Lou Lamoriello joined Overdrive on TSN1050 to discuss the Morgan Rielly and Nazem Kadri extensions as well as the plan for the offseason ahead. Transcript below.
You managed to keep this news quiet. You caught a lot of people off guard. Why was it so important for you to keep this news from getting out and keeping all of this stuff behind closed doors?
Lou Lamoriello: I don’t think there’s any intention to do anything out of the ordinary. It’s just that until something is done it’s not done. I can’t see any good coming out of any dialogue or anything of that nature until something is finished. Once it is, you make people aware of it.
Both big deals, both younger players. I think the Nazem Kadri deal has led to the most conversation and debate throughout the fan base considering what happened to him a year ago. He was suspended by the team; he didn’t have a great season. What did Nazem Kadri show you this year that led you to believe it made sense to commit long term?
Lamoriello: First of all, when I came in and when Mike came in, certainly there were no preconceived notions. Brendan certainly had a good seat to see what transpired last year. We put that all in the past. What Naz did this year, both on and off the ice, in our opinion was extremely positive. I don’t think it’s any hidden secret the way the three of us feel about the way Naz competes on the ice and what he brings each and every night as far as his play. We felt it was the right thing, and so be it.
We caught up with Mike Babcock about a week and a half ago, and I asked him how he would define where Nazem is throughout his career – is he still a young kid, is he somewhere in the middle, is he a veteran? He said he was still working on his game. I asked him specifically, “would you want Kadri to be mentoring a player like William Nylander,” and Mike said, “I believe Nazem is still in a position where he has to worry about Nazem right now.” With a contract like this, what kind of responsibilities change for him? How does this change his role within the organization?
Lamoriello: First of all, I support what Mike has said. Naz would repeat that if you asked him. We’ve had these conversations. We feel that right now he has to look, and take care of, the things that are necessary off the ice, which he has done. We know what he can do and bring on the ice. As far as mentoring – I think that’ll be in due time. Right now we just want him to become a better player and a better person. He has the support here for that.
With 45 points this season, do you believe there’s room for more offensive growth for Kadri? Maybe, with some of these young guys coming up with more offensive ability, there could be more production there, or would you be content with that kind of production going forward throughout the contract?
Lamoriello: What I feel about Naz is that he has been put in any role available to him and has sort of excelled in it and accepted it, and will give you everything he’s got. Mike had him in a shutdown role against top-line players. He’s been in a secondary role against secondary players and scored. He’s been on the powerplay. He brings a grit to the game. He brings something that really we don’t have enough of, which we will have to address. I don’t think there’s any apologies for the way Naz plays. He plays on the edge. I like that. I like the way he competes and what he brings. As far as the long-term end of it – we feel comfortable.
Everyone in the fan base and media seems to be lauding the Rielly deal for the value of the contract, not only financially but the term. Are you guys very comfortable with that? It seemed to be a slam-dunk situation to lock him in for a long-term deal.
Lamoriello: He’s certainly our top defenceman. He’s 22 years old. He’s an elite skater, has hockey sense, and has played in the NHL since he was 19. There is no height to where he can’t go. It’s going to be up to him to work and improve. We feel extremely high on what he’s capable of doing. This type of contract – what we’ve done is bought two years of free agency. In Kadri’s contract, we bought four years of free agency. We feel good about them.
You’ve been around some great captains in the game. Do you think Morgan Rielly could possibly be that guy for the Maple Leafs in the future?
Lamoriello: I think, from the characteristics that I’ve seen him of him, he has that capability. He’s certainly not ready yet, but he has those abilities. He has that personality. He has that leadership-type, and he’s respected by his teammates.
You guys got these deals done very early into the offseason – only four years removed from you guys playing your final game. How does that factor into what you might have in front of you in the offseason? Getting these deals done, does it open up more opportunities? Does it send you down different paths going into the offseason?
Lamoriello: It certainly helps us with whatever might be out in the future that we have an opportunity to do because we know exactly where these salaries are as far as the salary cap and how they fit into the people that we do have under contract. So it certainly helps there, but as far as what the future brings, what’s available – there’s so much to be done, there are so many unknowns, whether it be free agency or the draft, whether it be trades. This is an exciting time of the year for a lot of reasons, but there is so much unknown out there.
How many of these conversations happen during the playoffs with other teams?
Lamoriello: With the playoff teams, there’s very little conversation if any. The only conversation you have is with the non-playoff teams. It’s certainly not to the degree that it is when it’s trade deadline or three, four, five weeks before leading up to it. You have to wait and see what people are going to do with their present players, whether they’re going to be signing them – potential unrestricted free agents – or what they’re going to do with restricted free agents, what cap limitations they have, what they might have to consider doing. There is so much unknown.
Earlier in the week, you were asked about a couple of your veteran players who are injured, Stephane Robidas for one. You said there is uncertainty about whether he’s going to be able to play starting next year. There was a little bit of confusion because Joffrey Lupul’s name was out there as well, and you were asked at the same time about his status. Can you clarify where everything stands with Joffrey Lupul?
Lamoriello: It’s the same thing I said that day. It’s an unknown. He had a serious operation. His rehab is going okay. Only time will tell. We went through the same thing with Robidas last year. He came to training camp and it just did not work out. He tried it. We’ll just have to wait and see. I have no update on that, other than the rehab is going good, but he’s had a serious operation. He has got a problem there.
Unknown in terms of him being ready for next year, or to ever play again?
Lamoriello: I couldn’t answer that. The unknown of being ready is the only thing I’d be able to add now. As far as anything long term, I have no knowledge of that.
We were chatting to Brendan Shanahan about what a gameplan might be heading into next year with the youthful players that you guys have – William Nylander, Zach Hyman, Nikita Soshnikov, Connor Brown, and others. The past couple of years, this organization has decided to bring in veteran players on one-year deals, plug them in and allow the kids to continue to get seasoning down in the minors. Might that change next year considering these players are a year older and maybe prepared to be NHLers? Would you rather have more spots open for the kids going into camp next year?
Lamoriello: I think we’d like to have that. I think the players that have been in here – that is the young players, the four that you mentioned in particular – they showed up pretty well. They showed up at a time, too, where there’s really no pressure, where we were out of the playoffs, which is a different time of the year. We’ll have to find out. We’ll see them in the AHL Calder Cup run they have. We’ll see how they are. We’ll see them in training camp. They’ll make a decision as to whether they’re here or not. If they’re ready to play, they’re going to play. It’s not a case that they’re ticketed to go to the minors. We saw what they did when they came into the lineup; the speed that they had. They’ve brought something special. Whether it’s one, two, three, four, five – we’re not going to worry about that. It’s going to be our responsibility, also, to surround them, should there be a handful or one less or two less, with the type of veterans that you need when you have young players. I’d like to think that we will do that.
You guys are clearly rebuilding. In the past few summers, it’s kind of been the journeyman guy who has been signed and flipped for picks. Is there any way that approach could be changed this summer? Maybe a more prominent roster player to support some of these young guys?
Lamoriello: I think I’ve answered this question today a couple of times. We will not rule out anything that we can do that’s going to make us better today, but [we’re not going to] lose sight of tomorrow. If there is a player that we can acquire that’s going to do that, we’re going to do that. In other words, this is a stepping stone process. Whatever it is that can help, whether it speeds the process up, or whether it just keeps it level for a period of time; even if you have to take a step back as long, as it’s going to go three or four forward. But we’re not going to take any steps back in the progress and the development of these young players because we have a lot of quality individuals and fortunately we have some quantity right now.
You’ve been here for a year. Is there any doubt in your mind that ownership will allow you to continue to work with full autonomy and continue to put forth this plan?
Lamoriello: I have no doubt that ownership is totally supportive of the plan that Brendan began doing last year with a major trade. We’ve been consistent all year. Mike, Brendan and myself constantly talk, and we’re all going in the same direction. We want the same results that our ownership wants, that our fans want, that everybody wants. We’re going to stick to it. We’re not going to let anything distract us.