DAVID KEON: Good morning, everyone. I'm David Keon of the National Hockey League's public relations department. I'd like to welcome you to the fifth of the six divisional conference calls we are hosting this week as we prepare for the opening of training camps next week and also for the opening of the 2005/2006 National Hockey League regular season on October 5th.
This morning we are featuring the Central Division and are pleased to have with us from the Columbus Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash, from the Detroit Red Wings forward Kris Draper, from the Nashville Predators forward Paul Kariya, from the St. Louis Blues goalkeeper Patrick Lalime. We should have Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Adrian Aucoin joining us shortly.
Operator, we'll open it up for questions.
Q. Kris, could you talk about the culture change players are going to have to get used to regarding the new rules. We're told simply putting a stick on an opponent is going to be called a penalty. Are you ready for that?
KRIS DRAPER: I think guys are kind of getting used to it. We've been here skating at the Joe all week. A lot of guys have just been trying to use their speed and try to get body position on guys because everyone knows it's going to be a huge adjustment. I don't think this thing is just going to happen overnight. I think it's going to be a real learning experience and a learning curve for everybody involved.
I think for defensemen, they're going to have the biggest time adjusting. Obviously, there's so much play down low, just on this phone call alone you've got great players like Rick Nash, Paul Kariya. You give those guys a lot of room and a lot of space and it's going to be tough to defend against those guys. I think training camp is going to be a real learning experience this year, and I don't even think we'll have it all down pat by the time of the home openers on October 5th. But guys are committed to opening up the game, making it a lot more entertaining and letting guys go out and use their talents and do what they do. We have such great athletes in this sport, let them skate, let them do what they do and the excitement should come back real fast.
Q. Paul, obviously the Predators haven't been real active in the free agent market over the last couple years. I'm curious, could you walk us through the thought process you had of choosing Nashville's offer and how many offers were out there for you and how did you end up with the Predators?
PAUL KARIYA: Well, I really thought very highly of Nashville's hockey club from the get-go. I think an hour into free agency I'd spoken to David Poile and Barry Trotz and all the coaching staff and got a really good feeling from the club. Just going through the process, it seemed like a really good fit for me on and off the ice.
I guess I think Nashville has one of the best up-and-coming teams in the league and they've got great goaltending, defensemen that can move the puck and forwards that can skate. With the new rule changes, it fits really well for our club. I'm really excited to be here. In terms of other offers or other clubs involved, I have been just basically saying that's for you to dig up, but we're not going to talk about who was involved or what the other offers were.
Q. Kris, especially in light of Pavel Datsyuk's apparent decision to stay in Russia, could you talk about how the Red Wings have been affected by the new CBA and by the salary cap and how much the team has changed as a result of that?
KRIS DRAPER: It's definitely affected us a lot. Not only were we unable to get Pavel signed, we also had to buy out three quality hockey players and three quality people in Darren McCarty, Ray Whitney and Derian Hatcher. That's the unfortunate thing of what this has done. It kind of handcuffed Detroit. We had a lot of money tied into a lot of players. Kenny had to step up and make some changes to free up some money.
Even though we did, we didn't quite get enough. Pavel was demanding a lot of money, and unfortunately with all the salaries and all the players that we had tied up, we just couldn't get anything resolved, and we lost a terrific hockey player, a very talented hockey player. It's a big gap for us to fill. Really there's not a lot out there right now, we were able to get Henrik Zetterberg signed, which is a big plus for us.
You don't replace a guy like Pavel Datsyuk. You can look at us, the Detroit Red Wings, a model of how we've been affected by the new CBA. I guess that's just how it is. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get all the guys signed we wanted to sign. We had to have some buy-outs. Our team has changed quite a bit.
Q. Have you tried the new equipment? What do you think of the rules restricting goaltender's movements and playing the puck?
PATRICK LALIME: Of course, I tried the new equipment. I haven't gotten the pants yet or the shoulder pads. I think they're still working on that part. I got the pads. To be honest, probably the shooters will see a little more, but I don't think -- it will be a little bit of adjustment, but I don't think it will be that big of a factor.
For one thing, we're going to be a little bit faster, a little bit lighter, I believe. I mean, I'm sure the play is going to be opened up a little bit more. I think the factors around will be a big factor with no red line, probably more power plays, all that stuff.
I believe, as well, it will be a little bit of adjustment as far as playing the puck behind the net, not that it was my big strength.
But, you know, we'll have to have a lot of more communication with the defensemen as far as dump-ins, cross dump-ins, stuff like that. The big part, with the equipment, it's going to be a little bit of adjustment, but I'm glad that we stick with that instead of going with the bigger nets which would have been really big adjustment for us, change the whole way we play the game. I think it's going to be fun and we're all excited. We all want to get the game better. If it's what it takes, we're all in for that.
Q. Patrick, I know the Blues organization is up for sale. If you could shed some light on the thinking here. I don't know why they would give up two of the best players in the league in Demitra and Pronger. I don't know if they're thinking this might be a rebuilding season. Have you heard anything about that? Can you shed some light on that?
PATRICK LALIME: Well, I just got here about a week ago. I know they lost some big parts. Of course, it will be hard to replace guys like you said, like Demitra and Pronger, who is probably the best defenseman in the league right now.
You know, it's part of the process with the new CBA. They had to get some money down the line. They thought they had to make at least one move, and they did. I think we'll know in the long run. We've got a pretty good player in return, I should say three of them, Eric Brewer, as far as playing in the NHL. The two other guys are young defensemen, I think they should be pretty good.
Every team's going to look a little bit different. It's no change for the Blues. But, you know, I'm excited to be here. I think there's a good core, a good bunch of guys, and we're really looking forward to start the season here.
Q. So it doesn't seem like the transition period, like a rebuilding around there? It seems like everyone is pretty solid together?
PATRICK LALIME: Yeah, well, I mean, like I said, we lost two big names. It's not like we changed the whole team. I know it's a big part of the team. But, you know, a lot of teams are in the same situation. As far as rebuilding, I know it's a little different situation in the selling process. Sometimes try to shrink down numbers as far as selling the team. That's probably part of it.
I feel confident with the team we have here that we can do a pretty solid job. We'll find out. But I think we have a good core. I met a few of the guys here. We're going to have a good team on the ice.
Q. The St. Louis Cardinals baseball team let go of three of their great players. They're the best team in the league. Good luck.
PATRICK LALIME: Yeah, thanks.
Q. How much of an impact do you think your success in Davos is going to help you this year with the NHL?
RICK NASH: It's a totally different game and totally different players over there. Saying that, playing with a guy like Joe Thornton, and the experience of being on a winning team helps. The Blue Jackets haven't made the playoffs yet. To be on the winning team, feel the winning vibe, and know how that feels will hopefully bring that here and know how that feels this year.
Q. What kind of impact do you think Adam Foote is going to have in the locker room?
RICK NASH: I think it's a huge pickup. Other than Chris Pronger, I think Adam Foote is one of the best players in the league. To do with winning, he's won Stanley Cups. To have him around the room, it's going to be big for a young franchise like ourselves.
Q. Kris, I want to know about the divisional play this year with 32 games in the division. Are the players looking forward to that or are they going to get tired seeing the same teams over and over again? Paul, with no red line, are you licking your chops, expect to get a few breakaways?
KRIS DRAPER: I guess, yeah, it's going to create some pretty neat rivalries. I've kind of briefly looked at our schedule. At one point we play three games in four nights against Columbus, and we do the same thing against Chicago. Definitely stuff that happens in the first game is going to get intense. I think as it goes on, it's just going to keep intensifying and the rivalries are going to be created. That's something that they were obviously looking to do.
Do you get a little frustrated with playing with the same team three nights, three games in a row? I think you kind of look at it as a mini playoff series. Those points are obviously going to mean quite a bit when positioning yourself come playoff time. It's definitely going to put a big onus on wins and losses in your own division, and it's going to create some pretty exciting matches. So I think everyone's kind of looking forward to that, just the fact that you go out, you're going to compete against these guys, and you realize it's going to be a big plus if you can win your division and be successful within your division.
PAUL KARIYA: Well, obviously it's going to be great for the game to open it up. I think, you know, on the power play, you're going to see a lot of set pieces that guys can utilize that extra room and that extra space.
But I think the biggest thing is on quick turnover plays, like when the puck is turned over quickly, you have D that can move the puck, I think that's when you're going to see a lot of breakaways and some two-on-ones. I think that's something that's been lacking from our sport for a while. As a player, I love that style of game where, you know, the puck is turned over, bang, you you've got a two-on-one. I think that's what the fans really enjoy. I'm really excited about it.
Q. Adrian, with Foote going to Columbus, Kariya to Nashville, can you size up what looks like a more balanced Central Division? Kris, you guys being the favorites for the past couple years, how do you see the division now in Detroit?
ADRIAN AUCOIN: Yeah, definitely, I think obviously here in Chicago, there's been some big changes. We've kept a nice young core of forwards around, and we have some young defensemen coming up. Columbus bringing Adam Foote in was a huge pickup for them. I know Doug MacLean, he's definitely committed to turning things around there. Of course, Detroit is still Detroit. They have hit a few hard times here just because of the new cap issues and stuff. But with the quality and core guys that they have, they'll still always be a force to be reckoned with.
Going down the line, Nashville picking up Paul, you know, he's a proven entity in this league. Obviously, he's one of those guys who wants to win every night. He knows how to do it. They have a great, great young team there. I think even they haven't maybe met expectations, they've always had quite a lower salary budget and still done quite well. Now that they're obviously bringing some guys in, that will make a big difference. St. Louis is still St. Louis. They've had to get rid of a few guys, but they still have great guys.
Q. Kris, you talked about changes in Detroit. What have you noticed different about the new coaching staff at this point?
KRIS DRAPER: Nothing. We haven't met them.
Q. You haven't met them yet?
KRIS DRAPER: No. We have the rookies in mini camp up in Traverse City so I guess the whole coaching staff is up there. We skated last week at one of the local rinks in town and didn't see them. This week we've been down at Joe Louis all week, and they haven't been here. I think everyone's anticipating meeting them and getting to know them come Sunday. Monday we do our medicals and physicals. Tuesday will be our first time on the ice with our new coaching staff.
I mean, everyone has an open mind of what these guys are going to bring. We know everyones gone, from the Scotty Bowman era, everything is new right now. Scotty obviously coached the team for 10 years. Dave Lewis and Joe Kocur were part of his coaching staff and took over when he left. We realize there's going to be a lot of changes not only on the ice with player personnel, but also behind the bench, different philosophy, coaching style, different way that he's going to conduct his team. Everyone realizes that Mike Babcock is the coach, this is now his team, and we'll just respond as players always do.
Q. You mentioned the Scotty Bowman era. Did it almost kind of need to come to an end in Detroit?
KRIS DRAPER: If you look at Dave Lewis' coaching record in the regular season, I think he had back-to-back 48 wins seasons. We were able to win the Presidents Trophy the last season. Regular-season success was something we had a lot of. Unfortunately, for our hockey club, we weren't able to turn that into post-season success.
Really, that's how this team gets measured, how the Red Wings do in the playoffs. We had a first-round sweep against Anaheim, then we also lost out to Calgary in the second round. I guess that's why Kenny felt that changes needed to be made. Instead of kind of tinkering around with the coaching staff, he decided to go with a whole new direction. That's something that Kenny felt was obviously necessary.
Q. Paul, do you remember what were some of the big differences that happened when Mike Babcock took over the Ducks?
PAUL KARIYA: Well, Mike is a fantastic hockey coach. He's one of the hardest-working, most dedicated people I've ever met in the game. I think the players in Detroit and the fans and the people there are really going to enjoy him.
Certainly, I mean, any time a new coach comes in, there's going to be changes: changes in the philosophy, changes in the style of game the team plays. But that happens in the NHL every couple years, it seems, the coaching staff changes. That's something that as a player you have to deal with and move on.
Q. Adrian, with most teams feeling a lot better about themselves through free agency pickups or more level economic system, will that lead to higher expectations and perhaps a bit more pressure to get off to a good start this year?
ADRIAN AUCOIN: Well, I hope so. I think a lot of teams have really made some great strides to improve their rosters. I'd say at least 80% of the teams have really improved in the long run. But, you know, it's one of those things. Most of the good players, they come to play no matter what. It's always nice to come to the rink knowing your organization is really committed to winning. I think that's what a lot of these teams have proven. If there's any doubts, they should be erased. I think especially starting fresh this year, having the year off, is really going to make everyone think there's a chance to win. I think most teams should come out of the block running.
Q. Kris, given the changes made in especially Chicago and Nashville and Columbus, do you think the new schedule will help or hurt your team?
KRIS DRAPER: Well, I mean, the one thing that's nice is playing more division games is less travel. Obviously, we have a lot of travel, having to go out to western Canada a couple times, having to go out to the West Coast, to California, playing those teams a couple times. That's the one good thing about that.
You look down the list of what those teams have done, basically they made and upgraded their team quite a bit. They've turned themselves into some great hockey clubs. Really what we were only able to do is we had to release some players and try to sign some guys we already had. Out of all the teams in our division, we were the least active because of the fact of how much money we had tied into players. As the teams were signing players, we had to buy out some players. We weren't able to sign Pavel. You realize that our division just got that much more tougher with the upgrades that all these teams made within our division.
Q. Adrian, in joining a team that's gone through a big overhaul, could you talk about what Dale said that won you over. Talk about the kind of impact you think Khabibulin will have on this team.
ADRIAN AUCOIN: I think when there's a major overhaul, it's always a great situation to come in, especially the way the Blackhawks have played in the last couple years, they've really struggled. They've always kept their salaries low. A lot of the young players haven't really matured. I think we're kind of at that point now where the young guys are there, they brought in some key guys, and the whole feeling in the city is that we're going to be a better team. That's a definite positive.
As with Dale, one of the big sells was him basically just telling me where the team was going and who they were trying to sign. A lot of people thought I came in here a little blind. I mean, just the fact that before the lockout they had brought in Lapointe, Barnaby and Brown, three quality players, quality guys, said a lot about the direction the team was going.
You know, Dale, for those who have met him, know he's an honest guy and he's pretty much true to his word, and he wants to win.
With Khabibulin, it goes back to what I said before, the good players play as hard every night as they can. Doesn't matter who they are with or who they are playing against. Knowing the fact you have Khabibulin, most players can attest to it, when you have that confidence in the great goaltending, you seem to just play better. You let the shots come in from outside and you just worry about your own job and things just seem to take care of themselves a little easier. I think he's going to be a huge addition obviously.
Q. Kris, a lot of coaches in the National Hockey League coach not to lose the games, the games are low-scoring, play the trap. Do you think the coaches can change their tactics now with the new National Hockey League? How tough is it going to be for them to suddenly open it up?
KRIS DRAPER: Let's hope we don't hear that word "trap" anymore. I think everyone realizes that had a negative impact on the game, really slowed things down. Obviously, teams were still successful playing that way, but it didn't lead to exciting hockey.
I think you're not going to have any choice but to open it up with the way the rules are. You're going to play against guys that can obviously skate. They're going to have opportunities to generate a lot of speed through the neutral zone, down low, trying to get to the net. It's just a whole different -- it's going to be a whole different mindset not only for the players but for the coaches. As we try to adjust to the new rules, I think the coaches are going to have to coach to the new rules as well. That's going to make for a lot of changes in philosophy of the way coaches used to want their teams to play.
That's really what it comes down to. We go out and play a system that the coach implements. Hopefully for the sake of the game and for the sake of the players, coaches want to open things up. Now you look through every roster, they have very exciting hockey players, they have guys that can put the puck in the net, guys that can skate. Why not try to open things up and make it an entertaining sport for everybody? I think that's going to have to be the case.
Teams that can skate, teams that can make some great passes, teams that have some great defensemen are going to be one step ahead of this game because, you know, it seems that's the direction that it's going. It's going into a speed game, it's going into the fact that you can stretch defenses out. That's something that, as players, we look forward to doing.
Q. Patrick, with all the rule changes in the National Hockey League, the new landscape coming in, how tough is it with all the rules being instituted towards offense that the Blues are going to have such a young defense in front of you? Is that difficult?
PATRICK LALIME: Well, I mean, I don't know much of the teams with the Western Conference; we play them once a year. But as far as I know, the Blues have always been pretty good defensively. I know Chris was a big part of it. There's a lot of young guys, just think about Backman and Jackman, Salvador, all those guys that really step up. They're going to have a bigger role to play. I think I'm sure they're up to the challenge. Like we said, it's going to be a different game for everybody, especially the defensemen coming in, not using their stick as much, a lot more talking, a lot more team game, a lot more speed. I think what I've seen so far, you know, here, I think we're all excited and we're all looking up to the challenge I'm sure as far as everybody in the league. I'm sure that we'll do fine.
Q. Kris or Rick, how long do you think it's going to take a lot of the teams to get up to speed with all the rules changes and get in that mid-season flow?
RICK NASH: I think it will take a while. It's a lot of changes. I'm sure the guys that played in Europe it will happen a bit faster. I know skating, some people are a bit confused with the off-sides, things like that. I'm sure the tough part is going to be for the goalies coming out of the net. As Kris said earlier on, it's just going to take time. It's not going to be something that happens overnight.
DAVID KEON: Thank you very much, Adrian, Rick, Kris, Paul and Patrick. Thanks for your time today. Thank you for joining us.