Brian Leetch press conference transcript
Thursday, 08.4.2005 / 12:00 AM ET / News
Press conference participants:
Mike O’Connell, Bruins General Manager
Brian Leetch, Bruins defenseman
Mike O’Connell: Good morning. Thank you for coming out to this great occasion for the Bruins. I am here to present one of the pieces that we thought we needed to acquire when the new CBA was signed and to put a team together with our goal of winning a championship. I think that today, along with the other signings, we are making that statement. We need to upgrade our team, and one of our first priorities was to look for a defenseman that would provide that leadership on the blue line, provide the offense and give us a chance to be successful with the new rules and the new environment, and we are very happy to have Brian with us now. It’s a great day for us, we have a little more work to do, but Brian is an important piece to what we feel to be a successful Boston Bruins organization.
Question: Do you know what number you will be wearing?
Brian Leetch: There are not a lot of single numbers available; they are all in the rafters.
Q: What was the thought process in deciding to sign with the Bruins?
BL: I know when the season was canceled I figured there was a good chance that I would be an unrestricted free agent—that my contract with Toronto would be done. I certainly had looked at teams that were going to have flexibility in the market. I am at the end of my career—I’d like to play for as long as I can. Hopefully I have many years left that I can look forward to being a team that is going to be successful. The Bruins have one of the best young goaltenders in the game in [Andrew] Raycroft, on defense, [Nick] Boynton is going to be one of the best young defensemen, and will be so for many years to come. And then they have [Patrice] Bergeron, [Joe] Thornton and [Sergei] Samsonov up front, so that’s kind of the core that you would want to be building your team around for many years. Obviously, I had tried for Boston and I’m excited about the opportunity and was hoping that if it came to this, that something would work out.
Q: Did you think of re-signing with New York?
BL: Well, I didn’t talk to New York during this free agent period. I assumed that when I was traded that if I were in their future plans, they would have let me know at that time, and that conversation never took place. When I was in Toronto I assumed that—I was surprised the season was canceled—I thought that I would be back playing in New York next year, and make decisions for my last year. But then when the season canceled, I started thinking about what opportunities might arise.
Q: What do you think of the new rules changes?
BL: I am interested like everyone else, really. I think that we are all excited about the prospects of the game becoming a little more open and the scoring chances increasing. The quality of goaltenders in the league will probably still limit the actual goal scoring, but I think the scoring chances will increase, and I think that is really what we want. Nobody minds if the goaltenders are the best players in the game—forced to make stops—that’s the exciting part of the game. I’m interested to see how these new rules will affect the game.
Q: How do you think the long layoff from playing hockey will impact you?
BL: I think it’s going to feel the same as when you don’t make the playoffs and miss four months. I’ve never skated a lot until August beforehand, so I’m always go into the season anxious and looking forward to training camp and those three and a half weeks to get ready. And I feel the same way now. I have been skating, and I don’t feel any different than just not skating for a few months. You know the game, we’ve played it for a long time and it’s just doesn’t change that much. I’m in good shape, and I don’t think it’s going to be any adjustment whatsoever. Starting the first game of the season I will be ready to go.
Q: Do you see yourself quarterbacking the power play?
BL: I hope so. That will be up to Mike Sullivan and the coaching staff, but I have been in that role before and certainly enjoy being on the ice as much as possible but you have to earn it. They may put me in that position to start but if we are not successful, they will put other people there. I plan on contributing in a lot of areas.
Q: What did you do during the lockout?
BL: I was in the Boston area up through January. I skated in this area because there are more players around than in the New York area. Once the middle of January came, we went back to New York and put my son back in preschool there and stayed through to June in the New York area and then came back to the Cape.
Q: Does experience and leadership come into factor when making this type of signing?
MO’C: It’s very important. Brian has accomplished quite a bit in his career, the way he handles himself, the experience he can lend to some of our young defensemen. We still feel we have three or four young defensemen who haven’t made it yet, but who are on the verge of making it, and they have to have someone to look at and learn from, not only on the ice to watch the game, but also at practice and how they carry themselves. What’s important is how they interact with their teammates. Those are all very important things. When you acquire players those are all the questions that we ask and want to make sure is okay. With Brian’s experience—the way he carries himself—I think it’s going to be an excellent addition. And hopefully, he’ll provide leadership for us many, many, years down the road for what he does for us for hopefully the next couple years.
Q: How did you handle the transition when you were traded from New York to Toronto?
BL: The trade was difficult for sure when you first find out. I happened to be here in Boston [for a Rangers away game] in March when they called me and told me I had been traded to Toronto. Those next two or three days, going home, packing up, going right to Toronto, new team, playing a game right a way was difficult, but after a few days, the fans there were terrific, the organization was terrific and the players—it was an older, veteran team—it was very easy to go into. It was the first time I had been traded, so it was a shock for a short time, but it was an easier transition than I had expected it to be. I think being away from the game for a year, we are coming back together to a different situation, and I don’t feel that I am entering a team that is in the midst of being together for six months. We’ve all been away from each other and it’s time for everyone to get back on the ice. I don’t feel like I am entering an uncomfortable situation.
Q: Did you come here with the hopes of helping the Bruins win the Stanley Cup?
BL: I have a lot of friends in the area that have been constantly telling me that for years, and I wasn’t even on the Bruins. They kept saying, ‘Come to Boston, let’s win the Stanley Cup.’ The phone has been ringing constantly from a lot of people that are excited about it. There is no way you can’t help but think about. That’s why we are here, why we are playing. I signed, I agreed to this after I saw that they signed [Glen] Murray and people continue to be added. My excitement about wanting to be a part of that certainly heightened as I realized there was a chance to win here; you know that’s what we are playing for. There is no reason why we should not be shooting for a Stanley Cup, there’s a lot of ups and downs throughout the season, but I think that over the years it seems the teams that are in the finals or the semifinals [get there because], there is an opportunity when you have a solid core and a bunch of guys that get along.
Q: Why did you sign a one-year deal? Were you looking for more years?
BL: I thought I was more attractive to teams this way. I was interested in on a one-year deal; it leaves options for whatever team. And I was hoping that Boston would be that team, especially with the salary cap [where it is]. Money that’s put aside years down the road can come back and hurt teams, I thought that it would keep some internal pressure on me to perform. I would like to play as long as I can, like I said, I love playing the game and I hope I stay healthy and I told Mike [O’Connell] I would like to do this again next year. [I hope to] have a good year and be back again to sign next year.
Q: What made you decide to sign now instead of waiting?
BL: I thought it would better [to sign now]. I was going to wait longer and see how teams developed and see where I might fit and the successful teams. We went to the Bruins and they came to us early in the process and they were pretty much my number one choice, so when this came about I thought it would be good for me. I thought it would help me perform and keep some pressure on me to play well so the Bruins will want me back next year.
Q: Do you have plans to add any additional players?
MO’C: Yes we do. We have a couple of options. With Patrice Bergeron being either a center or a winger, and equally capable in either spot, the process now is for our offices to try to fill in with either a top center or a top winger and that is what is on going right now. As I was mentioning to Brian [Leetch] earlier, the team you have in August—and you try to put some pieces together that can get you through—and how it will look come February or March could be totally different. We want to make sure we have some space and cap room available because it happens every year that there are great opportunities down the road that aren’t available right now, but that we want to be able to take advantage of. We’re still talking, still in search of either that defenseman or forward that we feel we need to have a chance at the Stanley Cup.
Q: Was it important to you to sign with a team that you thought had a chance to win?
BL: That was my one strategy or goal was to find a team that I thought I had a chance to be successful on and that I could fit in and contribute. Certainly I knew that the Bruins had an opportunity to be aggressive on the market and already had a good core of players to build around and made a few signing right away of other quality people and great hockey players, which made it much easier for me. And I actually signed sooner than I thought I would.
MO’C: This is the first year I can ever remember, that you had to really—in talking to the agents and sometimes talking to the players—really lay out what you are trying to accomplish and we did that right off the bat. The free agents that we did sign—it was very competitive out there and many of these free agents could have gone wherever for the money—but I think they liked what we said, what we have, adding Brian [Leetch] will probably lend itself to acquiring other players. When we added Glen Murray it probably spurred other players to think, and some of current players made phone calls to certain free agents to see if they were interest to see if we could get them on board. So it was a team effort, trying to create this, but it is totally different from anything we have ever seen before. Trying to convince people that we have a good team and are committed to winning a championship.
Q: Brian, can you talk about your previous defensive partners and what styles they played?
BL: I played with Jeff Beukeboom for a lot of years and his style was very basic, play the body, eliminate the puck, my job was to come in clean up from there. We prepared a lot with our top offensive line and that was usually [Mark] Messier and those were our most successful years, but that was a unique situation because I was in one place for so long and then I was traded to Toronto. I think it’s just an adjustment, its up to the coaches. I played with Brian McCabe last year and he was a finalist for the Norris Trophy and an offensive and a well-rounded player, and I had a lot of success with him in the short time—three months—that I was there. I think that I’m able to adapt to different type of partners and certainly they will do the same for me, and we will play off of each other’s strengths and go from there.
Q: What are you trying to address in terms of needs for the team?
MO’C: It changes. There was no secret that we’re out to acquire a top forward and we thought we had a chance at [Mike] Modano, and we were in the [Peter] Forsberg sweepstakes, but things happen so quickly that it’s changing completely changing. You have a spreadsheet up on the board and you’re punching in names and numbers. When it comes down to it, we want to punch in the right names and the right numbers and hopefully we will have some room here if Joe [Thornton] or Sergei [Samsonov] wants to see what we have done. Hopefully they can say, ‘I want to get a deal, you accomplished what you said you would do, there’s a chance to win, I want to be there.’ So we will have some space and that was one of the big deals with our decision-making. If we are going to do this, we are probably going to be over, we’re going to have to eliminate a defenseman, and then we can make an agreement with Joe or Sergei. All of those aspects of that went into a short period of time to make a decision.
Q: Where at all nervous about sitting around and seeing what offers would be out there?
BL: It’s exciting to be talking about hockey, to be talking about playing with teams and certain players. It hasn’t been the most enjoyable year for everybody. We are excited about hockey and to be in this position to be talking about different teams. If anything, you should notice the players that have been signed to start coming together.
Q: Do you have any specific memories of playing here in Boston?
BL: I have always had a lot of friends here. I’ve always had friends in the stands for all these games [in Boston]. With the old Garden, the size of it, you always had to be ready to play here, when you came out. Besides the ice, the players you were playing against, the fans were right on top of you. When I was a young player it was an exciting place to come, specific memories no, but there was always seemed to be a game at the beginning of the year that I would be excited because I knew that I would have a lot of friends at the game and that was exciting.
Q: Do you think that market value for Joe [Thornton] and Sergei [Samsonov] has changed in the last week?
MO’C: We think so. When we presented those offers, 10 days ago, two weeks ago to Joe [Thornton] and Sergei [Samsonov] we had no idea what free agency would bring to these players. You read about the 24 percent rollback in salaries, the salary cap and how they have an effect on it, but I never dreamed that there would be so many $4 million players, and I just didn’t expect it. I don’t think anyone could have forecasted that, the way the market went. The agents I talked to, they were surprised, but that is just the way it played out and so, yeah, I think that making those offers to Joe and Sergei at that time, it was a shot at what we thought the market might be. We weren’t far off, I don’t think, but the market has changed, and we are prepared to address that.
Q: Does that first offer hurt you guys in terms of moving the negotiations forward?
MO’C: No it doesn’t. It was a little bit too early, trying to figure it all out. You always need to have some extra space if you need it to try to accomplish things that we would like to get done. If we didn’t do that than we would have a chance to let it play out and have a chance to sign one of these guys before the season begins and before it ends.
Q: Did you ever think you would become a Bruin?
BL: Certainly I thought about it many times. I was proud to be drafted by the Rangers and I thought I would finish my career in New York, but there were many times that I thought about being a Bruin. Just like you daydream about a lot of things. Yesterday when I was with a couple friends, we were all just shaking our heads because we couldn’t believe that this was a reality. When you are around your friends, you talk about different scenarios, and wouldn’t it be great to be a Bruin, and now it’s hear, and yeah, its been a little bit of a shock but in such a great way. I will be able to put on a Bruins uniform and go out every night and perform in this city.
Q: You talked about this while you were fishing?
BL: Yeah because we weren’t catching fish.
Q: Have you thought about the long tradition of great defensemen with the Bruins?
BL: My dad grew up in Braintree and the Bruins were certainly his team, and he played hockey through college. Bobby Orr and [Phil] Esposito were players I remember as a kid, talking about them, pretending I was them playing down in the basement. When I moved to Connecticut, we didn’t get a lot of hockey. Just before high school and into high school, I started to see Bruins games and watch Ray Bourque. And that was a player that I really looked at as the best defenseman I had ever seen. He was fun to watch, and coming into the NHL and getting to meet Ray, he was very gracious and very nice to me when I didn’t know how to respond to him because, when you watch someone for many years and get to meet him, it is always a strange feeling. And he was always very nice to me. If I look back it would have been great to play with Ray at some point. I did once at an All-Star game and that was a real thrill but certainly to come here and be able to put on the same spoked-wheel is a great feeling.
Please Note: Actual questions were not recorded, so they may not be exact.