JF: You just used the word Yankees and that’s the team you constantly bring up and you’ve probably touched on it in the last answer but are the Yankees the epitome of dynasty or…?
DL: I think what I find fascinating about them…I think everybody wants to talk about, ‘oh you know this team doesn’t that have much money and look what they’re doing’. And that’s great, but I remember telling this to Kenny Holland five, six years ago and you know before when there was no cap, and I remember seeing how he was going to meetings when his team was in the third round and things and I tell him ‘you know what, I’ve got so much respect for’…because people back then were like oh look how much money the Red Wings spent…BULL…I think the hardest management job in all of sports is the New York Yankees because you’re expected to win and it’s a heck of a lot easier when it’s ‘okay if we win great, but if we don’t, it’s okay, I have an excuse’. I mean, I don’t care what walk of life you’re in, it’s a lot easier to work when ‘if I fail, I got a fall back’, the Yankees don’t have a fall back, the Red Wings don’t have a fall back…that’s tough and so you see what happens with the Yankees, heck, they’re looking at their record and all the crap they’re taking, it’s incredible and then you look at the playoffs seven years in a row, ‘it ain’t good enough…that’s incredible’. I think that’s what I admire, when you’re expected to win and you find a way to get it done, I find that one of the most fascinating nuances in sport, period. Gretzky had that. They expect a win and then they find a way and I think there’s a difference, I’ve said this before, there’s a difference between a guy who plays “to win” and a guy who “plays to play well”. The guy who plays to win will play well. The guy who plays to play well might not always play well. I think that’s what I admire most…that they have those expectations on them, no fall back, no excuses and they get it done. And then you see those guys and everybody forgets too that when the Yankees were struggling there, it was still those homegrown guys, you’ve heard me talk about guys like Posada (Jorge) or Rivera (Mariano), they came up but it was still built the right way, they don’t win until those guys come through in the system. Now they kept them obviously because they are Yankees but even then they couldn’t go out and buy it so it was another reason I admired them, that those guys came up and they kept them together which is something we tried to do here. If we’re going to bring our guys through the system, let’s run this so we can keep them so they can learn to be like those guys and go through the ups and downs and then learn to expect to win and rise to the occasion.
I mean you saw some of that too and it’s not only the goals and things, was it you or Johnny Stevens (it was both of us) saying against Vancouver, when Mike Richards sent that message-so the athlete sees that but a fan might not see the impact- that’s rising to the occasion and it’s not the big goal but there’s a message sent there that the bench goes (whistles-like the team’s energy is rising) but I think that’s the biggest thing I admire is that when you have expectations on you and you meet them—that’s pretty powerful.
JF: This question is a combination of the last two questions because when I think of the Yankees because of my era growing up, I think of Reggie Jackson. He’s was the ‘straw that stirred the drink’, he’s the “individual” but was it the Yankees system and structure that taught him to learn how to win?
DL: Although remember he won in Oakland. Baseball is a “team game played by individuals”, it’s probably the least team game of all but you can still see the Giants—that’s clearly chemistry and I was up there too because I’m close with Ned (Coletti) and you could see it, the Giants have “it.” So clearly chemistry, for those who want to say it’s just a bunch of individuals, the San Francisco Giants are clearly an example and the Dodgers conversely with all the stars didn’t have time to be a team so to say it’s just individual, no that’s not accurate.
I think “what maybe neutralized things”, was that Thurman Munson was there and they obviously battled and things like that but he was one of the greatest leaders, of the Yankee leaders…but don’t forget Reggie won in Oakland too and give him credit, you talk about “rising to the occasion”. You bring up an issue here, I think when we grew up, we didn’t necessarily like the Muhammad Ali stuff, I’m older then you…but when Mohammad Ali started doing that, but he was the first one…but he backed it up. But even then, backing it up was still not the way of the athlete because…if you think of the athletes back then…it was Jim Brown or whatever…the great player Bob Cousy, Jerry West…it was not bravado and that wasn’t the way you conducted yourself…it respect for the opposition…so here comes Muhammad Ali, talking how great he is and then goes and backs it up…OK. So now we accept that and now has it blossomed to where you’ve got bravado but you’re not backing it up and it “still sells”. I’m thinking of the wide receivers…remember those guys with the Bengals that tried that whole thing it was like “the show went before backing it up”…so if you look at Reggie, you can never say this guy didn’t rise to the occasion and then he had his Muhammad Ali thing so do we have to accept that today? Today it’s gone too far where now you don’t have to back it up and it’s okay…I’m not sure.
JF: Would you say or agree with…both Jackson and Ali “went in to win” and not “to play great”?
DL: No question.
JF: Look at Ali against Foreman. Foreman was by far the favorite. He (Ali) did a lot of the stuff here (pointing to my head) to mentally find a way to win because maybe he felt he didn’t have the power, the endurance anymore but he found a way?
DL: And was he doing it to get into the other guy’s head maybe…I guess that was the birth of trash talking and it can get to guys, but we’re getting into a whole new area…it’s fascinating.
JF: Last question here, it may seem simple as we sit here…but…why was Darryl Sutter the perfect choice for the Kings? Did you ever say to yourself in January, February, March… I know we’ve got a good team here…but we’re not clicking as much as we thought we would, and I know Darryl can push the right buttons?
DL: Yeah…if you’re asking if there’s any question that he was the guy I wanted to bring in…No, there was no question…I mean I’ve got to be honest with you, when he was in Calgary, I always thought and we used to kid, we are going to be together again and we both got fired in San Jose and went our separate ways. It was an emotional time, he was the first one I called when I fired and he was already in Calgary. We said ‘we’ll be together again, we’ll get another kick at this’ and then when we were…I always had in the back of my mind, when Bryan Murray always said, whenever you’re a coach, you never stop coaching even if you get pushed upstairs and I could definitely see that in Darryl. Darryl is that guy right there (pointing to a picture of Stonewall Jackson that Dean has hanging up in his office)…like Stonewall Jackson, he has to be in the thick of it. What he did in Calgary as a general manager people forget, that place was empty, and what he did there, some of the deals he made and talk about instilling a “culture” in a place in a hurry as a general manager and a coach, is off the charts, they only want to remember the last couple of years. But his makeup, even as a player he was captain. You know all the stories from the guys that played with him there (Chicago Blackhawks), with his shoulder falling off, you talk about a captain. So when the time came to have to make a change, fortunately he was there. I certainly have documented how much I think of what Terry Murray did for stabilizing this place and that wasn’t a thing (firing Terry Murray) I enjoyed doing, but if I had to do it, he (Darryl Sutter) was clearly my guy. There’s so many things I could say about him, it still comes down to what type of man he is, he is very much a player’s coach…this business of him being?…he’s tough on his players but don’t dare say something about him. The texts I got when I hired him, I’m getting criticized in the media but every text I got from his former players, they said, ‘great guy, I would play for him in a second’. ‘I’ll ride with Jackson anywhere, I’ll ride through hell’…I mean that’s the kind of approach I got, very much with Lee’s relationship with Jackson…‘Just go, what do you need’…a natural leader, all about team, very much a player’s coach and I think “totally honest”. The other thing too is and even better now, when I sit with him and he was a pretty brilliant hockey man before, and at times he frustrates me because I’ve got to look at the film five times to find “it” and Darryl’s like that guy from A Beautiful Mind that looks at it and says ‘oh yeah that’s it’. In typical Western Canadian, two sentences and then walks out and I’m sitting there stunned, his hockey mind is off the charts. The things he sees and comes up with, I’m going man, why didn’t I see that, but that’s why he’s in the front line like Jackson was. ‘How many supplies you need? What do you need? Okay, here you go. Call me if you need me’. That’s exactly what Lee, when he lost Jackson, that killed him more than Gettysburg. It’s true. Obviously it’s simplistic but that was as devastating to him as Gettysburg. He even looks like Darryl a little (pointing at the picture of Jackson once again).