by Brian Wheeler How would you assess the play of your two off-season acquisitions - defensemen Toni Lydman and Teppo Numminen?
Darcy Regier: They have been very positive from the standpoint that both are experienced, have good leadership qualities, are very professional and confident, and I think they have really fit well into the makeup of our defense. How much did their maturation through the Finnish leagues - a more skilled style of hockey - play into your plan for this team in the off-season when you acquired them?
DR: What came into play was the change in the NHL rules. The league became more about defensive mobility, which is the play of the defensemen without hooking, holding or grabbing, combined with the mobility you need to move the puck. The game is to spend as little time as possible in your own end, which is to defend first and then move the puck.
The European game is a lot more about mobility and a lot less about the physical aspect of the hockey. The National Hockey League was clearly going to move toward that model. Things like quick feet and ability to make one pass to get out of the zone became very important. In this case, both of these players are very good in these areas. Could you comment on the goaltending situation?
DR: I think everyone has pointed out that we have three good goaltenders, and it's unusual to carry that number. I would argue that this season has been unusual in the number of goaltenders that have been injured, one of them our own Ryan Miller
. Now we're healthy and have been for a little bit. Ryan and Marty (Biron) are carrying the load, and unfortunately, it has been difficult on Mika (Noronen). To his credit, he has looked at the longer term, remained patient, continues to work hard and knows at some point he will be playing whether it's here or elsewhere in an NHL role. It's really a credit to him. Have injuries become a concern?
DR: They are a concern, but it's also part of the game. When you look around the National Hockey League, we've used right around 30 players. Injuries are not an excuse and become a factor only after everyone on the team – myself, the coaches – has done everything that we can to do to the best of our abilities.
If we leave everything on the ice, so to speak, and we've lost the game, then maybe you have to look at injuries as a factor. But until you've done those things, I don't think you can use injuries as an excuse.
To the credit of the team and the coaches, no one has. It's part of the process. We have brought players up from Rochester. They are expected to play a role, perform well and we expect to win. We are fortunate that we've had the depth to succeed, for this year in the National Hockey League, injuries are just part of the bigger picture. What have been the keys to this team's success? What does the team have to do in order to stay competitive and make a playoff run?
DR: The keys have been, first and foremost, a team-first attitude. It's about the team. If you are doing something, it's about what you are doing for the team. It's not about the general manager, the coach or an individual player. We have accepted that if we are going to have success, we are going to have success as a group. That concept will ultimately translate into individual success, but we will not have individual success at the expense of the team. You can't succeed that way.
Having a team-first mindset allows for - and makes it necessary for - everyone to contribute. It allows for and makes everyone important, because they have a role to perform and the team is dependent on that role. It also creates accountability, where players can look across the room and know that guy has a job to perform, that role is important and that player is accountable to the rest of the team in the room for it.
I think that has been a big part of our success. And then you can get to the other things. Our goaltending has been good, from the few games Mika has played, to Marty's play in December, to Ryan's play. Our defense has been solid. And then certainly, you can go to the vast improvement on the power play and the improved play of the penalty kill. What has surprised you the most this season?
DR: From a league standpoint, I am pleasantly surprised with the overall game. Players are having more fun playing, fans are having more fun watching the game and the product is just a lot better now. I think the focus is going to be keeping it that way.
The other surprise is some of the older players in the league, whether it's the year off or not, have not been able to play at the level a lot of us thought they might be able to play at. The flip side of that coin is a lot of younger players have come into the league and are performing very well. It's not just with our team but with other teams as well. Does it worry you that the team is relying so heavily on young talent and rookies?
DR: No, because the younger players have grown and have to continue to grow through the season. Saying younger players doesn't necessarily mean a players age, but his experience. Tim Connolly, Al Kotalik, and Thomas Vanek
all have to continue to get better as they go through the season. They have to continue to get better because they are capable of being better than their performances in the first half of the season. I believe they will.
What has Chris Drury meant to this team, this season?
DR: Chris, and Daniel Briere for that fact, is all about winning. Chris plays to win, believes we can win, and the rest of the team and the rest of the players see that. Do you feel there is anything that this team is missing or areas that you feel needs to be addressed?
DR: We're evolving and I think that's the challenge and the importance of my position. I have to "keep the finger on the pulse" of where the game is going in the second half, what our team is doing and what our needs are going to be. Part of the unknown is the growth of the younger players and there are a lot of younger players on this team. I need to monitor all that and then see if there are players out there that can help us or decide to stay with what we have. Right now, we like our team.