The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/04/11 at 04:41 PM ET
Red Wings GM Ken Holland and defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom took part in a conference call held by the NHL today, and here’s the transcript of their comments:
DAVID KEON: Welcome everyone, I’m David Keon of the National Hockey League’s public relations department and I would like to welcome you to our call. Today we have with us general manager of the Detroit Red Wings, Ken Holland, and Ken will be with us for about 10 or 15 minutes at which point we’ll be joined by captain Nick Lidstrom.
Detroit captured the franchise’s ninth Central Division title in ten seasons, and next week they will be heading into the playoffs for the 20th consecutive season, the longest active streak in professional sports. Ken has been with Detroit since 1985 and has had the title of GM since 1997, winning three Cups and never having missed the playoffs as general manager. Thanks again to Ken for taking the time today to answer your questions.
Question: Looking back to the beginning of the year, and contrasting that with where the team is at today, how close has reality become to your expectations than at the beginning of the season? Has the team’s overall performance better than you expected, or what you expected or maybe a little bit below what you expected?
KEN HOLLAND: Well, going back, obviously we felt that we were going to have a tremendous race in the conference and in the division with Chicago winning the Stanley Cup. We knew they had lost some people, but certainly the core of their team is there. Tremendous team. Nashville is always good. And Columbus and St. Louis look like they were primed to take another step. So we talked about the importance of getting off to a great start, banking points away and I thought that we did that. We came out of the gate 17-4-3 in our first 24 games and then right around Christmastime we started to get hit with some key injuries for about five, six weeks up until the All-Star Break.
I thought our guys did a real good job in finding ways to win games and filling holes for people that we had lost. Sort of held where we were at.
Then we come out of the All-Star Break, and I don’t think we played nearly as consistent as we did earlier in the year. As we have got our bodies back, I’m not sure why that’s the case. But you know, we have played well enough obviously to get a hundred points this year, and win our division, which is a good thing. It means that we are in the playoffs and we get to open at home.
I think that our team is ...we are still trying to find ourselves. We lost one game of our first 13 in regulation at home. We were 10-1-2. I think we have been under .500 since then at home. We have one of the best road records in the League.
So it’s been a bit of a different season and we have been really good, really consistent on the road. We have been really inconsistent at home. So I think there’s a lot of positives that we can build on. There are some areas that we know we need to improve upon and do better at come playoff time than we have ...we are in the bottom third of the league in goals against and were I think in the bottom third of the league in goals against in 2009.
Our team has evolved, some of our younger players, Kindl, Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader have really improved which I think our team is deeper today than when the season started.
Question: Regarding the inconsistency at home, how much of a focus would it be for you and the coaching staff, since you are opening at home, to maintain the home-ice advantage through the playoffs. Is there anything specific being looked at to improve the performance home or is it just a matter of giving your best effort each night?
KEN HOLLAND: Obviously we would rather play at home than on the road. Our record doesn’t indicate that. But I think if you have your choice you would rather play at home in front of your own fans and your own rink and your own ...with your own locker room than you would on the road.
So you know, yesterday we won at home over Minnesota. We got one more game at home Friday night against Chicago, and hopefully we can take care of business Friday night and start to feel good about ourselves at home heading into the playoffs.
But I think the one thing I would say to you, we have got a veteran team. The core of this team, or a lot of these guys were around in ‘08 when we won the Cup. They were around when we went to the finals in ‘09 and lost in Game 7. They were on our game last year when we went 16-3-2 down the stretch when we needed to put a run together to play our way into the playoffs and they also were on the team when we got out of the gate this year 17-4-3.
So it’s a veteran team and they have seen it all. There’s no surprises. I think that’s one of the reasons why you like to have veterans around. They don’t get too high and too low. When playoffs start next week in, my mind, throw the regular season statistics out. It’s a fresh series against a new opponent. Everything starts from fresh and I think that our team and our veteran players understand that.
Now it doesn’t matter whether you’re the first seed, the eighth seed, doesn’t matter what your power play or penalty killing; it’s a new season with new statistics that start next Wednesday.
Question: When you took over as general manager in 1997, a, did you ever dream that you would still be doing it 14 years later, and b, did you ever sit down at all with Jimmy Nill, Mark Howe and Jimmy D and look at yourselves and say, gee, we have had quite a run here because it’s very unusual in professional sports for a brain trust in the front office to stay together as long as you guys have.
KEN HOLLAND: Well, I would say, I was lucky, incredibly lucky when I became general manager in 1997 ...usually when you become general manager for the first time you’re taking over a team that is at the bottom, and the job opens up and you’ve got to rebuild the team. Fortunately for me, I started with the Red Wings in 1985 and worked with Jim Devellano and all that happened, all of the building blocks were put in place from 1985 or 1983 when Jimmy D took over and Steve Yzerman up until 1997. So I got to take over as manager of the defending Stanley Cup championships in 1997 and found a way to repeat in 1998.
So you know, the cupboards were full, and you know, looking from 1997 to 2005, there’s no doubt we had a financial advantage over probably two-thirds of the league. There was about a third of the league that could spend the way we spent, so we could keep our own players. We didn’t lose our players to free agency. We were able to supplement; our team was still built with home-grown drafted players. We didn’t lose them. Lidstrom is still here today. I’ve been lucky to take over a good female and with owners that committed and a building that’s full. It’s been a wonderful run.
Did I think I could last 14 years? I don’t think you go into it ...you try to go into the rink every day and you worry and take care of business today and if you take care of business today you hope that tomorrow takes care of itself, and so on and so on.
Do we ever sit around and say, Mark, Jimmy D, I think we understand that we have been lucky ...I’ve been in the business since 1985 when Jimmy D hired me as a western scout. I’ve moved twice. I moved to Medicine Hat in 1985 to be Detroit’s Western Amateur scout and my wife and I, Cindy and the kids moved to Detroit in 1994, and we’ve lived here ever since. So to be in the business 25, 26 years and really only have to move twice, I’m incredibly lucky. I Work for great owners, committed owners and fortunately have been able to work with a lot of talented people on the ice and off the ice and my mentor, Jim Devellano has had a real impact to my career; and to work with Scotty Bowman from 1994 to 2002 is something I’ll never forget.
It’s been a lot of fun and obviously we are hoping ...we think that the core of our team, we have got ...probably see Nick Lidstrom, you’ll hear from him soon, he’s 40 years of age, and he’s a big reason why we have been in the playoffs for 19, 20 years, and Nick has been here for 19 of them. He’s the best defenseman of his era and I think he’s the Most Valuable Player of his era and any time you have a dominant defenseman you have a leg up on a lot of teams. Hopefully we can continue to be competitive because we think the core of our teams is right in its prime.
Question: Do you ever consider ...I know you’re pretty humble but did you ever consider yourself a mentor, you’ve been through this for so long now, you’ve got a guy like Jimmy and guys that have gone on; do you ever consider yourself a mentor?
KEN HOLLAND: Well, yeah, I don’t think I look at myself as a mentor. I guess we can talk about ...I had the pleasure to work with Steve Yzerman when Steve retired as a player in 2006, and there was no doubt that Steve ...there is an example, when I became manager in 1997, Steve and I negotiated four or five contracts together and the last couple of his contracts as a player, it was really a lot, him and I, he used his agent in the background as his advisor, because Steve wanted to get the experience to negotiate his own contract, wanted to kind of get a feeling for the team.
So you know, when Steve came on board, there’s no doubt that Steve wanted to eventually become a general manager in the National Hockey League, and I think there’s great. The more people that we can have on our staff that want to be general managers and chief scouts and they want to be star players, I think it just allows the organization to have success. We have had some people in here that got to work and like I said with Scotty Bowman and Jimmy D and I think that Jim Nill and I played junior together back with the Medicine Hat Tigers in ‘74, ‘75 and hired a young guy, Ryan Martin, to be an assistant general manager and he’s brought a lot of positives to our organization.
But I think at the same time, we have allowed him to kind of develop on his own and pick our brain a little bit. So I think it’s win/win from both sides. On one hand maybe I’m a bit of a mentor but on the other hand I’ve got people coming into our organization that bring incredible assets.
Question: If I’m not mistaken a year ago, you were one of the GMs that was in support of changing the way the tiebreakers work and that’s going to come into focus the last week of the season. Do you think that it’s going to have the intended results with the way the standings play out?
KEN HOLLAND: It came up at a couple general manager meetings and ultimately Scott Howson was the real push the last time. And everybody got enough support to push it through. And my feeling is that if you win in 60 minutes or if you win in the five minutes of overtime it has a little more impact and means a little more than if you win a shootout. It certainly appears as you look at the standings; they are so close in the west and east, it may not come into play as much for making the playoffs, but it certainly could ...I think again, if you’ve been in regulation or overtime ...and if my team does better in regulation than in overtime than your team does, then I think we should get the tiebreaker.
Question: Speaking of rule changes, I just wanted to throw this one, about limiting the call-ups from the four post-deadline until the team is out ...inaudible ...is that something that you think maybe could be amended in the next while before the next round of CBA talks.
KEN HOLLAND: First off my understanding is it’s a CBA issue that needs to be negotiated with the Players Association.
Certainly at the very worst I would like to see that that ...when the regular season is over and that rule goes away, just for the fact that it could possibly lead to an uneven playing field if your team and my team are playing in a playoff series and your team in the American Hockey League is in the playoffs and my team is not, I’ve got access to all of our Minor League players, and you ...how you’ve handled your call ups, you could be in a tougher spot.
There’s always the emergency situation, so you always ...you’re never going to be undermanned, but I’m going to agree with Brian Burke. I think most managers, we would like to at the very least see it changed at the end of the regular season. There’s no more salary and let teams call up the players as they need them for the playoffs.
Question: With the playoffs coming up here, just wondering if you can speak to the value of some of the grinders, the third-line guys in the playoffs, if Detroit you have had some really valuable ones; can you just talk about how their role is really heightened this time of year?
KEN HOLLAND: Without a doubt. If you’re going for a long run, if you’re going to win the Stanley Cup, you’re going to need depth. It’s hard to think that you can go two months in the Stanley Cup playoffs. You’ve got to win 16 games and even if you lose one or two per series, you’re looking at 20 to 25 games that you’ve got to play.
It’s hard to count on three or four offensive guys night after night after night after night to carry you. I think they can carry you through a round, maybe two, but to think that you can go four rounds ...I don’t think it’s 100 percent, maybe there is the odd year where that happens, but I think for the most part, you need depth on defense. You need depth up front and you need balance. You need scoring up and down your lineup. There’s some nights when your best players don’t score, and for us, obviously, ‘97, ‘98 and ‘02, you think about the Maltby/Draper/McCarty line, not only did they chip in the odd goal but could play against the other team’s best line. They all could kill penalties. They could eat up some minutes and they could take minutes off our best players.
So come playoff time, you know that there’s going to be some secondary players from teams that are going to make a name for themselves. It goes on every year and it is going to go on this year because depth is so important. It’s part of the recipe I guess, if you will, if you want to go for a long run.
DAVID KEON: Thanks very much, Ken, for your time today.
We now have with us Nick Lidstrom. He’s been the Red Wings captain since 2006-2007 and is in his 19th NHL season. He has never missed the playoffs and has been a member of four Stanley Cup championship teams in Detroit, and this season he has appeared in all 79 games, posting 16 goals and 46 assists, second amongst NHL defensemen.
Question: Nick, I know you guys have suffered through a lot of injuries, some of your top six forwards, but Danny Cleary has been a consistent presence. Can you talk with what he’s meant to the team, just being healthy and playing the game he’s played?
NICKLAS LIDSTROM: Yeah, he’s one of those guys that it’s tough to play against. He shows up every night, he works hard. He’s a good skater. And he brings that work ethic to our team. And that’s something that the rest of the guys can feed off of, as well. And he’s so good that hanging on to the puck in the offensive zone, AND that’s where you want to spend time in your opponent’s zone. So you want to hang on to puck and not be one shot and done. You want to spend some time there, and that’s what Cleary is so good as is hanging on to the puck. He’s been very consistent for us the last couple of years.
Question: The fact that he can play up-and-down the lineup, he can play on the top line or a third-line role, that versatility, also, is a big thing for you guys.
NICKLAS LIDSTROM: You know, he can be the No. 7, 8 or 9 guy on the third line and be the forechecking guy and chip it in and chase and he can play with the top lines where you’re hanging on to the puck and making plays and going in front of the net to create traffic or you’re battling the corner to get those loose pucks. He’s that player that can jump from the top line to the third line and still contribute.
Question: Just curious, heading into the final week of the regular season, how much stock do you put into the momentum built in these final couple of weeks for the regular season going into the playoffs or do things reset once the playoffs start?
NICKLAS LIDSTROM: I think that can carry you into the playoffs, if you’re playing well down the stretch in the last week of the regular season. And I think it’s hard to just kind of sit and wait for the playoffs and then all of a sudden you’re supposed to turn on and play your best. I think you can carry that momentum into the playoffs and that’s something we have talked about as a team, to play well and really pay attention to details in our games whether it’s special teams or defensive zone play, little things like that, I think you need to be on top of it, and so I think it’s important to play well heading into the playoffs.
Question: You have an opportunity against the Blackhawks, that you could in theory knock out. Is there pride in that opportunity?
NICKLAS LIDSTROM: Yeah, I think it’s more of a matter of playing well down the stretch, like I mentioned, have that carry into the playoffs. We had some big battles against the Blackhawks, defending Stanley Cup champs and it’s almost like a playoff-type game when you’re facing them, too. They will be some good games down the stretch.
Question: Ken was on earlier talking about Steve Yzerman down here with the Lightning, back in the playoffs in his first year as a GM. Curious when you were his teammate as you saw him make the transition from player to club executive, how did you see him preparing for that role and what do you think he brings to the role?
NICKLAS LIDSTROM: From playing with Steve for 15 years and having watched him up close, he’s a very smart player. He knows where to be on the ice and he knows to read situations and go to the right spots.
Later in his career as a player he started to look at different scenarios with teams, how they were built and looking at the top six players and the bottom six players up front and the top four D and the No. 5, 6 guy at the blue line. I think he was learning the ropes and once he retired from playing and going to the front office, he saw more as a scout and as an assistant to Ken where he was always there looking at games and trying to learn the ropes and how to negotiate deals.
Moving to Tampa he brings that winning tradition he had as a player, and I think just his smartness of knowing the game; it wasn’t that long ago he played, so he knows the players that are still in the League. So I think his smartness will help the lightning.
Question: Probably since you’re in the middle of it, it’s hard for you to think about, but when you think about the fact that you’ve never missed a playoff and here it is 20 years later, does that accomplishment ever sink in?
Nicklas Lidstrom: Sometimes I think about it, but having been with such a good organization for 20 years, and being part of a winning tradition here, you almost take it for granted.
I think last season was the first time where we really had to battle. We were on the bubble pretty much the whole season up until after the Olympic break.
So I think last year was the hardest one where we really had to focus and get some wins and had our backs up against the wall for pretty much the whole season. So it’s always been fun going into the playoffs. People are always waiting for April to come around for the playoffs to come around. But last season I think was the toughest one where we made it the last 20 games of the season.
Question: Do you think that made you appreciate it more because you had to struggle last year?
Nicklas Lidstrom: Yeah, I think I do. I think I know that especially with the parity in the League the way it is now, it’s so close. Looking at the races on both conferences, it’s such a close race where it might come down to the last game Sunday who is going to make the playoffs or not.
So it’s such a hard league to win in nowadays when you can be 10-1 and lose 10-1, too; so I think that makes you appreciate it even more.
Question: Another great season for yourself at age 40. Looking around the league and seeing some of the young defensemen like Doughty, Suter, Weber is there any one guy that really stands out to you that’s someone that might pick up the slack when you do decide to leave the game?
Nicklas Lidstrom: I think those guys you are going to see a lot from in the future. Duncan Keith is another player, had a great year, and last year he was playing well and this year as well. There are a lot of young, strong defense men that are going to be heard of for years to come here in the League.
Question: It is not just defense, but such a young man’s league now and so many guys coming in and making an impact in their early 20s. Just wondering if you did want to claim another Norris, would it mean that guys like Teemu and Mark Recchi are able to perform in their 40s, would it mean something extra to win one at the tail end of your career?
Nicklas Lidstrom: Yeah, I think it means more and more the older you get. You appreciate it even more. I think people realize that it’s harder. It gets harder as you get older, as well, to win. So I’m sure if I had a chance, I would appreciate it even more as I get older here.
Question: Talking with Chris Chelios at this time of year, he was talking that age 45 at the time, how excited he still got about the playoffs. How do you find yourself approaching the playoffs as you now hit 40 years old and does it still get your blood running and do you find yourself approaching maybe the last week or two of the season hopefully as an older player heading into the playoffs?
Nicklas Lidstrom: Yeah, I don’t think it has anything to do with age. But the last week or last two weeks before the playoffs start, you want to play better as an individual, too. I mentioned earlier about paying attention to details; that’s something you want to do as a defenseman. You want to be in the right spot. You don’t want to lose a guy. I still get excited to hit the second season as we sometimes call it when the playoffs start, and I still get a little bit nervous, I still get the jitters and look forward to the playoffs and people in this town really get excited about the playoffs, too. So it’s something I’m really looking forward to still.
Question: Staying on the playoff theme, I’m looking at guys, Jakub Kindl is in a battle for the last defenseman spot but there are also guys who have been there before; do you find yourself now that you are in this elder statesmen type of role, do you seek out some of the younger players when the playoffs start rolling around to try to give them either advice or mentorship or anything like that, or do you just let them play their own game and maybe only step in if they seem to be struggling?
Nicklas Lidstrom: You try to help the guys, especially the younger guys when the playoffs come around. You know you’re going to need the depth. You never know what can happen in the playoffs when injuries or whatnot. So you have to be prepared. You have to be ...whether if you’re not playing, you’ve got to be, you know, working out after practices, just being ready just in case so you can jump right in. That’s something we try to talk about as a team.
But me, as well, too; some of the younger guys if they are not in the lineup so that you’re ready; something can happen and you might get a chance and we might need you down the road. It’s all important to stay ready for guys that are not in the lineup.
Question: Same question regarding a guy like Jimmy Howard who certainly earned the No. 1 spot last year and then obviously into this year; how much do the guys who have been there, maybe take him under your wing?
Nicklas Lidstrom: I think he gained a lot of experience being part of the playoffs last year, knowing what it takes and that it is different than the regular season and the pressure is there and you have to show up every night.
It’s a lot more tougher than the regular season. I think he learned that from last season and he’s been around the team when he wasn’t playing, either, when we won the Cup in 08, he was on the outside looking in. He was part of the team traveling with us. I’m sure he knows what it takes to win, and he’s seen it, and we still try to encourage him, whether it’s a goal he didn’t like he let in or a game you didn’t like, you always try to encourage the goalies and help out the goalies.
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