After a successful season and a lively first-round playoff series that saw the Toronto Maple Leafs go toe-to-toe with the Presidents’ Trophy winners, Lou Lamoriello has his eyes fixed on his team’s future.
And the Leafs GM insists that as the team moves forward, Toronto’s front office won’t be deviating from “the plan.”
Lamoriello, who joined Prime Time Sports on Tuesday, likened the process of setting up an NHL team for long-term success to conducting an orchestra.
“The conductor has to keep his back to that audience and not let anybody influence him in any way whatsoever,” he said.
“Whatever decisions are made, you have to have the big picture,” he continued. “Because if you want to sustain success for a period of time, we’ve all felt that once you get your roster to a certain period, history tells you you have about a 10-year run at it, because of where the core players are in their age factor.”
One piece of the Leafs’ future got locked in place on Tuesday, as the team announced a contract extension for Russian defenceman Nikita Zaitsev.
Zaitsev inked a seven-year, $31.5 million deal. The 25-year-old is coming off an entry-level contract worth $925,000.
Asked whether the long-term deal came as a result of Zaitsev’s leverage with the Kontinental Hockey League, Lamoriello responded, “There’s leverage, there’s no question.”
But a number of factors came into play in the deal, which Lamoriello said he felt comfortable giving to Zaitsev because of the success he’s had playing at a high level in his career.
“When he came here he was everything we expected,” Lamoriello said.
“He’s a quality individual,” he continued. “He’s a family man, and for that period of time, being a defenceman at the age he’s at, we really have no problem with it. And I think we all know how important defenceman are.”
The Leafs have salary-cap space to work with, which allows them a lot of flexibility. But asked whether he might be ready to spend more money as he tries to shape his team through trades and free-agent signings, Lamoriello made clear that there’s no deviating from “the five-year plan.”
Patience is key, especially since Lamoriello noted that he’s expecting tougher times ahead for the young Leafs crew next year.
“Yes, we did make the playoffs,” he said. “We also know that it’s going to be extremely difficult next year. We’re not going to rush it to try and jumpstart it for some short return.”