Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Lou Lamoriello joined Overdrive on TSN1050 to discuss the additions of Patrick Marleau, Ron Hainsey, the team’s cap situation, and plans for the rest of the offseason.
How much of your sales pitch to Patrick Marleau revolved around this marketplace and what Toronto could offer him that San Jose couldn’t?
Lamoriello: It wasn’t about what San Jose couldn’t. Certainly, whenever you’re talking to a player who is a free agent, it’s what the team is all about, and certainly the market and what he wants to achieve. In Patrick’s case, I’m sure it was an extremely difficult position being in San Jose as long as he has been. He could’ve stayed there, probably, as long as he wanted to stay and was still contributing. It was a tough decision for him, but he was extremely excited because of the players that we have here – the young, talented players, the enthusiasm that’s here, and certainly, the city plays a major role in that. And also his comfortability with the coach, who he has played for in two Olympics and World Championships. All of those factors, I’m sure, went into his mind.
Also, one of the major concerns he had was his family. He has four young boys. They play hockey and there’s schooling. So, he really did a lot of homework. This is a unique individual – both quality on the ice, and even more quality off the ice, if there is such a thing. We’re just pleased that he chose to come here.
You said last year, when you signed Matt Martin, that around July 1st all of the contracts are too expensive for your liking. I’m sure this one is no different. People understand that you’ve got this window – these next two seasons – where two of your better players are on entry-level deals. You’ve got that grace period, but I’m wondering about that third year. Are you concerned about the cap crunch that will come with having Marleau on the books for $6.25 while having to pay the likes of Matthews and Marner?
Lamoriello: It’s a great question. Internally, we certainly addressed that question in every possible way you can. We would’ve not done this if we weren’t comfortable that we could satisfy potentially what might come about at that time. This wasn’t a decision for today without tomorrow in sight. It’s a fair question. It’s one that certainly we asked ourselves. Only we can answer with what our plans are going forward. But it’s an extremely fair question and we’re very comfortable with the answer.
He’s the highest paid player on the team now. Now, Patrick Marleau is a great player. He scored 27 goals a year ago. He’s more than likely going to be a Hall of Famer, but I don’t think anyone is going to suggest he’s the best player on your team. Matthews, Marner, Nylander all put up great numbers. If Marleau ends up playing further down the lineup, how comfortable are you with the dollar amount and cap hit if that ends up being the case?
Lamoriello: As I said, when you look at something like this, you take in everything – the highs, the lows. This could happen with any player. You could have a situation where your highest paid player gets injured, as far as where he is in the lineup. We don’t look at it with the downside here with reference to the risk end of it. Right now, we’re looking at the upside and what he can contribute at this time and with the growth of our young players. We wouldn’t be able to do this if this were next year, in our opinion. This is a time and a window when we can afford this contract and not get in the way of what decisions have to be made in the future. That’s the best way I can answer it. But it’s a fair question. We knew that question would come up. It’s just doing the right thing for the organization.
You guys are loaded up front. You had one of the most potent offences in the league a year ago and you’ve got a lot of kids on the Marlies that might be pushing for spots. I think a lot of Leafs fans are wondering, with the addition of Marleau, how does this shake out the rest of the lineup? Mike Babcock spoke with The Star yesterday and he admitted there are only 12 spots for 12 forwards. How does bringing Marleau on board affect the other forwards, and specifically the guys who are maybe on the cusp of breaking out and being everyday NHL players?
Lamoriello: If you recall two years ago, we went through some 45, 47 players to see exactly who was going to be here and wanted to be here and wanted to invest 100% into doing the things to have success. Coming into last year, we really didn’t know what our lineup would be like or what to expect. We didn’t know if Mitch would make the team. We didn’t know how the adjustment would be for Auston. We didn’t know where Willy would be. We didn’t know what would happen with Zach or Connor. I could go on and on. They came forward. They did a great job, but the second year is the most difficult one for anybody coming into the NHL. Also, the teams you play against are going to be more prepared for you. You have to do everything you can to make sure that you address that, knowing that, and help that along.
The addition of a player like Patrick Marleau is going to help each and every one of these players on the ice, through those difficult times, through that growth. It’s not often that you can get someone like this that can still perform on the ice. I know he’s in the latter part of his career, but the number of his age gets in the way. He’s still got elite hockey-skating abilities. He hasn’t lost his touch. Certainly, he hasn’t lost his hockey sense. We feel very good about it. I think that’s all that matters right now.
We don’t like to speculate too much about what you might be up to, but your own head coach has speculated that he doesn’t think you’re done here with formulating this roster for the season ahead. Traditionally, we’ve seen it quiet down around the NHL from this time of year until the Fall. But how furiously will you be working through the summer here to tweak the roster as you deem necessary?
Lamoriello: I couldn’t answer that. I wouldn’t even know how to answer that. 360 days of the year, you’re doing the same thing. Every GM is doing that in every organization. Whenever you can get better, you get better. You have to make sure you’re aware of what is going on to have the opportunity. It’s always a constant. Once you get satisfied, you get complacent. Once you get complacent, I think we all know what happens. I couldn’t answer that.
Right now, all I can say is – and I’m sure Mike feels the same way and everybody in our organization – going into September, if we were going in with the roster that we have – which we plan on doing – we feel very comfortable. There is going to be internal competition. There is going to be people pushing. There is nothing wrong with that.
You guys brought in an addition on the backend with Ron Hainsey. You’ve been open about the defence core. Mike Babcock has been open about it. Most people in the city have been buzzing about where this defence core is going to go. What are you hoping Ron Hainsey can bring to the backend?
Lamoriello: Well, we hope he does exactly what he’s been doing the last several years. If you go back to prior to going to Pittsburgh, in Carolina, he played alongside young defencemen and he helped maximize what they do. He’s calm and he’s experienced. Like Patrick, his skating ability is still there. If anyone watched him in the playoffs last year, he logged fine minutes against top players throughout that playoff run, and successfully. He’s mature. He knows the game. He knows where he’s at, and he’s going to, certainly, be in our top four.
You’ve been around this league a long time. This was the first year in the history of the league where the 16th team in the 16-team playoff tournament made the Stanley Cup Final. Have you ever seen parity the way it is now?
Lamoriello: No, I have not. That’s why you have to, at this given time, do everything you can to be prepared. You don’t know what can happen. Right now, we’re just staying on course. We have not changed the plan that Brendan put in place a couple of years ago. The decisions we’ve made did not take away any of our players or assets that we have. We kept our draft picks intact. We’re going into next year’s draft with, at this point, nine picks in the draft. That can always change – we all know that. We were able to do this because we can afford it. Our ownership has allowed us the opportunity to do this and not affect the plan with where the cap will be at a given time. We’re trying to make sure that we retain our young players.
What appears to have changed league-wide is where the money is going and to which players it is going to. We are talking a lot about Patrick Marleau, who is getting paid at age 38, but that’s anomaly in today’s game. Reports out there are that Connor McDavid may make as much as $13.2 million per year next year. The kids are getting paid, and the kids are getting paid out of their entry-level deals. I think that’s where some of the anxiety in the city stands in terms of Matthews, Marner and Nylander, who could end up being paid really soon. How is that restructuring of the money, in terms of how it applies to the team’s cap and the fact that the kids are getting paid so early into the careers, changed your approach in management?
Lamoriello: I think all of us have changed. I think you have to have your proforma out, which we try to do for five years, and it changes. When it changes, you have to make sure that you can satisfy what you want to satisfy with the players you have. That’s what we have done in this situation. We feel comfortable that it can be addressed.