As we’ve seen over at Canucks Army and Jets Nation, TSN’s Bob McKenzie has been making the rounds with the general managers of the NHL’s Canadian franchises. Earlier this week, McKenzie’s interview with Toronto Maple Leafs boss Lou Lamoriello went online. Here are five interesting thoughts from the video, which has offered us some of the best insight into the Leafs’ front office since Lamoriello arrived on the scene.
Lou Is Actually a Team Player
“You consult with people on what you’re doing… Brendan has given me that responsibility; no different than Mike Babcock has the responsibility of how he coaches on the ice. To say that people don’t interact and don’t use each other, I think that’s been over-publicized.” (8:05)
Lou doesn’t mean ‘over-publicized’ here as much as he means ‘over-stated’. We heard a lot about how Lamoriello was a one-man show in the New Jersey Devils’ front office, making all of the hockey decisions by himself and ruling the organization with an iron fist, but he wants you to know he’ll play nicely with right-hand men Mark Hunter and Kyle Dubas.
There’s certainly some truth to it, but a lot of it is probably exaggerated. Lamoriello is a smart hockey guy, but you can’t build and run an organization by yourself, and he surrounded himself with people he trusted who I’m sure challenged him to think differently and see all the angles when he needed to make an important decision.
No, Lamoriello didn’t pick Hunter or Dubas or Babcock, but he will hear them out and trust their opinion. He wouldn’t be here if he didn’t. Why would Shanahan bring Lamoriello in just to snuff out and silence Shanny’s own hires? Wouldn’t happen. Hunter and Dubas will be around much longer than Lou will be, as weird as that sounds.
Coaching and Rehab At 30,000 Feet?
“Yes, the charters will be strictly for the staff and the coaches and the players. It certainly has nothing to do with the (media); it has to do with what we’re trying to do with the sports medicine program, and what we’re doing with the coaching aspect, and what the players will be doing post-game and on the way.” (10:35)
This is seriously cool. Team charter flights used to be all about playing cards and eating peanuts and sleeping poorly and wearing Beats by Dre headphones. Now, it looks like Toronto is going to be maximizing their time and resources in transit.
The sports medicine part? I imagine that means that players will be speaking with trainers on how they’re feeling after games, getting bumps and bruises and muscle pulls checked out and getting worked on by massage therapists.
As for the coaching side of it, that likely means that some players may meet with coaches on the plane and go over strategies and review game tape. This is a new day and age after all, where WiFi in the air is becoming more common and teams can pull up whatever video they’d like on their laptops and tablets.
I’m sure the Leafs will still get all the rest and relaxation they require, but on long haul flights it certainly makes a lot of sense to make positive and constructive use of that time. It’ll be a whole lot easier to accomplish these things without TV guys and writers on board.
Lou’s Message to the Players
“The message was… there is no preconceived notion. So whatever has happened in the past or however you played really doesn’t matter to us. We have no background experience with that. Right now it’s all about going forward.” (12:50)
That’s nice. There are definitely a few players who could benefit from a clean slate and a new coaching staff. Dion Phaneuf and Jake Gardiner come to mind immediately, with Dion being the oft-criticized captain and Jake having a seemingly uneasy relationship with his last full-time coach, Randy Carlyle. This season will be somewhat of a try-out for Lamoriello’s roster-of-the-future; those who buy in and play well will likely be rewarded with contract extensions, and those who don’t will be jettisoned off pretty quickly.
While I think Lou is certainly telling the truth here, I don’t think he’s quite telling the whole truth. He forgot to mention “if you play well, and you’re on a one-year deal or in the last year of your contract, you will be traded for a second-round pick.”
Ownership Is Committed to the Rebuild
“I could say this to the fans and feel extremely comfortable – there’s a commitment from ownership, without question. And a commitment from the people that ownership has brought in here to do everything they possibly can to get this done.”
“I feel 100% percent comfortable to say that ownership has the wherewithal, constitutionally, to go through whatever it’s going to take to make this a sound long-term franchise… If it’s going to take a little time, they’re willing to do that.” (18:52)
Thank God. I’d say that the vast majority of Leafs fans like what ownership and the front office has done lately, bringing in Shanahan and Babcock and so on for the long haul. To get cold feet about it now would be an unmitigated disaster. Imagine the whole front office gutted again, the prospects traded away for immediate help and a new group of executives coming in with a new plan? Gross.
We’ve heard this before, but it’s good to hear it again. The rebuild is real, and the pain that comes along with is real as well. There’s a pretty good chance that Toronto’s ever-growing group of prospects will produce at least a few talented NHLers, and a great coach is already in place to get the most out of them. Finding that success though will take time, and ownership needs to be able to stomach that.
Analytics Are Here To Stay
“I think it’s here to stay. I saw what happened in baseball, and certainly followed that closely – although hockey is a different game. But I’m very, very impressed with what [Dubas] has done and the group he has, the way they work at it, and the support that they can be. And I know Mike is open to that 100%. Math has always been my background, but I think being able to put that into the game… it’s here, it’s just a question of where it can be utilized and not overemphasized because there is still something in the game that you can not measure with statistics, and that’s the character in someone’s heart.” (26:00)
This maybe shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, but it’s good to hear the point being reinforced. Lamoriello, despite being an ‘old school’ guy, has always pushed the envelope when it comes to team management. In fact, the New Jersey Devils hired their own analytics guru, Sunny Mehta, a month before Kyle Dubas arrived in Toronto.
Point is, Lou has the right idea. All smart analytics people would agree that numbers should not be the be all, end all in every hockey decision and that they’re meant to be one tool in a much larger toolbox. “Utilized but not overemphasized” should really be the new motto of the analytics movement.
Some of you are going to snicker at the mention of character and heart to close out the quote – which is fine – but Lamoriello isn’t wrong. You can’t measure those things and teams would prefer to have motivated and proud individuals filling out their roster. So long as you’re not sacrificing significant amounts of skill to bring in ‘character guys’, the Leafs can go out and target them all they want. Skill and character aren’t mutually exclusive qualities. Did you see Marcus Stroman go seven innings the other night against the Yankees? Exactly.