Toronto looks to rebuild with Mike Babcock behind the bench
The question and the challenge certainly interested Lou Lamoriello: Would the Hockey Hall of Famer be in interested in becoming general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs?
”When Brendan (Shanahan) first brought this idea to me, it was intriguing,” Lamoriello said. ”The second time, exciting. The third time I said, `Why not?”’
As the Leafs embark on their 2015-16 campaign, the task for team President Shanahan, Lamoriello and new head coach Mike Babcock is to guide a franchise forward after a 30-44-8 record last season and nary a whiff of the playoffs.
Toronto is in the nascent stages of a rebuilding process that’s being heavily scrutinized in a hyper-charged media market. It could be a long climb for the Maple Leafs.
Working with Shanahan and Babcock in building a winner was enough enticement for Lamoriello, who won three Stanley Cups as general manager of the New Jersey Devils.
”There’s a great triangle relationship with Brendan, Mike and I,” Lamoriello said. ”Brendan played for Mike, and played for me and we drafted Brendan. With that association, it’s easy to be comfortable. There are no egos. It’s all about what we can do collectively to get us where we want to go. We all know it will take time and patience, but we’re three impatient people.”
According to Babcock and Lamoriello, there are no concerns about front-office chemistry.
”It’s been great with Lou,” Babcock said. ”I’ve gotten to know him (well). The great thing work about working with (Detroit Red Wings general manager) Kenny Holland (during Babcock’s tenure as coach of the Red Wings) was we would be together on decisions even if we didn’t always agree.”
Lamoriello said the executives have no choice but to get on the same page.
”All three of us have some intelligence, are pretty strong in our convictions, but the thing is we have in common is we respect and like each other and know what success is and what it isn’t. Nobody can get between the three of us. There will be disagreements, but that is healthy as long as we come out with the same plan.”
Some things to watch in Toronto this season:
YOUTH MAY NOT BE SERVED
For now, the Maple Leafs will not look to their farm system and fourth overall pick Mitch Marner, eighth overall pick in 2014 William Nylander, 2013 21st overall pick Frederik Gauthier and Toronto Marlies leading scorer Connor Brown. ”We’re not even thinking about them being in the NHL,” Lamoriello said. ”Nothing is predetermined, but it’s a time for development for those players. Whether that changes, it won’t be us changing, it will be the player changing it with his play.”
While it is unlikely that the Leafs’ high end prospects will see time at the NHL level during the 2015-16 season, a fair portion of the campaign will be devoted to development of center Nazem Kadri and defensemen Morgan Reilly and Jake Gardiner.
SHOPPING IN THE HIGH END DISTRICT
The Maple Leafs enter the new season with 48 players under contract, including 23 not on the NHL roster, and have stockpiled 11 in next June’s draft. Would the Leafs part with prospects and draft picks if presented an opportunity to add a significant player or players in a trade?
”You never say never in this game because if you do, your tongue gets caught in your cheek,” said Lamoriello. ”The thought process will be to develop from within, but we will not hesitate from any opportunity to get better.”
The hiring of Lamoriello and Babcock provide the organization fresh eyes through which to view the team. An area that both will assuredly study is goaltending, where starter Jonathan Bernier (21-28-7; 2.87 goals against average, .912 save percentage) and backup James Remier (9-16-1, 3.16, .907) often struggled behind a suspect defense. Lamoriello believes Babcock’s system will benefit Bernier and Reimer.
ALL EYES ON
With Phil Keseel gone, a lot of the star power in Toronto belongs to top defenseman Dion Phaneuf. Last season, Phaneuf averaged 23:43 of ice time in 70 games and he will be busy again. A playoff run seems unlikely as the groundwork begins on this Original Six franchise.