In his media address on Sunday, General Manager Kyle Dubas discussed the addition of Joe Thornton to the roster, his current cap situation, whether he is done with trades and signings for the offseason, how much the roster has improved over the past week and a half, the addition of Zach Bogosian, and Cody Ceci signing in Pittsburgh.
What do you think the biggest benefit the organization will get from adding Joe Thornton at this time?
Dubas: A couple of things. On the ice, I think he is a good fit in terms of the skill set that has made him into one of the best players of his generation and still allows him to be a successful and effective player at a time when many who entered the league at his time have retired save for a few notable ones in Patty Marleau and Zdeno Chara — and that is his playmaking.
We have guys — whether it is Auston, John, William, or even Mitch with his ability to make plays at the net — that can really benefit from a high-end playmaker up and down the lineup, on the power play, and even at even-strength depending on how Sheldon utilizes it. That was the on-ice portion of it. He still shows an ability to drive play, even at this stage of his career. It is not like his minutes have diminished all too much over the last couple of years. They are still around that 15 minutes a night mark.
He is still very capable of playing and being a good player for us. We think it will be a good fit with the forwards we already have.
Just as importantly, there is the off-ice portion of it. He is someone who you don’t have to read too much or ask too many people to know his love for hockey and spirit for the game is up there with anybody who is around hockey at this time. The thing that excites me, Sheldon, and the players are the things he is going to bring to the locker room in terms of his attitude and his mindset each day, especially as we are continuing to grow as a group. I think that will be a very, very important addition to us, and it’s something we have tried to focus on this offseason.
The criticism of the team adding another senior player… How does that sit with you?
Dubas: I think everyone is entitled to their opinion. In operating in this job and any of the 31 or 32 markets, there is always going to be a division of opinion on every move that is made. I think that is part of what makes the job great. For the players, it gives them the chance to go out and show that they are still capable and they still have the ability to make an impact. I think Joe will do that.
We were one of the youngest teams in the league last year. It’s something that I learned from Lou in his time in working with him here, and even looking at the playoffs and some of the things Tampa did, or even more specifically with what Jim Nill did in adding the Pavelskis and Perrys and Sekeras to his lineup, and the impact it had. It is not something we necessarily shied away from in the past, but it just didn’t work out in the past couple of offseasons. It is something we really keyed in on this year as needing to do to continue to boost our group and add a little bit of experience and personality to the group with the guys we’ve added and the type of people we’ve added in Joe and Wayne, in particular.
We’ve also added some younger players — guys who are at a key point in their development. Joey Anderson is a bit younger, but he has been a winner at all levels so far. Jimmy Vesey has a lot to prove. In seeing his comments the other day, he has a lot of incentive and he is going to come out flying.
Most of the conversation goes to Wayne and Joe. I don’t particularly think Wayne is all that old at 32, but maybe it is just because, ever since the Hainseys and others have moved on, it gets more notoriety. It’ll be up to us. People are going to have their opinion and they are 100% entitled to it. It is up to us to show what we can do when we get back to competing again.
You were 10 or 11 when Joe got drafted by the Bruins. What do you remember about him from the Soo? Did you cross paths?
Dubas: When I was growing up, I used to go to every single Greyhound game until I started working for the team. I was 11 when I started working for the team in 1997-98. Joe came back and did the training camp and the Red and White Game in the Soo, then he left for Boston and never came back to the Soo. He has obviously gone on to a prolific NHL career.
I remember watching him. I was playing at the time, and you would go to the games with your teammates. It was just at that time when I was 9, 10, 11 years old, and especially in his draft year, the team was very, very good. They actually lost to Manny Malhotra and the Guelph Storm in the second round of the playoffs that year. It was a great series. Manny was kind of up against Joe in a matchup. I don’t know why that always stands out in my mind, but it’s interesting that it comes full circle and they’re both back here with us.
He was just a dominant player. Even in his 16-year-old year, to be as dominant as he was with his skill level and size… He was also one of the toughest players who had come into the program. The combination of all of those things, especially in Sault St. Marie, makes you revered forever. Obviously, he has gone on to be one of the most revered players in the history of the franchise and he rounds out the forward line in terms of the history of the Greyhounds: Gretzky, Francis, Thornton. That is pretty good.
It is always something that stands out. Whenever players come through the Soo, I always, frankly, study their career and watch their career and cheer for them. It is great that we are able to bring it back together here now.
What went into the sales job of getting Joe to come here? He admitted this wasn’t the first time the Leafs have shown interest in him. Obviously, this time, the job got done.
Dubas: We just thought he would be a great fit in terms of the skill set that he possesses, even at this stage, and what he would bring to our locker room and to our group and to our leadership team. We just kind of told him that this is what we have to offer, and this is where we are at. Obviously, everyone knows we haven’t reached the goals we aspire to yet, but we think he can be a big help — both on the ice and off — in getting us there.
That is largely what I spoke to him about. Sheldon spoke to him about how he would deploy him, how he would coach him. Our players — more importantly than Sheldon and I — when you are bringing in some who has a long, prolific history and a great personality, they were very excited. Their conversations with Joe would have gone a long way in letting him know — this is a big move at this stage in his career, and he is trying to win — what they are about as people and where they see themselves at and where they see the team going.
With all of our players in the offseason, there have been some of the most frank discussions with them. They have been, I think, very honest with themselves about what they need to do to get us out from stalling at the beginning of the playoffs, and putting ourselves in a good position at the start of the playoffs with our regular season, and not letting our foot off the gas then — and how Joe could help with that, in terms of his experiences and his own aspirations to win the Stanley Cup.
We were just very blunt about what the opportunity would look like, where we are at as a team, where we want to go, and how we are going to do it. We are thrilled that he decided to join us.
You mentioned Joe bringing personality to the team. Can you describe a little more what you mean? Did you think personality was lacking on this team?
Dubas: I just think he is a different type of personality and has got a great spirit to him. Adding anybody like that can always be very helpful to a group at any time. In talking to players who have played with him in the past and people who have coached him and who know Joe, it’s just his love for hockey.
Our team, in talking to our own players especially, they have a deep love for the game, but at his age, to still have that love of the day in and day out grind of being a professional athlete and what it takes to get yourself up every day… It is so hard to tell what a season is going to look like now, but when we go through a usual season, having people like that — who can jump in at different times, be it Joe or Wayne Simmonds or Bogosian or other guys on our team that have always been here — can add a lot to the spirit and energy of the group. That is something that we were keying in on in the offseason: to add more of that.
It is always important as you are navigating through a year, especially this year and not knowing what the year is going to look like. It is important we have that in spades. With the additions of Joe and Wayne and Zach Bogosian, in addition to what we already have, they are noted for their personality and their spirit, and the way they communicate with their teammates. I think that can give us a good boost through a season.
On cap space, remaining moves, and how much the team has improved this offseason
With the additions over the last week or so, you now have about 15 or 16 NHL-level forwards and eight or nine NHL defensemen. There are still a lot of free agents out in the market. Are you still open to players you could conceivably sign on bargain deals?
Dubas: We are always open to exploring anything. I don’t think we ever get too close-minded, or at least we try not to get too close-minded with any opportunities that might be there.
I think what we are seeing now is that the players that are out there look at our situation and don’t see a huge amount of opportunity at this point, whereas that was different about a week ago before signing Wayne, Travis Boyd, Jimmy Vesey, Joe, and adding Joey Anderson in the Johnsson deal. There are those elements that are a little bit prohibitive in terms of us adding players.
There are still guys who think they can beat guys on our roster out, but at the same time, we have salary cap constraints and contract slot constraints as well. We would be open-minded to anything. We will continue to stay in touch with those players that are still available, but I would be surprised if we were to add anybody more at this point at any of the three positions that would make a huge impact.
What role do you see for Zach Bogosian on the ice next season? What does his addition mean for the competition for spots on the blue line and for minutes?
Dubas: That will be up to Sheldon, in the end. That will all get sorted out in training camp and early in the season. Not knowing what the season is going to look like, we felt like we were pretty happy with our depth there and what our options are in terms of internal homegrown guys — whether that is a Sandin or Liljegren — and we felt we wanted to add, as I noted previously, a bit of a different element in terms of the mix we could put out there and Sheldon can utilize.
Zach is a very competitive, strong defenseman. He just had a great experience with Tampa Bay this past summer and into the fall with them. That, to us, is a big addition. Obviously, he will kill penalties. He will challenge the guys on the roster for ice time. We haven’t had the success as a group to where everything is owed to anybody based on previous performance. Zach can challenge anybody as high up as he wants, and that is really what we are looking to create: We want this to be as competitive of a situation as possible and force guys to keep their foot on the gas throughout the whole year and not let off.
This past year, we had quite a few injuries back there. Adding depth to what we already have was a key, and of course, adding TJ Brodie to the top end of that was very important to us. It is a fascinating business. During the year, you go through it. You have injuries, and your depth is tested, so you address it in the offseason, and then people wonder how it is all going to fit. Not knowing the way the year is going to go, we are going to need depth, as the teams that went deep in the bubble showed. All of them lost key guys on the way to get to the Finals. We need to be as deep of a team as possible if we are going to reach the potential that we set.
The battles in training camp and early in the regular season will be good storylines for everybody to follow. We are anxious to see how these guys compete against each other. I think it really starts with what they are doing now with their offseason training and how they are working to set themselves up for a great camp.
With all of the changes made, how do you think the roster has improved?
Dubas: I’ll start in net and work my way out. Going back to February, the backup goalie situation and adding Jack Campbell and adding Aaron Dell to that, I think it gives us the best three that we have had in the years I have been in this position, certainly. That excites us there in terms of the depth we are going to have there.
On defense, we have seen growth from our own guys — whether it has been a Justin Holl or Travis Dermott — and we have got Mikko Lehtonen coming over. He is off to a great start with Jokerit and will continue to play there until we get more clarity on the season. We’ve got, obviously, the additions of TJ Brodie and Bogosian. TJ is better capable of playing at the top of our group, whether it is with Morgan or with Muzz. Zach adds the different element in terms of physicality and competitiveness that we were seeking to address as well. We feel we have rounded that out, and we are excited about the defense core — not only the additions, but seeing the growth. Morgan being healthy from the beginning will be key for us, in addition to the growth, whether it is Holl taking steps or Dermott taking steps, Sandin, Liljegren, Rosen, and so on and so forth. We are really excited about where we are at there in terms of the additions, the progress of our own guys, and the different types of elements that we have added.
Up front, the top end of our roster is clearly very talented. We wanted to continue to add different elements to complement them, but also guys that were a little more competitive our had a lot to prove. Joe is Joe, and he will be able to — whether it is center or wing — contribute and make plays. Jimmy Vesey has a lot to prove and is highly motivated. Especially at the end of last year, as he got his feet under him in Buffalo, he showed he could play up and down the lineup, penalty kill, and play competitive hockey. Wayne Simmonds doesn’t require a whole lot of introduction. Everyone knows what he is about — excellent net-front scorer on the power play and at even strength, and one of the more highly competitive people that we have had here in a long time.
We wanted to continue to build out the depth and continue to become more competitive, bolster our blue line and goaltending, and we are really anxious to see it in competition and get back to competing next season.
Do you anticipate — with where you are at cap wise, and still needing to sign Mikheyev and Dermott — needing to move a contract out? Not just for space for those two, but you also mentioned before giving yourself room in-season if you need to add at the trade deadline.
Dubas: I don’t anticipate it. Whether we have to go with 20 men on the roster to start, or whether on off days and with the team being so close, we send guys down to play games for the Marlies rather than sitting out for us — if they have been through waivers or they are waiver exempt — in order to keep guys fresh and active and accrue some savings that way, will be key. At this time — in working with Brandon Pridham on it daily — it doesn’t appear that we will need to move anybody else out.
We have the arbitration case with Mikheyev on Wednesday. Subsequently, we will get Travis’ situation rectified and taken care of and move from there. At this point, we don’t anticipate having to move anybody out.
With the Andreas Johnsson trade, how much of a market was there for him? Was there any concern about moving Johnsson and Kapanen out — a couple of guys with 20 goal seasons — and losing too many goals?
Dubas: Both Kasperi and Andreas were very good players for us. In both cases, certainly, in a perfect world, you would love to be able to keep everybody. The world is far from perfect these days and you have to react and adapt to the situation at hand with the salary cap being what it is. We would have loved to have kept both players, but we had to make calls to give ourselves the flexibility to add TJ Brodie and the different elements we wanted to throughout the lineup.
They are good players. When they go out the door, you are always concerned. With adding Joe and Jimmy Vesey and adding Wayne, in addition to Joey Anderson — he has played at a high-end level with the US program, the US World Junior team, and has played in the NHL the last two seasons each and has been able to score in brief stints with New Jersey, and he has won championships at the World Junior and at Duluth. He is no slouch, either. I know people don’t view it that way.
There was a lot of interest in Andreas. We elected to go with Joey because of his combination of talent, what he has shown, his character, and his competitiveness. We are excited about him and think he will be able to challenge and bolster that as well. We also think the players we have added are highly motivated and will be able to contribute. We have also got Nick Roberston and Fillip Hallander and eventually Nick Abruzzese, who are going to be challenging for positions in addition to the players we drafted this year.
We feel we have a lot of options to fill in those goals internally and with the free agents we have signed. It is going to be up to the guys to take advantage of those openings now. The other part to it is with Mikheyev hopefully being healthy for a full year, we get a chance to see what he will do in a full season, which will be great. We expect some bounces back from other guys in our lineup as well.
It is always tough to move guys out, but it is part of what we have to do right now to make it all work. It gives others a huge opportunity that they will have to take advantage of.
You were one of Cody Ceci’s biggest defenders. You suggested that the team’s internal data pointed to him being more valuable and important than the general consensus among the fan base and some of the media. He is making a lot less now — $1.25 million in Pittsburgh. How do you reconcile him being as valuable as was suggested but then not bringing him back at a lower number? Was it a case of him being offered something similar and it was time to move on?
Dubas: We went in the direction of TJ Brodie and we just thought Bogosian brought a different element that we needed. That was the decision on that.
I think lots of players are making less than they made last year all across the board just based on the circumstances. It is impossible to say, year to year, what a player would or wouldn’t have made if the circumstances were normal or the cap had gone up.
We wish Cody well in Pittsburgh. I thought he played well for us. I know people don’t like to hear that. He is not an offensive guy, so if you are looking at metrics that take everything in totality in terms of what someone is doing offensively and defensively and tries to put them into one number — whether it is Corsi or whatever — to tell you how good or bad they are, maybe he is not going to be a shining star in that light. But if you look at his impact in terms of the minutes that he played and who he had to play against and what he did defensively to prevent us from giving up a ton and from giving up a huge number of high-end chances and shots against, he grades out pretty well to us.
I know people don’t like to hear that and think it doesn’t make any sense. Because he plays in such a defensive role and players who play in that role are going to make mistakes… When you are supposed to be a defensive person, any time you make mistakes, people key in on them and really focus on them, but I like Cody. I hope he goes to Pittsburgh and plays extremely well for them. He was a low maintenance, easy-to-manage-and-coach player in our group. We hope he does well in Pittsburgh.