Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Paul on 09/07/06 at 08:32 PM ET
Q. Either one of you could maybe answer this or both of you, I'm wondering how you break down your goaltending situation, obviously Curtis Sanford had a great year last year and you did decide in the end in bringing Manny Legace as a free agent, how do you see that in terms of 1A or 1B or in terms of competition again the two? LARRY PLEAU: I think you said it best, the competition. When you look at it all three of our goalies, Bacashihua, they have a lot to prove, and the spot and the opportunity is there for somebody to jump up and be that No. 1 guy. So the competition has got to be key for us. And when you look at a Legace in his career, that's what he wanted is the opportunity to show everybody in this league that he's No. 1, and one thing we could offer is the opportunity for that. JOHN DAVIDSON: We have a young fellow the first rounder, Schwarz he's going to play in the American League in Peoria. And it gives a depth where if something happens along the way here, we don't have to force him into something he shouldn't be doing, unless he earns it. With the three goalkeepers that are the main ones, the internal competition is terrific. We now have depth there, and at the same time in signing Manny, it put us in a position where we didn't have to make a trade where we lose a significant draft pick or at least maybe a significant prospect. So we've helped ourselves for the immediate season, and we've helped ourselves hopefully fo r the long term, also.
Q. I just wanted to get some thoughts from you on this decision to have a new life and a new job and a new address, and what are some of your reflections on it so far and what are your hopes?
JOHN DAVIDSON: You know, it was interesting, Mark. The first day on job was July 1 and I showed up in the office at eight in the morning and that was the first day of free agency. Thankfully, Larry Pleau was there, and the two of us sat down and got on the phone, looked at our roster, got on the phone and just started. We tried to put together a team that’s going to compete this season. We think we’ve accomplished that.
As far as my own lifestyle, change is probably the biggest thing. Generally I work the media end of things and I have the summers primarily off to travel, to freshen up, the whole thing. Last winter I was broadcasting in the neighborhood of 150 games, so I was kind of worn out by the end of it. But it’s been good; it’s been stimulating. It’s a road less traveled for me. It’s a healthy change. I’m going to miss what I did, but at the same time I’m very involved in what we’re trying to do in St. Louis. It’s very stimulating. I guess that’s the best way of saying it.
Q. Either one of you could maybe answer this or both of you, I’m wondering how you break down your goaltending situation, obviously Curtis Sanford had a great year last year and you did decide in the end in bringing Manny Legace as a free agent, how do you see that in terms of 1A or 1B or in terms of competition again the two?
LARRY PLEAU: I think you said it best, the competition. When you look at it all three of our goalies, Bacashihua, they have a lot to prove, and the spot and the opportunity is there for somebody to jump up and be that No. 1 guy. So the competition has got to be key for us.
And when you look at a Legace in his career, that’s what he wanted is the opportunity to show everybody in this league that he’s No. 1, and one thing we could offer is the opportunity for that.
JOHN DAVIDSON: We have a young fellow the first rounder, Schwarz he’s going to play in the American League in Peoria. And it gives a depth where if something happens along the way here, we don’t have to force him into something he shouldn’t be doing, unless he earns it. With the three goalkeepers that are the main ones, the internal competition is terrific. We now have depth there, and at the same time in signing Manny, it put us in a position where we didn’t have to make a trade where we lose a significant draft pick or at least maybe a significant prospect. So we’ve helped ourselves for the immediate season, and we’ve helped ourselves hopefully fo r the long term, also.
Q. And what have you told both Manny and Curtis, and I guess Jason as well, in terms of what their role will be, did you tell them that was fairly wide open or any promises made to anyone?
LARRY PLEAU: I think they all understand, there’s really no promises, as JD just said, it’s wide open. Come and show everyone in the hockey world that you’re the No. 1 goalie.
JOHN DAVIDSON: Larry will attest to this, the Blues’ problems, the puck didn’t stay out of the net really long and that was a problem for them early in the season.
With this depth we have there now, and we also saw, and I think Larry could answer it better than me, we saw how well at times Sanford played and Bacashihua played, and Curtis suffered the knee injury and we didn’t want to be in a position where if an injury happened again, we would be hanging and we’d have a problem.
So we’ve got depth. We feel that the competition level is going to be very good in camp, and, you know, if somebody plays well, they are going to play. And if not, somebody else will have a shot at playing, so it’s a good situation for us.
Q. One of the things I noticed that you did in the off-season, I suppose the phrase could be used here, arguably, but arguably, you went out and got the best available goaltender that was out there and got the best available right wing and got the best available defensemen that was out there, and potentially with getting Weight back, one of the greatest centers available, and picking up Rucinsky, you add strength at every single position?
LARRY PLEAU: Like John said, that first day was just, you know, like all of a sudden we’re in the office and that was our goal was that we looked at the roster and we looked at the players that were available, and we had a list and we worked off that list.
I think you said it right. We’ve improved ourselves tremendously in all areas of our team. The depth and the ability not to use the young kids, overuse them like we had last year, and JD mentioned a couple minutes ago, it was so important for us not to rush the kids. We’re a better hockey team in every area.
JOHN DAVIDSON: You know, we have a lot to prove. I do, and Larry feels the same way, and Larry wants to be a part of the resurgence of the Blues and Mike Kitchen does, and I think the players that were here last year in, checking with them—in fact there was a lot of them here today at the arena as we changed the name of the arena today, new naming rights. And a lot of the players showed up that are in town, there had to be 15 of them here. They just want to get the puck dropped and they want to get added. Everybody feels, you know, last year was just a dreadful year for whatever the reason was.
It’s gone; it’s over; it’s done. And now, it’s time go forward. And people have something—if Manny Legace wants to prove something, so does Curtis Sanford and so does Bacashihua. We only gave two players long-term contracts, and that’s Jay McKee, and he’s in his 20s; and Dan Hinote, and he’s in his 20s. The others, Bill Guerin wants to prove that last year was a very off year, and he has the ability to be better than what he was. Keith Tkachuk had problems last season, and when he was right and played well, he was an All-Star, and he wants to prove that he can play in the last year of his contract.
So I guess the theme of our club is, yes, we feel we significantly improved the team from what it was on the end of June. But at the same time the people we have here really do have to prove something if they want to continue with their careers, and that’s the way we are all looking at it. I think that’s going to bond our team pretty well.
Q. Konstantin Barulin jumped from—I read where management may be committing to another goaltender. Are you guys looking to see what he can do with that situation and correct that, and also, Barrett Jackman played so hard and rugged in his rookie year, and since then, can he play with that style and stay sound, are you concerned on that?
JOHN DAVIDSON: The Jackman one, one thing during the lockout, a lot of players in this league trained hard, and I think he trained so hard he put too much muscle mass on his body. He’s taken this off-season here and he’s gotten I think for lack of a better term, he’s gotten leaner. In fact, a number of our players have, lean; they are specimens right now regarding the conditioning level. And that’s something we know we have to be. We have to be a very well-conditioned hockey club to be able to compete, and we feel that Barrett Jackman is a player that, looking at his first year and seeing the season last season, we know he wants to get back to where he was. He’s paid that price during the off-season to get there. I’ll let Larry comment on the goalkeeper.
LARRY PLEAU: Barulin is a goalie, we had in camp three years ago and we really like him a lot. We just haven’t been able to get in the right situation to get him signed and over here. He’s been with—they just had a tour of the Russian National Team. He was with the team, played against the Finnish Team and won his game. We have a lot of respect and we really rate him very high, and we feel he has an excellent chance to be a National Hockey League goaltender. It’s just a matter of time, timing to make it right to get him over here and get him signed and get it going.
Q. The Erik Johnson situation, was it the main reason not to sign him is you don’t want to rush the younger players along, as you just mentioned? And secondly what do you see him focusing on at the University of Minnesota this year and/or next?
LARRY PLEAU: That was definitely part of it, especially as a defenseman. We’ve all watched hockey for a long time, and the toughest position, there’s no doubt about it, is the goaltending, to break in as a young player. John did it a few years ago, and there’s not many that can do that.
And the next is defense. There’s so many different situations and so many situations you’d better learn to read, study and focus on the game. We just felt that we weren’t going to rush him. And he was going to a good team at the University of Minnesota. We felt strongly that he’s going to play lots of hockey there; why not continue on his growth there.
He’s a kid that came to a prospect camp and had an outstanding week with us. He’s a quality guy. We see him around for a long time with the St. Louis Blues. So we really felt strongly that we were not going to rush him.
JOHN DAVIDSON: I think it’s a win/win. I really, firmly believe that. And what I mean by that, for him to go to college, this is his first year. He’s a freshman. It’s a good hockey program at the University of Minnesota. The frozen four is here in St. Louis in the spring, and we’re sort of hoping that, boy, wouldn’t it be nice if he finishes his college career playing in St. Louis in the final four. That would be a fabulous situation. He’s going to get lots of minutes. Remember when Denayup (ph) played so well last season, he had spent year in junior because of the lockout. Kessel (ph) this season signed in Boston but he’s already had one year of college hockey. This kid, Erik Johnson, hasn’t. So we feel another year and we’re going to, you know, monitor and watch him play and he wanted to do that, his family wanted him to do it, and we did, too.
So we have no regrets whatsoever. We think it’s a smart thing to do, and long term, he’s going to be a Blue and he’ll be a very, very good Blue. We saw that at the prospect Tuesday camp. This kid is a very, very special player.
Q. One for JD and one for Larry. JD, I want to know how many times in, say, the last dozen years did you think that maybe you would move into management and were there any other offers. And the other one for you is all media people think they can be in management, when you’re watching the game, you think you’d make smarter trades and stuff like that. Did you have to be concerned about that sort of thing coming in, that you’re not as smart as maybe you thought when you were in the media? Larry, I want to ask about Eric Brewer.
JOHN DAVIDSON: Who won the Calgary/Edmonton football game, Labor Day?
Q. Calgary kicked their butts, 44-23?
JOHN DAVIDSON: Okay. I didn’t see it. I’ve been busy with hockey.
Regarding my situation coming here, I had talked to others in the past, but I first of all had a very good situation in New York. Madison Square Garden was the priority for me, the MSG Network, and when I worked for other networks, I was able to do so with their blessing. So it was a real good situation for me, and then I had my summers off.
But my feeling was with other teams whenever hid any discussions, you know, I’m crazy, this is just good here where I am, I can enjoy the off-season, go home and see relatives, and the whole thing.
And then this one popped up and the reason I did it, there was a number of factors here. One is my two daughters are basically out of the house now with college and all that stuff. One is graduated McGill, she’s going to medical school and the other one is in college her second year. That was an easy move for us in that respect. I’ve worked five different Olympics, 20-some Stanley Cup Finals and I’ve done all that already.
So I’m saying to myself, this St. Louis situation is ideal because, A, I played there at one time. I was originally drafted by the Blues, so I have a connection to the organization, and that’s meant the world to me. I think if it was a different city where I didn’t have a connection, I wouldn’t have taken it. That’s the No. 1 thing is that I had the connection and that I know the ownership real well because they all came out of Madison Square Garden. So the situation in that respect was perfect.
Now, regarding the other aspect of knowing hockey or not, knowing hockey, I think you had a chance to see more games last season than most scouts do. I was at 153 different ones. So that aspect of it I think I know. There’s a lot of it I don’t know.
And Larry Pleau has been just an absolute dream for me to work with. Everything I ask him, he teaches me, everything I need him to know he helps me with, he gives me heads up on things. Yeah, I’m learning on the job here, no question about it. But I’ve enjoyed every second of it, and I think we have the right people here to allow me to have the natural progression with it.
Q. Larry, I just want to ask you about Eric Brewer, last year was pretty much a write-off for him, was it not?
LARRY PLEAU: Yeah, it was. Before I mention that, just a little bit with JD, you know, there’s a lot of question about the knowledge and coming into this side of the business, and I can tell you this, and I’ve been in this business a long time. He’s got a tremendous feel for the game. And if you just look at what he did with the job that he’s had for the last 20 years and his preparation and his focus and how he’s improved himself, and he’s improved the quality of that job, not just itself, but for everybody else that falls behind him to make sure they are prepared. He’s ready for a job like this, and we’ve had a real strong—it was almost like we’ve been together before.
Anybody that has any questions, they can forget about that. And his work ethic and his ability to work and understand people is tremendous.
Eric Brewer, you’re probably right, Jim. That’s probably a good way to put it, kind of a write-off year last year. I think the combination of coming to a new team, and you know Eric pretty well, he’s a very sensitive player, very sensitive person, very caring. I think he had a little bit trouble adjusting to the differences in the systems along with probably a little bit of pressure being traded for Prong er.
Then the injury popped up on the first shoulder and he missed a number of games, came back and started out real well with three or four games, and I can remember the hit against him in Atlanta behind the net, the way he fell. And actually, when he fell, it wasn’t hitting the boards, but it was the fall, when he fell on the ice where he separated his shoulder.
You know, we decided to operate on it right away and have him ready for the season, and it’s really worked out that way. He was examined by the doctor the other day and he’s 100%, ready to go. The doctor said his work ethic and preparation in rehab has been just tremendous. So he’s ready to step on the ice and get right into contact. We’re looking for a big year out of Eric and I know he is, himself, also.
Q. Will you both comment on the former ownership group,and do you think they set up the team to fail last season by putting the team in flux and by not re-signing Pronger, blowing the playoff record, and how do you recover from a season like that and get back to face the fans in?
JOHN DAVIDSON: We’ve got a philosophy now that the past is—the water has gone under the bridge and it’s out of here. We’ve got a whole new attitude regarding this club’s on-ice. Training camp is just ahead of us. The players are excited about being here.
You know, what’s amazing for me to be in the office with Larry during the free agent phase about talking to players possibly coming to St. Louis, we never had a negative, never had a zero, never heard a no. They all know how good of a city it is for players to play in and how good of a city it is for players to have families and to raise families, and that was a big bonus for us.
Now what happened last season is gone. And today here in St. Louis they had a very big press conference and it’s no longer the Savis Center. It’s the Scottrade Center. Scottrade is a company that’s all over the United States, but it’s based here in St. Louis. But the adrenaline flow and the excitement and the change has been perfect for us.
Yes, the previous ownership, one thing to remember about them, is they put a ton of money here. So it’s a very difficult situation where you would criticize them. They put their money up and things didn’t work out. Now it’s somebody else’s turn led by Dave Checketts and we’re into that. We’re into that, we’re into thinking about the future. We are into rebuilding our team, reconnecting in St. Louis with the fans which we’re right in the middle of doing right now, and it’s going to work. It’s a great, great, great sports city, St. Louis is.
Q. A lot of history with the Blues.
JOHN DAVIDSON: No question about it. Close to 40 alumni that live here, and Larry knows what it’s like. There’s 40 alumni here that whenever you call any of them, they can’t do enough for you. They raise tons of money for charities, they are in the community, they are terrific, and they all love living here. The fans just need to see something positive, and they are going to get that.
LARRY PLEAU: The thing about the alumni you should really know, I would say 90 percent of the alumni were playing here, were traded and then came back to St. Louis to live, and that says an awful lot about the franchise, the city and the fans. It’s just tremendous.
You know, like John mentioned, the naming rights today, that’s like signing a free agent. We’re a new team. The one thing that John did and Dave Checketts and Ken Munoz and Mike McCarthy, when they first got this here, they said, hey, we’re starting fresh, let’s forget about the past.
I think the whole organization has done a great job with that. We are accepting the responsibility to get this team back where it was and get the tradition that it has and it will be back.
JOHN DAVIDSON: It’s tough for the fans to forget about the past because they are the ones that invested, and we’re in the middle of changing that. We’re going to be a hard-working, very honest hockey club and we’re going to build this thing for the long term, no question about it.
Q. Back if I could to Manny for a second. Ask you to break it down a little further in terms of what you like about him as a player, what he brings to the mix and maybe what you’d like to see him prove to become that starter.
JOHN DAVIDSON: Well, I think with Manny, he brings some attitude, positive attitude. He’s a guy that was a late bloomer, for a number of different reasons. He had a change in his career regarding conditioning and working and getting himself ready. He was here in St. Louis quite a few weeks ago looking for a home and he took time out of the day with the real estate people and came down to the arena and worked out in the workout room. He’s really committed to that.
Frankly, he had a terrific regular season in Detroit and when it didn’t work in the playoffs, people pointed to goaltending which is understandable but I think there was more to it than just that. I think Manny’s kick in the playoffs was something he learned a lot about. He’s really got an outstanding attitude. He just wants to play. He wants to win and wants to prove to the whole hockey world that he could do that.
Now we, frankly, love the attitude and that’s why he’s here.
Q. The whole marketing of the game, coming off the successful year back, the game is faster, TV went well, what do you see just in the overall marketing?
JOHN DAVIDSON: I know that for the League in general, things went really well. The game was so much better on the ice. I can honestly say that because I broadcasted so many games and I didn’t even have to do as much homework to prepare for games, because a lot of times, the games took care of itself. It was so entertaining and fast and good replays to show and things to talk about.
However, it didn’t go that well here in St. Louis, with the transition of ownership happening and Larry’s team got just decimated with injuries. So the fans here didn’t have that opportunity to enjoy the resurgence quite as much, and that’s something that we think we can show to them this season.
So we here in St. Louis are behind a little bit compared to—at least this is my opinion on it, compared to what happened in many other cities. We’re going to show the fans what NHL hockey is all about, and try to show the fans exactly what they may have missed for a number of different reasons last season.
Q. Is that a matter of having the players get out in public more, more appearances, more events? I know you can’t take away the on-ice work as much, but how key is this event just to be known in the community more than they have been?
LARRY PLEAU: Our players have been excellent. That’s one thing that at the announcement today and the naming rights, every player that was in town I guarantee you was there. Any time we’ve ever asked players to do something to get out to the public, there’s no problem at all.
I think John’s right on the button. We’ve got to bring that product that was in the NHL last year that the fans, the media, the players—you know, the players enjoyed playing last year. They had fun. The game just totally changed and there was things there that I wasn’t sure was going to happen and I think if everybody was honest, everybody would say that. But it was outstanding, and we’ve got to get that level of play. I feel our team is going to do that and show our fans something different.
As far as getting out to the community, our guys have been tremendous. And the relationship between the fans and the media and the players, I think you guys would agree, any time you want our players or need somebody, it’s always available.
JOHN DAVIDSON: A couple things. One is when we signed the players, obviously you look at players for their on-ice ability, but we also looked at it as to what they bring to the organization with the entire package. Both Jay McKee and in particular, along with Dan Hinote, are people that are very well known in the hockey world for doing exactly that, and that is playing very, very hard, giving everything they have on the ice. And then making sure as part of their lifestyle that they give a ton to the community, and that’s what they want from our players. I think, and I don’t mean to talk about other sports, but let’s put it this way. I don’t think there’s another sport in the world that has players that cooperate as much with community relations and trying to do the right thing for charities and things along those lines.
And the other one is that I learned something last year in watching Carolina win the Stanley Cup. And that was they allowed, and I know it’s a smaller market, but it’s a very important market and they did well. But up until 90 minutes prior to the game, and that included Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, they allowed cameras and the media into their locker room, as long as they went in and were professional, did their job and left.
So here you are, 90 minutes before, and there was a one-hour window there, that the media was allowed in to do their work to sell the game. That’s what the attitude has to be, and I think it should be even more so throughout the entire league. If Carolina can do it and they can win the Stanley Cup, why can’t other teams do it.
Q. I’m wondering if you could break down your defense group. Obviously it looks like McKee, Jackman, Brewer and Backman is your top four, but how do you see the other jobs being sort of dispersed at five, six and seven?
LARRY PLEAU: You’ve got it pretty right there with McKee and Jackman, Brewer, Backman. From there, though, we go to Bryce Salvador who is an experienced player, he’s 27 years old. He’s going to add some real leadership. It’s his seventh year with us. Then you go to Wideman who is a good, young player that has the ability—I see him down the line two to three years from now, a top four player in this league on defense. And then Walker is one of those kids that has a lot to prove, that has been with us, he’s 26, he’s been in the organization for six or seven years. Adds some toughness to your defense. I think that he’s one of the players on defense that has a lot to prove.
And those are basically the seven guys and we’ve got some other depth like Walker and Polak and Jamie Rivers, Mackenzie, Mojzis that we picked up from Vancouver at the trade deadline last year. We’re pretty comfortable with the lineup that we had, and I think the key is, we’ve talked about it right along through this whole call, is we’ve got a lot to prove. Like myself, John, the whole organization and I know the players are really looking forward to it. I think we’ve really made ourselves more comfortable and a better hockey team yet we know we have to prove it.
JOHN DAVIDSON: Adding Jamie like we did, he lives in St. Louis, his wife is from here. He played somewhere in the neighborhood of the last 30 games in Phoenix, 16 minutes a game. They have some young players there, with you talking to people like Barnett and Gretzky and they couldn’t say enough good things about him. It adds to what we need. There’s problems and injuries, and it may happen in camp.
But then we have the kid like Larry mentioned Polak and all those kids that we feel deserve a shot. We’re not going to bring them up and force them in because we don’t have enough talent. But if something does happen, then you can, you know, get them up short term and let them learn and then get their own natural progression going at the appropriate time.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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