody is doing it the same way – to be a support mechanism.
Coach Babcock, as you know, talks about evolving, learning things, moving forward. For you, since you’ve been here as Leafs GM, what have you learned? What has this brought to you?
Lamoriello: What it’s brought to me – first of all, this is a tremendous hockey market. Not that I did not know that, you did not really understand what that’s like until you’re here. Also with the media coverage and the amount of the attention that the players do get – that to me is something that has to be guided along so that they don’t get whether it be too full of themselves or hear things on a negative basis as far as confidence levels. So it’s a balance. But other than that, it’s a tremendous organization. Ownership is just outstanding. I’m extremely impressed with the people that are in this organization. I came in with no preconceived notions and they’re all people that I would’ve hired given the opportunity to interview them.
You were in Boca Raton a few weeks ago, the first time as the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs. A lot of topics were discussed. Was there one area in particular that certainly piqued your interest more than others?
Lamoriello: No, I think the meetings were fairly vanilla. The one area was the inquisitiveness with what the expansion draft will be like as far as protection lists and how we will handle it and what the dates are. That would have some effect on us and how we plan prior to that coming up, should it come up.
And if they were to announce an expansion draft before this draft that’s coming up for next year, how would that affect what you do this summer?
Lamoriello: I don’t know if it will affect anything we do this summer. It will affect how we approach going into the season with certain players that we know we have to protect and certain players that, if we might have them unprotected, we might make decisions prior to that if we think it’s the right thing. Having gone through a couple of expansion drafts, there are certain things that you have to do.
We’ve talked about the Toronto Marlies. Obviously, everyone is hoping for a long run in the playoffs in the American Hockey League. You can speak to experience with Albany and how well they did in the ‘90s winning a Calder Cup. From your experience, how important is it for that minor league team to see that kind of success and hopefully it transitions into the NHL level?
Lamoriello: I could never emphasize enough how important it is, when you get a group together that makes a run, and who needs each other each and every night and experiences winning and what a great feeling it is; what it’s like to be dependent on each other and feel good about yourselves because you know how important you are to the fellow sitting on each side of you. That is something that, unless you go through it, you don’t know what it takes. That’s going to help them grow coming into the Maple Leafs when they get the opportunity.
We have seen the league and the game change over the last few years. Has the way that you evaluate players or prospects changed because of where the NHL is right now?
Lamoriello: I think that speed has certainly something that takes priority, if there is such a word as priority, because there is not as much clutching and grabbing and slowing each other down. So there’s speed. But all the other aspects and qualities of players are still there – hockey sense, that’s something that will never change. Size is certainly something everybody wants but you want them to be able to skate. So you’re still looking for that perfect player, everybody is, but I think if there’s one word it’s speed.