Lou knows how to develop Devils
GM Lou Lamoriello brought in the best kind of teacher for his two rookie defensemen -- an ex-Canadien.
If you're waiting for the defending Stanley Cup champion Devils to unveil a third jersey, don't hold your breath. General manager Lou Lamoriello, who has built one of the most successful professional sports organizations in North America, said his club will never engage in the marketing gimmick while he's running the show.
"I don't believe in it," Lamoriello said. "I strongly believe that you have to have one identity as a team. We want to create a feeling that our home and away jerseys are special and that it means something special to wear one."
So while many other clubs around the league have been diving into the pool of short-term financial gain by cloaking their fans with a third, fourth or fifth jersey (at an approximate cost of $175 for an authentic model), Lamoriello always has seen the big picture and planned accordingly.
"At this stage of their development -- both very successful U.S. college players who've been part of national championship teams -- we felt they were ready to take the next step," Lamoriello says. "We felt, based on what we'd see in training camp, they'd be better off with us, rather than start the season in Albany. But we still wanted to be patient with them and make sure they get the right instruction on a day-to-day basis."
Laperriere previously served as an assistant under Devils coach Pat Burns in both Montreal and Boston. His relationship with Larry Robinson, the team's special assignment coach, dates back to the 1970s when the two were teammates with the Habs and later when Robinson was an assistant.
"When Jacques became available, we all talked about it," Lamoriello says. "We just felt he'd be great for our young defensemen."
Laperriere's two young pupils have distinctly different styles. Hale, a first-round pick in 2000, is a physical (6-foot-1, 215 pounds), stay-at-home type who rang up 241 penalty minutes in 104 games at the University of North Dakota. Lamoriello signed Hale last spring and made a point of having him around the team during last spring's Stanley Cup run. Martin, the Devils' fourth second-round pick in 2000, is slighty smaller (6-1, 190) and a more offensive-minded player, totalling 20-77-97 in 127 games at the University of Minnesota. Lamoriello calls Martin, "a natural athlete."
Lamoriello, whose scouting staff has kept a close eye on both draft picks, plucked the 22-year-olds from their college teams after just three seasons. The jump from the college game to the NHL is a difficult one, especially for defensemen, but Laperriere's guidance has helped them adjust quickly.
Both players have enabled Burns to manipulate his defensive pairings when needed. Sometimes they're paired with one of the highly talented veterans, like Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer or Brian Rafalski, and sometimes with each other. During last Saturday's 3-2 overtime loss to Tampa Bay, Martin was paired with Tommy Abelin and Hale partnered with Colin White. Martin, who has been averaging 18:32 of ice time and sees duty on the power play, scored his first NHL goal against the Lightning. Hale has been averaging 15:31.
Lamoriello's hiring of Laperriere is having an immediate impact, allowing the Devils to recover from losing Oleg Tverdovsky and Ken Daneyko. And if Hale and Martin remain part of the Devils, you can bet they won't be wearing third jerseys in Lamoriello's big picture.
Florida Panthers captain Olli Jokinen:
Q: How do you explain your sudden breakthrough last season?
A: I was thinking it was my last chance to play. I was on my way out of the league. So I just worked hard in the summer and on Day One of training camp I was ready to take charge and play hard. Everything went well from the first day and it just kept rolling from there.
Q: What is it like playing for Mike Keenan?
A: He's a tough coach. He's always challenging the guys. He's an honest guy. He's fair. Most of the time when he's telling you something, it's the truth and sometimes the truth hurts. But if you play hard for him, you're going to play. He doesn't look at the name on your back. Whoever works hard is going to play. I like his style. He keeps you on your toes every day. For a young team, it's a perfect fit.
Q: How do you feel about being the captain?
A: Mike [Keenan] asked me if I wanted to take that responsibility and I thought, "I'm ready to do that." My game is not going to change. I just want to work hard every day. I want to push the guys to be better and I want to be better myself. I think the best way to lead a team is to work hard. You don't have to make any speeches in the room. You have to show the guys you're ready to go to work every single day. I think that's the best way to lead a team.
Q: What do you remember most from your time with the Kings and Islanders?
A: It was a good time in L.A. and with the Islanders. I was young; I'm still young. Then, I wasn't mentally ready or physically ready. I was trying to do too much. When you're not mentally or physically ready to do that, you can't play. It's tough when you get traded two times in your first three years in the league. It has been good to finally find a home in Florida.
Q: How tough is it for a young European, Scandinavian or Russian player to adjust to the NHL and life in North America?
A: It's very tough if you're 18, and in my case, you're in L.A. and you barely speak English. Back home, in Finland, you have five million in your whole country. In L.A., you have 50 million people. The Kings placed me with a family for my first three months. That helped a lot. But it's a totally different life here. Luckily, when you're young, you learn quickly. Once you learn the language, everything else gets a little easier.
The Finnish-born goalie was one of the top reasons for the Thrashers' strong showing during the second half of last season. He finished the season with club records for wins (21) and goals-against average (2.88).
In the final year of his contract, Nurminen, 27, will get a substantial raise and a one-way deal next time. Unfortunately, he'll also have highly-touted countryman Kari Lehtonen trying to steal his job.
Who do you think is the most underrated coach in the league?
-- C. Simmons, Buffalo, N.Y.
I really think Kings coach Andy Murray does an excellent job. He's very well prepared and he seems to get the most out of his players. Last season, under trying circumstances, he kept an injury-riddled team in the playoff chase until late in the year. He's not the most well-liked coach. Some of his peers think he sometimes has too much to say. But, it isn't a popularity contest, is it?
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