With the Stanley Cup Final between the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins underway, I had a chance to sit down with one of the biggest hockey fans in Los Angeles on Tuesday night, Chicago native and the Los Angeles Dodgers General Manager, Ned Colletti.
OK, let’s get it out of the way, your Stanley Cup prediction …
‘Hawks in seven.
How tough has this year’s hockey playoffs been for you? You’re good friends with both Kings GM Dean Lombardi and San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson, and those two teams faced each other in the second round. Then you had your hometown Blackhawks up against the Kings in the Western Conference Finals.
I have been blessed not only to be able to follow the sport but to make a lot of great friends within the sport. When two of my teams are playing against each other in the postseason, I tell them, “You guys figure it out.” I’m just going to root for good games.
Take the salary cap out of the equation. What are the similarities in building a baseball team and a hockey team?
There is one key component and that’s having players that are really tough-minded, strong character with a focus on teamwork. I think it is incumbent in any sport.
When you watch the NHL postseason, there are people playing who wouldn’t be playing in another sport because of the injury they have. I think there is a nobleness to it and there is strength to it, a mindset that hockey players have. If you could find people in any sport like that, you are finding the right people.
You talk about hockey players being tough-minded. We found out after the playoffs that Kings captain Dustin Brown gutted through the last seven games with ligament damage in his knee. Is there a Dodgers player that has that hockey player mentality?
I don’t want to single out certain guys and leave other guys out. I think we have a lot of players that have that mentality. But I think it is imperative if you are going to be successful as a team to have that toughness, especially in our sport. Hockey is far more physical but our sport is a grind. We play 162 games in 183 days. Those 21 days without a game, I’d say half of those days we are in a plane flying to the next city.
Kings players talk about the fact that they have a core group that has learned to win together, lean on each other, and that has helped them to better handle adversity and, in turn, led to their success. Do you feel the Dodgers have that?
I think we are working our way to that point. We added nine players last July and August. The vast majority are still with us. It takes a little time to build that. I think people who have won the World Series in the past had teams that didn’t necessarily grow up together. There are very few teams whose Opening Day rosters were the same as the one that played for a championship.
From what I have been told, you are surrounded by hockey in your neighborhood …
I live close to the Kings training facility. Kings assistant coach John Stevens lives close by. I can see his porch and he can see mine. Darryl Sutter is four blocks away. Dean (Lombardi) and I talk a couple of times a month. On New Year’s day, I hung out with Dean and watched football.
You also have a strong relationship with former Ducks and Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke who invited you on team road trips. What was that experience like?
I was at the baseball winter meetings about six years ago and there was a lot of downtime. You are there for about three or four days and you have a lot of time to talk about all sorts of things. I started talking hockey with some of the other baseball people and threw out the idea of taking a hockey road trip before our season started. There were four other guys that said, “We’re in.” So I called Brian Burke and we ended up joining the Ducks on a road trip through Western Canada. De Jon Watson from our player development department came with me and, in addition to watching some good hockey, we shared ideas on developing players through the respective systems.
Last time you were on skates?
Two years ago at the Air Canada Center in Toronto. I skated with the Leafs coaches. I was one of the older guys on the ice. I definitely held my own.
Many of our readers likely don’t know that before you got into the baseball world you were a hockey writer in Philadelphia. Talk about that experience?
I played three sports growing up in Chicago. I followed hockey since I was a kid. I was smart enough to know my limitations athletically. I got to cover guys like Bobby Clarke, Pete Peters.
One hockey moment that stands out for you?
I remember when the ‘Hawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010. It was the first team I grew up rooting for that won a championship. It was pretty amazing.
I also have to say watching the Kings win the Stanley Cup last year was as a great moment, too. The fact that they were up 4-1 with 10 minutes to go in the game and those players are sitting on the bench knowing that they were going to win the Stanley Cup, were just waiting for the clock to wind down. Those players had all that time to enjoy the moment and let it sink in.