Lou Lamoriello joined Sirus XM NHL Network Radio to discuss the Toronto Maple Leafs’ outlook for the new season just around the corner.
Is the club further ahead than you anticipated they might be right now?
Lamoriello: Well, I think we would have to say that after the end-of-the-year run and, certainly, the way we played in the playoffs.
The team has done a lot of losing for a long time. You brought in coach Mike Babcock and you brought in some good young players. What was the process by which winning and achieving became the expectation for this club every night?
Lamoriello: First of all, Brendan Shanahan brought in Mike Babcock, and also Brendan brought me in. Brendan deserves the credit for a lot of what has transpired as far as the change in the personnel as far as the management and overseeing everything.
When we use the word culture, I think it is an overused word but certainly underdeveloped. I don’t know if there is any one definition. My definition of culture is doing the little things right and doing them day in and day out, over and over again. That establishes sort of who you are as an individual and also who we are as a team.
That’s what we have tried to do in every area. Mike has done that on the ice. We have tried to make sure that has happened off the ice. We certainly continue to work at it. It’s not something that happens by accident.
You were top ten in the league in both the power play and the penalty kill. To what or to whom do we give the credit for these numbers?
Lamoriello: Mike certainly oversees everything that is going on on the ice. He delegates the power play teams. Jim Hiller, certainly, with Mike working with him [on the power play], and DJ Smith – the shorthanded coach – working with him… it’s a collective work with specific job descriptions. Those two individuals deserve a lot of credit, certainly, along with Mike.
If there is a number that is a little bit concerning, it is your record in overtime, and 1-8 in the shootout. Can you improve in the shootout and practice the shootout, or is it a little bit fickle and you have to just hope things go your way?
Lamoriello: That’s something, from past experience since the shootout came in, I don’t think you really think of. I have been in situations where one year it was like we had this year and the next year we were one of the best in the league. We have confidence in the players we have. It’s something that we just have to find a way to get done, but certainly not get excited about it or get overly concerned.
A big signing on July 2nd – you bring Patrick Marleau in from the San Jose Sharks. How did this deal come to be? Where do you see him fitting on the club?
Lamoriello: Whenever you are able to acquire a player of his stature and status – as far as what he has done in the league and the type of individual he is – and then you look at our team with the youth and still in a development mode, despite whatever success we had last year… I want to make sure that I emphasize that we didn’t win the first round. We played very well. We have a ways to go in what has to be done.
Along that way, you need people to help the young talented players grow. Whenever you can do this [you do it], and also the bottom line is he can still play. We play a skating game. It is what Mike teaches and emphasizes. He still is an elite skater. That’s something that we all felt extremely good about being able to get done.
You referenced the Washington series. Did the team need that? I think there is a belief in hockey that you have to lose before you can win. Did they have to go through the Capitals experience?
Lamoriello: I think we had to go through every possible experience that we could get. We really went through a lot of changes two years ago in our first year there. Mike, and all of us together, went through some 47 players to try to find out exactly who wanted to be a part of the future Maple Leafs, who wanted to do the things that are necessary to have success, and a lot of emphasis, certainly, was on the veterans that year. Most of the young players were with the Marlies and came up sporadically just to gain experience.
This year, we knew the players we were going to have back and we felt good about that. The teaching mode really went into the young players. We didn’t know exactly where they were at. We knew they had ability, but didn’t know how quickly it would come. That’s basically where we were this year. Their abilities are real. Mike was able to get them to do the things that are necessary to have success with the philosophy that individuals can win games but teams win championships.
I think, coming into this year now, we have the veterans and the young players all on the same page. Now we have to see exactly how much we’ve grown and how much we’ve improved. Only time will tell us that.
Speaking of young kids, you had the #17th pick at the draft this year and took the Swedish kid, Timothy Liljegren. This young man was projected to be a top-five pick and his draft year was a bit of a perfect storm – some injuries, health issues, mononucleosis was part of the equation. Obviously, the Leafs were still very high on him. What do you see about this young players that made him your first-round selection?
Lamoriello: Certainly, our scouts have seen him, and he was heavily scouted the year prior to his draft, and then he actually played on several teams last year because of his mononucleosis, which gave him a major setback. He had a serious case of it. Our people did not lose sight of what he did before. He has something that you can’t teach: He never lost his skating ability and talent.
I had the opportunity to see him in Plymouth this year and also in our prospect camp, and we’re extremely pleased. This is a young man who has outstanding hockey sense and outstanding skating ability. Once again, it’s only potential, so we have to see how quickly he develops. But defencemen with his talent don’t come along often.
Are there any kids you are really excited about seeing in September at Leafs camp who you think might be ready to take the step to the NHL?
Lamoriello: I think it’s going to be very difficult for young players to jump into this lineup. I think our lineup is going to be extremely competitive. [On top of] the people we had here last year, we’ve made two additions with Marleau and Moore and we have a couple of young players who are on the verge – Leivo, Soshnikov. It’s going to be competitive. The best players will play. But we’re looking forward to training camp to see how much we have improved.
The league is a great league. Parity is there. You can’t allow any slippage. We should be better, but we will find that out to see exactly where our players are at.
I know you don’t like to isolate individual players, but I have to ask about Auston Matthews. It’s evident what he can do on the ice; he’s an amazing talent. What did you learn about Auston Matthews as an individual in the last year that makes him such a special person?
Lamoriello: I think what we learned about Auston didn’t take long. It was the first regular season game in Ottawa when he had the night of scoring four goals as a rookie. When he was interviewed after the game and asked about his performance, his response was that it was his man that was lost in the overtime. I think that says it all about Auston as far as him not getting confused with the logo and the name. He’s an outstanding individual along with our other young players. We are very fortunate with the character and the team approach with the people we have.