Lou Lamoriello addressed the media on 2018 locker clean out day, discussing the future of the organization, his own future, the Leafs’ pending UFAs, the need to upgrade on defense, and more.
Can you reflect back on the success your organization has had this year? Both at the NHL level and what direction you might have to go to get better?
Lamoriello: First of all, I think you have to go back maybe three years ago, when we started the process of trying to build a franchise that can sustain winning for a period of time and establish a culture. We went from being last in the playoffs, to gaining a berth in the playoffs and going six games, to breaking a franchise record — not that breaking records means anything — and having the opportunity to play one of the best teams in the NHL, coming back from down two games to being able to put yourself in a position where, really, you had the opportunity to win. You had it in your grasp and let it slip. Where the franchise is at right now is the best state, I think, it can be in. You always have to overcome adversity to have success. I think there is a lot of learning that goes on in it. I think there was a lot of learning in these playoffs. The future is extremely bright.
Speaking of futures, there is a lot of speculation about yours. Would you like to be the GM of this team next season?
Lamoriello: First of all, I think that speculation, Mike, is probably what you’re best at. Don’t take it personal. Part of my personality is not thinking about myself or worrying about myself or expressing what has to do with me. It’s not anything new here than it has in the past. That’s where I’m going to leave that. My focus right now is on doing what my responsibilities are and allowing that to take its course.
Everywhere you go, you hear that the Leafs need a stud defenseman. Do you see it that way? Do you think this team really needs to focus on improving defense, or generally speaking, is the goal just to get better?
Lamoriello: The goal is to get better. There is no one position that you’re ever satisfied with. It is no hidden secret that we tried to upgrade our defense. At the expense, it wasn’t the right thing to do. When you do add, you have to subtract. What you subtract, you have to be very careful of. What other area can get better, we’ll certainly do whatever possible. You just can’t pull it out of the sky, either.
Willy Nylander is an RFA July 1st and you can begin negotiations with other two guys — Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner — July 1st. What is the focus as far as those three guys go? Do you have an order in mind, or are you going to let the other two play out for a year? When it comes to getting those three, people are going to talk about…
Lamoriello: I understand the amount of conversations on it, but certainly, the outside conversation is not going to do anything in getting a contract done. We’ll do what has to be done. As far as order — there is no such thing as order. You just handle the situation as it creates itself. But they are all important players. Every one of our unsigned players are important players. It’ll be handled accordingly.
Your UFAs — the assumption is that JVR may be gone and maybe Tyler. Can you address their situations? Will there be some attempts to keep some of them here within the cap?
Lamoriello: First of all, each one of these unrestricted free agents have had outstanding years here and they’ve been a valuable ingredient for us. It was obvious the way they played in the playoffs and it’s obvious we kept them at the trade deadline because of what we think of them. Cerainly, we’d love to have them back, but different circumstances have to be looked at. They know that. They want to be back. It’ll be handled accordingly.
They’ve also earned the right to see what the free market is. They’ve earned the right to see what free agency brings, and then decisions come from that. I’ve been through this often. You never hold anybody back. You want them comfortable. Whatever decisions they have to make at the right time, whether it’s money or comfortability, that will all take its course. As far as would we like them back? Absolutely.
What did you learn about this team during the playoffs? Did anything surprise you?
Lamoriello: First of all, coming out of the playoffs, when you look back, you try to reflect on the positive things first. When you’re down two games in a series and you don’t have home ice — and I’ve been that several times now — to watch the way it’s handled… First of all, the coaching staff did an incredible job of keeping the composure when everyone counts you out. The way the team came together, and the way they put a faith and belief in each other and went out and did it, that, to me, was impressive. We put ourselves in a position where the pressure was on the other team for the seventh game. We gave ourselves a chance. Unfortunately, we did not take advantage of it.
You talked about the free agents and them earning the right to do what they want on July 1st. You could say you’re a free agent of sorts?
Lamoriello: Steve, I just answered that question. Personally, I just don’t believe in talking about that. It’s nothing inconsistent with what I’ve done my whole career. How all of this comes out, I respect it and understand it. I just won’t talk about it.
Last year at this time, it seemed the mindset around making the playoffs was one of success. Last year, Mike Babcock talked about creating a culture where, when you show up in September, you know you’re making the playoffs. Do you think this team’s mindset has evolved past just making the playoffs as a goal and looking further on enough to bigger prizes?
Lamoriello: Do we expect to be in the playoffs every year here? Yes. That’s the best way to put it. You certainly, at the beginning of the year, want to see where you’re at and where the team is at. Accordingly, you make adjustments as far as how far you should go to add or how far you should do things. The foundation of his team should only get better and better. Our most talented players are our young players. When your young players are your most talented players, the only way you can go is up. That’s how you have to approach it.
Can you just confirm any plans with guys going down to the Marlies? With Sheldon Keefe, do you anticipate some NHL teams may come after him this summer?
Lamoriello: First question — yes, Dermott and Johnsson will go down. Kapanen will be going to the Worlds. He’s been asked to go. In our opinion, it will help him with his development. It’s the best situation, although he could’ve gone to the Marlies. There will be other players going to the Worlds also. All of this will be confirmed today. We just finished with all our exits and physicals. Players make those decisions about whether they want to go or don’t want to go for all different reasons — their contract status, injury status, A, B and C. By the end of the day, we’ll have a list of everyone that is going.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there is interest [in Sheldon Keefe]. Until there is, there is nothing that we can really talk about.
Thank you for everything throughout the year. Certainly, you create a lot of excitement in the city. You create a lot of things that I never even knew were happening or might be happening. I’ve always said that the most valuable player from the media is the same one every year: The unknown source.