Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis held a press conference to discuss the moves his team made on the opening day of free agency yesterday afternoon. He talked about the three new (and old) additions to the Leafs, Leo Komarov’s courting process, leadership, how to fill the remaining holes in the lineup and the James Reimer Saga, among other things.
What follows is a full transcription of the 13-minute presser. I’ve deleted the ums, ahs and y’knows for the sake of space and clarity. Some of the questions are very hard to hear, so I transcribed them as best I could. If there are any errors, let me know in the comments.
Nonis: First of all, thanks again for coming on a holiday. A lot of you had better things to do than be here today so thanks very much for taking the time. Before I answer any questions I just wanted to thank the players that were here last year that have moved on to other teams. In some cases, we obviously looked to retain them but either way, they put their heart and soul in this organization so I want to thank them for what they attempted to do over the last 12 months, and (I) wish them all the best going forward. And with that, I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have.
Q: With (Stephane) Robidas, can you talk about the age factor, his injury history versus what he could potentially bring to this team as a… (Inaudible)
DN: Yeah he’s a heart-and-soul kind of player. He’s a player I think that, at the end of every year, you can look back and say he’s given you everything he’s had. He’s still a very effective player. His injuries, although untimely and unlucky, one didn’t have anything to do with the other. The breaks in his leg weren’t in the same spot. We had lengthy conversations with our doctors and the surgeon that performed…not the surgeon but the doctor who was a specialist, and we’re very comfortable that that injury isn’t a factor and will not be a factor going into this season. He’s not 27, but he’s also, like I said, very effective. If you look at how he played down the stretch, how he played in Anaheim prior to his injury, he was probably as good as he’s been the last five or six years and we want him to come in here, he’s a right shot that we’re looking for, last year we went the year with one right shot through most of it. Now if you put (Petter) Granberg into the mix we have four, which is something we haven’t had for a long period of time. So, his leadership, the way he plays the game, the fact he can be a second power-play unit guy at this stage of his career, the compete, the character, all those things we were looking to add, we were pretty happy we were the team he ended up with.
Q: How much of a factor was everybody that’s played with (Robidas) talks about how good he is in the dressing room, you guys talked about the culture inside the dressing room, how important was that in bringing this player in?
DN: It was a factor. I mean, put it this way: If he was just a great guy and couldn’t play, well that wouldn’t have helped us. The people that I know that know him, that (team president) Brendan (Shanahan) knows, speak very highly of the way he handles himself on and off the ice. I don’t think we’re looking at a guy that’s gonna come in here and be terribly vocal or anything like that but in terms of playing the game the right way, taking care of yourself and leading by example, that, again, coupled with being a right shot and his playing ability, he was a guy we targeted right away.
Q: Going back to two players, Leo (Komarov) and Matt (Frattin), can you tell us why those two?
DN: Well, different reasons. Both those players had significant roles on our team two years ago. And we talked a little bit about that chemistry we had two years ago and the work ethic and the players playing outside their comfort zone, and those are two players that played a big part in it. I think Matt had a difficult year for different reasons. He’s not a guy who’s past his prime at all, he takes care of himself well, he’s got great foot speed. We know what we have in that player, and we think he’s gonna fit in well with what we’re trying to do.
Leo offers a lot more than what we even got out of him two years ago. He’s a better player, he’s better offensively, he can play with good players, he’s done that on the world stage with a pretty good hockey team. So he’s a guy that can play up and down the lineup, and it was very important to us that we put a pretty good effort to get Leo to come back here.
Q: Can you talk about the process of getting Leo to come back, what that involved?
DN: (Laughs) Yeah, it was a long process. No, it was good. We wanted to make sure that he knew there were players out there that we thought could do the same thing but he was the number-one priority for us of that group. So, we made the decision to spend some time with him, as quickly as possible, laid that out so that he knew he wasn’t just a fourth-line guy that can play six minutes a night, that we feel he can do more, and then let him explore free agency, which he did. He had the opportunity to see if there were teams out there that would do more or were better fits for him and his family and at the end of the day, we were fortunate enough to come to an agreement. When he left here (a year ago), he made it clear to most people that he really liked Toronto, and it wasn’t about the team or his role necessarily, it was a financial decision at that point and we understood that. We left him on very good terms and circumstances changed this year and we were in a better position to make him an offer that was more suitable.
Q: What about his on-ice personality that you can see that maybe the club really could’ve used in the latter half of last season; what do you see him bringing?
DN: Well he’s a very competitive guy. He’s gonna give you whatever he has. He’s, again, a guy who can play up and down the lineup; I don’t see him as a guy who’s just a six-minute-a-night banger. He has ability, he has compete, he gets under people’s skin by the way he plays, not because he’s a chirper or anything like that, but he finishes every single check and sometimes I think people don’t really enjoy the way he does that. But for us, he brought that element, he brought some character to our group, he’s very well liked by his teammates, all the things you look for in a player; I think he ticked a lot of boxes.
Q: Are you trying to address the character and leadership in the room? (Note: Question may have been “How are you trying to address the character and leadership in the room?”)
DN: Well I think part of it, it’s always about character. Your room can handle players who have maybe questionable character if it’s strong enough, if you have enough players that can override that. I don’t think we have a character issue with our team or our players but I think adding people like Leo and Robidas to that group only strengthens it. The compete level that we had two years ago I think was at or near the top of the league. We got more out of our players, the coaches did, the players themselves did, in terms of pushing each other than we did last year, no question about it. And some of the players that we’re talking about were here and will help us get that back or have a history of doing that, and that was a focus for us.
Q: There were a lot of centres available in free agency and trades, you still have an opening at centre, (but) you didn’t seem to be in on any of them besides Dave Bolland. Why not?
DN: Well we didn’t think there was value for us at that position at the dollar amounts that were spent. We still have some work to do over the course of the summer, some of it may come tomorrow, some of it may come two months from now. But we may have kicked the tires on more centres than you think, too. But in terms of spending the money we have remaining, we didn’t see the fit.
Q: You still have a lot of holes; do you expect those to be filled mostly through free agency, through the (Toronto) Marlies or through trades?
DN: A combination of all those. I wouldn’t be surprised if we signed another free agent at some point, but it probably isn’t gonna happen today.
Q: What kind of player do you look for at centre now that most of those guys are off the market? Are you looking for more of a three/four (in terms of which line they would play on) kind of thing?
DN: Yeah I think Peter Holland is gonna be given a pretty good opportunity to try and come in here and earn a spot. If you have another player that is a three/four as well, it’s up to maybe two or three guys to fight it out for that position. That’s the best-case scenario. We may be looking for another player via trade, and it might end up being…there are still quite a few guys who are still out there in the free-agent market that can play that position, if the term and dollar figure reflect the value we place on those players, we’ll sign them. And if not, then we’ll wait, and look to add that player a different way.
Q: Dave, how much frustration was there in that two guys who you pursued, one was Bolland, I know Brendan had talked to him, he ends up going to Florida, another guy is Josh Gorges who doesn’t want to come here and ends up, through trade, going to the team that finished last in the league last year (Buffalo Sabres)…is that frustrating to you in any way?
DN: No. Listen, in Dave’s case, he earned the right to sign a contract with whoever he liked. We feel our offer was very fair, very strong and reflected his value to us, it can’t be looked at as a slight by anybody and he chose to go somewhere else, that’s his right. He’ll be a good player for them, Dale knows him well, and the only way for us to prevent that from happening was to spend more than we felt was appropriate. I don’t think that’s something we wanted to get in to.
With Gorges, again, he has the contractual right to say no as well. He had a no-trade clause and he didn’t feel this was the right fit for him and when players get to that point and get that right, you can’t begrudge him for making the decision based upon that.
Q: Have you addressed the James Reimer situation, in regards to the report that he asked for trade?
DN: Well all I’ll say is the same thing I’ve said all along that if there’s a deal there that makes sense for us then we would look to do it, if not, James is a good goalie. He’s not far removed from having some spectacular numbers. Did he struggle at times last year? He did. He also was very good at times. If there’s not a deal there that makes sense then James will be back in Toronto. I don’t think anyone should feel bad about that. I don’t. If he’s back here, he’s a good person, he’s well liked by his teammates and I think he’s a quality goaltender. It will work out one way or the other.
Q: Will it work out with the coach, though? That seems to be the…
DN: I don’t see why this coach thing comes up with all these players because I don’t know what the coach did wrong with James Reimer except with one time say, “I thought he was OK tonight”. In any other, well not any other, in most other cities it’s not a big deal but here it’s huge. James was very good for a large part of the season. He didn’t have a completely horrendous season. He had stretches where he wasn’t as good as the year before, he had stretches where he was excellent. He’s a quality goaltender. So, for that reason, we’re not in a position just to let a guy who could be a starter somewhere else walk out the door.
Q: Would you look at moving Dion (Phaneuf) to the left with all the other right shots you have?
DN: Yes, it’s definitely a possibility.
Q: The pieces that you’ve added now, do you see a foundation for a team that can make the playoffs and move deep into the playoffs?
DN: Let’s go with Step One. We’re at July 1st; we’re trying to put together a group that has a chance to compete for the playoffs. I don’t think any differently than I did last year in that a large part of our team, heading into the summer last year had just finished making the playoffs, still one of the youngest groups in the league, and still has a lot more growing to do if we’re going to be a long-term success. I still feel the same way. We have a team that is in that mix with those teams that have made the playoffs; I think we’re right there with them, maybe we’re better than some, maybe we’re behind others, that’s for the season to play out, that’s the reason you play the games. But we don’t necessarily think that we have our team picked right now. We’ve got $15+-million in cap space, some of that will be taken up by our Group Twos (restricted free agents), but that’s still gonna leave us with considerable amount of room to make a deal or to add a player that another team is trying to move. It’s a different position then we were in a year ago with the cap coming down.
Q: Assistant coaches, anything…?
DN: We’re moving along with that process, yup.