The Maple Leafs announced the signings of forward Nazem Kadri
and defenceman Morgan Rielly
to six-year contracts on Wednesday. Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello spoke to media via conference call on Wednesday morning to address the deals. Here's what he had to say...
Could you tell us what you've come to know of Kadri and Rielly in your time here?
First of all, I knew quite a bit about them prior to coming here. Certainly seeing them during their draft year and watching them the way we did as an organization. Once you do that you follow players as their career goes. I was always impressed by both of them, then when I came here this year, certainly with no pre-conceived notions, in other words obviously what each and every one of them brought to the organization. In Morgan's situation being the defenceman that he is, I think has the potential of being an all-star in this league. He certainly is the key to our defence, he's our leader there and now, being able to get this type of a contract with him, showing him that he is a core player and one who is going to be counted on to lead that. I'm just excited about it and our organization is too. The impression that I have received throughout the year just grew more and more. In Naz's case, I don't think it's anything that I didn't make public as far as the way he played, the way he competed and what he brought to the lineup. Getting him for the long term, certainly at his age, is a positive thing for the organization.
How important was it for you to get both players signed to long-term deals?
In my opinion it was extremely important because I think it was a message to the commitment of both of them. Timing is everything in life. To have it happen at the same time maybe even puts the emphasis that we're going to do things as they come about and continue to reinforce the plan that Brendan has put in place and Mike has certainly put in place and that this is just another step towards where we want to be as far as developing the foundation of this franchise.
What do you view as Kadri's upside?
Well, first of all, Mike [Babcock] will determine exactly what his role is depending upon what our team looks like. I think that Naz showed he can be put in any role, no matter what it might be. He found himself in that shutdown role, he found himself offensively on the power play. I think depending upon what our team looks like and what Mike feels is the best role for Naz, he'll do. I think that's the great thing about him. He'll accept whatever role is given to him. He knows now the respect the organization has for him and what he can do. I think he'll do anything and everything that's asked of him.
Did the suspension or fines give you second thoughts about making a commitment to Kadri?
No, whenever you make a decision like this it's an organization decision, whether it be Brendan Shanahan, whether it be Mike Babcock. We talk continuously throughout the year as far as individual players -- them as people, which is most important, and certainly them as players. I've had the opportunity to spend quite a bit of time with Naz throughout the year and I feel extremely comfortable myself personally and I'm sure Mike and Brendan do because I've spoken to them with Naz. I know he went through a couple of things this year, whether it be the suspension, but that's part of the game. I'm totally comfortable going forward. I have certain trust in him and I believe he has trust in the organization.
Do you believe these contracts mean your team is hoping for a lot more from both of these players?
I don't think they've tapped what they can do, that's my feeling. I think that there is more that they can do, all you have to do is look at the age where they are at and look at what they've experienced. There's no question they have a level that they haven't reached yet. It's going to be up to them to commit to that and do the things that are necessary to get there and it's up to us to help them do that.
Do you consider Rielly a top pair defenceman in this league?
I don't think that if we didn't consider him a top defenceman we'd be sitting here today and talking to these length of terms. I guess that speaks for itself. I've had an opportunity to see him in 80-something games this year and practices and I know what our coaching staff thinks of him. There's no question in my mind of what his potential is and, not only potential, but where he is today. All we have to do is look at the ice time he gets with us against top teams.