TSN’s Bob McKenzie is doing his rounds of the NHL GMs this pre-season, just like always, and Sunday, he shared his chat with Lou Lamoriello.
McKenzie talked about the runaway train of optimism of Leafs fans, and he asked Lamoriello if he isn’t the brakeman on that train. His answer is right up there at the top of the page. This is the man, remember, who likes to say potential is just something you haven’t done yet.
And that kind of turning away from hype, that sort of realism, leads naturally to the next thing they discussed: Lamoriello thinks there’s no such thing as a sophomore slump. He talked about how sometimes players show up for their second year thinking life is easier now, and they don’t prepare as much or think they have to work as hard. He doesn’t believe that’s a problem the Leafs will have.
Neither do I. Auston Matthews is the drive train of the team, not just his line. It was clear from his first game that that was true, and Lamoriello returned to that example of his character — not the four goals, but his recognition that he’d made a mistake in overtime and the Leafs had lost the game.
I remember fans being upset at that sort of “narrative”. A narrative is just a story, and a story is just how we make sense of things after the fact, so for Matthews, that was naturally his way of making sense of that game. It wasn’t anyone trying to tear him down or force a false sense of humility on a star. It was his real feelings on the game.
Mitch Marner has been told his whole life you have to be this tall for this ride. He’s never deigned to look up at the hand held over his head, he’s just gone out and played every game like it’s his last. He’s staying on this ride until someone makes him stop. He didn’t slack off this summer.
William Nylander went to Germany and had a hell of a learning experience. You and I might most remember the leap or the goal with Nicklas Backstrom, or that other goal with Backstrom, or maybe this other one. But we can be sure he remembers the truly crap couple of games he played early on. He drove nothing. He was so not pushing that team anywhere. I’ve never been happier to see a player lay a couple of eggs. It reminded me very strongly of his less than successful turn as the 4C. After that was over, he was hot like burning. And he did it again in Germany.
I don’t think anyone has to worry about those three. But don’t be in a hurry. Lamoriello’s other dose of realism is that he doesn’t buy into the idea that you have the best chance of winning while the stars are on ELCs. He doesn’t care what your pet theory is, he’ll bust it.
Lamoriello gave his usual set of answers on things like the plan — five year plan, changes everyday — or expectations — that the team will do their best every night. He returned to a new theme that he’s touched on once before — that the veterans who survived the ordeal of Mike Babcock’s first year coaching the team are now so well versed in the system that they are just able to execute without concern from the coaching staff.
This part of the interview is worth a listen. The man likes his catch phrases, and he follows the hockey code, but in there is the closest you will ever get to someone saying that players like Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner and Tyler Bozak were horribly misused their entire careers up until now.
So about sophomore slumps, the rookies, and the old men on the team. Are you sure James van Riemsdyk, Bozak and Kadri won’t repeat or at least come close to those career years? With the big three refusing to slump, and two of the new players being very familiar with Babcock or Babcockian systems, are you sure they won’t float on the rising tide of the sophomore anti-jinx?
Wait. That sounds like optimism.
It’s the logo on the front, not the name on the back that matters, and you just have to play right and good things happen.
Much better. I got carried away there.
Lou’s bits of news
Updates: Frederik Gauthier is skating, but they have been given no date on his return. Lamoriello refused outright to even discuss if he’s discussing an extension with William Nylander. He won’t admit that the Leafs might be forced to overcook some prospects, but he did call it a nice problem to have. He called Miro Aaltonen a centreman, but won’t say if he’s NHL ready. Ditto on Calle Rosén and Andreas Borgman. (The ready part, not the centreman part.)
Lou tells a story
Now, the really interesting thing for me was the long, seemingly heartfelt bit about what a great place the Leafs are to work. I’m a realist too. And I think the summer of rumours of discontent in the heart of Kyle Dubas and the fact that Lamoriello is being sued for his actions while GM of the Devils might have prompted that seemingly off-the-cuff, earnest, near-gushing picture he painted. It might be genuine. It likely is to some extent, and not least because he seemed genuinely to enjoy the idea that they were all going to argue about prospects back in July after the development camp.
But genuine feeling can be delivered in a calculated way. And as much as McKenzie is a real journalist who wants to break news — he was thwarted at every turn by Lamoriello, who wouldn’t even confirm the Leafs forward lines from McKenzie’s guesses — this is still entertainment, public relations, and a performance telling you what the Leafs want you to hear. They all love each other, and the team is the best it’s ever been.
That second part might well be true.