If Todd was the right coach for the first year of the transition period, why is he not the right coach going forward?
Well, Todd came to me later in the year and said "I want to think about some things" and ultimately he came to me over the weekend and said "it's time" and I respect that and I certainly have to concur with that. And that's how we got to that decision. I'm still not completely through the evaluation with our players. I've only met with about half of them up to this point but it was a mutually agreed upon scenario that he had talked a little bit openly about and came to me and talked about it and wanted some time and I made sure he got the time because he certainly deserves that respect. He's a great family man and we got to this point, we got there, as he mentioned this morning, mutually and that is the truth.
What's the next step? Do you have anybody in mind, do you have a timeframe in mind--maybe before the draft--to have someone in place?
First of all, Todd didn't come back to me until this weekend so I certainly hadn't in any way gone forward and looked at some options. Much like I did with both he and Ron Wilson, I want to find the right people. I'm not going to rush into that conclusion because I think whoever we get, I want him to be someone who fits for the next seven or eight years. And it goes beyond just the head coach. I mentioned the assistant coaches. The whole staff has to bring something to the table that brings the ingredients of a successful staff. The aspects we're looking at with our game, when you've got young players coming in, you've got to teach them, have them grow. Larry Robinson is in his new role, he's going to be very important as well. But we have to max out the performance of our players and our team. We have to be much more consistent than we have been. We've got the hard things figured out, you know, we can beat the top teams and we can win on the road. The things that should be easier to find solutions to would be winning in our building, which historically we've always done, and against teams that might be lesser competition. We don't want to rush it, I want to get the right person. There's people who would like to coach here. We've got a lot of good players, we're in a good position to go forward. There are probably some coaches who will come available in the next little while. So I don't want to rush the decision from a shortened pool.
I know you talked last summer about the culture here and that change would be necessary. Some players suggested at the end of this season that the culture was not great at the moment. There was a suggestion that not everybody was on the same page, top to bottom, in the organization. What's your sense of where things stand on that ground?
I think the evolution of it this year tied into some of the things were trying to transition to. Any meetings that I've had with players will be kept in confidence but they've been very open and honest on some things that they need to take care of. Good teams play hard for each other and, really, "drop the puck and are you there for me?" I think our group, they really care, they've looked at some ways of taking care of some of their things but that responsibility is shared by everybody. Meritocracy of ice time for example, making sure that you earn your ice time. Making sure that teammates hold you accountable. That goes from me to the coaches to the players and we've gotta do a better job of that, we do.
Was there a concern on your part that maybe not everybody was on the same page after last season?
Well, I'll be honest with you, you'd think we'd have been distracted the first fifty games of the year but we weren't. There was no distraction. We came out and played extremely well. We were sitting in second place, trending at a 100-point pace and having the record that we did so I think they did an extremely good job being focused on that, playing extremely well. The question is why did we not maintain it and why did we lose eight in a row in February and I'm still searching for the answers from that and I've got a group of players that have their thoughts and opinions and we'll push forward until we get that. We need to be the dominant team in this building like we have been historically because the Western Conference is not getting any easier.
You said people want to coach this team. You've already had some calls?
It doesn't take long in this business. And one of the biggest things we've always done is that this is a place where people want to play. We do have some good players and our coaching staff has certainly coached up some of the young guys who maybe didn't have great years this year but we know they're good players. We've got some quality veterans. We've got some young players that are playing in Worcester that will come and compete for this team. We're trending up, we're going to bounce back very quickly. What I'd like to see us do is start another ten-year run of making the playoffs. Sometimes a lesson learned like this, I don't know if it can spur you on but anybody I've ever met in life has fallen down, skinned their knees and gotten up and been better because of it.
Do you anticipate this transition process continuing through next year, that next year might be another year of pain as you put it? Or do you see this accelerating at this point? Do you see this being a playoff team next year?
I see this being a playoff team next year, I do. I think we showed our capabilities at times this year. Not just the first fifty games but against top teams. That's what tells you you really have the skillset to compete against them. The consistency factor is something we've all talked about and that has to be addressed. The Western Conference, you look at all the teams, you can't look at the schedule and say this is going to be an easy game anymore. You've got to respect that, you've got to respect your opponents and you've got to prepare that way. Games early in the year are crucial, your home games are crucial, you don't want to have extended losing streaks. I think it forces you to get better as a hockey team, it forces all people in all areas of our organization to say we've gotta be on top of our game just to stay competitive in the West.
What are some of the main attributes that you'll be looking for in the next head coach? How many candidates are on your list right now?
Let me work backwards. We're going to take a look at the characteristics we're looking for in this game, where the game is going. The guy that can basically get the most out of our players. And when you look around the league right now, teams that are trending well, playing hard, holding people accountable. I mean our coaching staff was a very good coaching staff and did all those things. We're now looking for someone to come in and take us to the next level. It will not be a rush. As I said, there are people who will become available shortly. We will not be limiting it to one pool of coaches either. It can be coaches from all aspects, whether they be college, junior, NHL, there are some really quality talented people out there. We've got to make sure we make the right selection so it's another seven, eight, ten years with the right guy.
Is there anything you would have done differently in the last twelve months since the playoffs ended last year?
Well certainly. When you get into an evaluation you've got to go back and take a look in the mirror. We were very, very transparent last summer in what we were going to do. We were going to go young, we had some players that had to be given opportunities, not jobs. We were going to make sure, this was going to be a very strong draft this year, we were not going to compromise high-end picks or move younger players. We knew the AHL team coming out here was a huge piece of that puzzle. So those things we were committed to, we weren't going to waver on. I think you're always learning, you've got to be curious in this business, you take a look around the league at what's winning, what's being successful. We can't just stay stagnant and say this is our model of game. You watch the game last night, watch a team like Calgary, how they're playing, there's things in your own zone, puck possession, we're trying to acquire players that are puck possession players because that's the style of game we believe in so when you add a Hertl or a Nieto or a Goldobin or a Tierney you can see where we're going and where we think the game's going and then you've got to have a coaching staff that will max out the growth and potential of those players. Not just the young players but the mid-age players and the veteran guys. You've got to get better every day.
Did you think you were maybe too transparent last summer?
You try to speak the truth. And the comments that I made were with a tinge of emotion, yeah, it was a very emotional time the way we lost. I think the things that I tried to say were general statements, not about individual players. And yeah there are probably times where I should think before I speak but it's coming from the heart and it's trying to find solutions. We always hold ourselves accountable. You've got to look in the mirror first before you hold other people accountable and that's what we're doing now.
Was the message from Todd McLellan and his staff not getting through to the players this year? Did you sense that?
You'd have to ask Todd on that. The questions he was asking himself, he got to a conclusion that change would be good for him and this organization and a lot of the conversations that we had he was asking questions of himself and that's a good thing, that's an honest thing but I think you'd have to talk with him on that one. My conversation points with him and the players are kept in confidence.
Can you clarify in which ways this was a mutual decision? Because it sounds from the outside looking in that it was a one-sided decision from Todd's perspective.
I would say it was mutual. He shared some things. I think he expressed with you he wanted to talk with his family. We respect family and he took that time. He came to me with his decision and I concur with that decision, I do. If you feel that that's where you're at, I think it's the right decision for both him and ourselves as an organization and we wish him nothing the best and the whole staff nothing but the best because they gave us some outstanding work and we will support where they go and what they can do because they're good men.
Last week the players were asked if they still have the coach's back. Do you still feel that you have the players' back, as GM?
Conversations I have with the players will stay in confidence. We have a group of players that care, we have a group of players that can't wait to get back in September. They're highly motivated, talented people. My role is not to be liked by them, it's to be respected to make the decisions that they think is what's right for the organization going forward. I've certainly had very good conversations with them and those conversations will stay in confidence.
Looking ahead, I know you've used this analogy of the professor needing new students. Will any of the students be transferred in the offseason? Give us an idea of what you think the roster is going to look like next year, maybe not specific names, but how much turnover do you expect?
Well, first of all, we've had quite a bit of turnover in the last couple of years with the integration of young players, etc. The new coaching staff will have some input on that because it comes down to style of play. We've got some young people that were given opportunities this year that will not be given jobs. They'll have to come back in September and earn it. We've got some young guys that think they can come from junior and compete. We have a lot of flexibility and ability to add some players going forward with how we're positioned pick-wise, not only this year but next year. Certainly cap-wise, and those things. So will there be change? Yes, there will be. There always is. We're looking for players that can help us for now and the future. We picked up two guys this year in Ben Smith and Brenden Dillon, they fit for now and the future. Character guys, quality guys that came from really good environments. But are we looking to upgrade this hockey team? The answer is yes.
Any idea what those upgrades will look like?
I'll be sitting down with our coaching staff and it goes back again to style of play. We want to play a possession game so you look at the players we've acquired, it fits with how we want to play. We want to get back to dictating. Our building, we've got great fans, and we need to be a very good team in our own building. And we were earlier in the year, we need to get back to that one way or the other.
On the issue of accountability and being liked as you were saying about players having your back and evaluation on your own end, what's your message to the fans right now as it were with the rebuild and missing the playoffs for the first time in ten years? From the outside looking in, a lot of people have the impression of McLellan being pushed out, similar to a Harbaugh situation. What's your message to the fans on that?
First of all, I'll answer that: it's completely inaccurate. You can ask myself, you can ask Todd. It was mutual. I shared with you the process and that's what took place. As far as this team, we said last summer that it was gonna be a transition. This was the year we were going to go through it. We stayed right to our word so we get to January where we're sitting, February we go 0-8 at home, we did not waver from that. We brought in some young players, we moved out older people, we added some draft picks because it's a very strong draft. We had complete clarity with what we were going to do and that's what we did. Most other teams in the league have had to go through this for many years. We're looking to have a quick bounce. We missed the playoffs this year. Did we think we were a good enough team to make the playoffs? Yes, we do. We showed that in the first fifty games. We didn't finish through and follow that up. Do we expect to be a playoff team next year? Yes, we do. Do we expect to be a team that's trending up? Yes, we do.
Doug you've said a couple of times you expect a couple of coaches will become available in the next few days and weeks. Are you looking to bring in an established coach this time rather than a young up-and-comer the way Todd was seven years ago?
We'll look at all combinations. You know there's a protocol we have to go through. There's teams that are still playing, there's college, there's a lot of different places. There's junior coaches. We're looking for the best person. And I think you're going to see that it's not just a one-person team. Take a look at the Warriors. Bob Myers is a good friend, I have great respect for him. They've done a great job. Kerr has come in and done a great job but look at the staff he was with him. It's a combination of all your people, being very inclusive, being very specific to how you want to play. Somebody asked me before, how are we going to build that? I tapped into some other people on their process, what they've gone through, because as I say we want this to be another seven to ten year coach. We want to get it right and I'm not going to leap just to get a guy tomorrow. You don't want to lose the right guy so it's that sweet spot of your balance at this process.
You shared with us how the process will work with the evaluation. At the end of it will you have a face-to-face with Hasso or is all this done by phone?
It's almost always a face-to-face. We've talked a lot as I said he's very involved with everything. We've done a lot in the last year in particular--
When's the last time you were face-to-face with him?
Probably about a month ago. But I talk to him several times a week.
I understand you talk a lot.
You just want to get together with him, don't you Mark?
No I'm speaking on behalf of the fans here. Maybe he could send them a video message to the fans, he could bypass us. He knows how to work the technology. So you expect a face-to-face with him at the end of this process?
Yes, that's an annual event.
When are you going to have conversations with coaching candidates?
We have to follow the protocol that the league established this past year, whether it be Todd being interviewed by somebody or me interviewing somebody. So that's mandated by the league. We're doing everything we can to support Todd in the interview process, we're not going to hold him back. The agreement that we came to, Todd is going to be compensated, full benefits and he knows that we're here to support him. That is the protocol the league established so we have to follow that, all teams do at this point.
He's getting paid until he gets another job?
Yes, all our coaches. All our staff. We pride ourselves in taking good care of our people.
In regards to Jim Johnson, was there ever a consideration in terms of keeping him on as a possible head coaching candidate?
There's no limitations to where we go going forward. This was a coaching staff that was very close, that worked very hard. The decision we made today was where we are today and then going forward we have an open slate on where we may go.
Was there any talk, either during the season or after, about an extension for Todd?
He had another year left in his contract so that was not the case. Any contracts between the coaching staff or myself is always kept in confidence but the discussions Todd and I had were his family discussions and his thoughts on that so that was the primary priority. But he still had another year left on his contract and you take a look in this business there are coaches that are on their last year, Mike Babcock and all that, it's not an issue. This would have not have been an issue with Todd. The decision and the process we adhered to was dictated by what he wanted to do and where he thought he was at and we shared that as an organization.
You said you expect to be a playoff team next year. How much of that is going to come from within the organization and how much of is that from free agency and acquiring players outside the organization?
I've got to deal with other GMs so I'm not gonna tell you. But we explore everything. You take a look at what the UFA market is, adding players that fit now and the future. We have a lot of assets. The one thing we've done prior to this transition is to add a lot of assets, a lot of picks. We have eight picks this year, the same next year, the same the following year. We have a lot of young players in our organization that are viewed as very valuable assets. So you go back to when we acquired Joe Thornton for example, you're positioned to have the currency needed to acquire players. It's not always UFA, you explore that, we acquired Rob Blake at one point. But we're looking for players that fit for now and the future for the next four to five years and if you have to pay full value for that, that's okay.