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May 31, 2006

Kevin Lowe

Craig MacTavish

THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Good afternoon everyone. It's a pleasure to welcome Edmonton general manager Kevin Lowe and head coach Craig MacTavish to this afternoon's conference call.
Kevin and Craig were teammates on four Stanley Cup championship teams. Four with Edmonton in '87, '88, and '90, and one with the rangers in 1994. This year they are attempting to become just the second pair in NHL history to win a Stanley Cup together as players, and then later as GM and coach as a cup winner. That feat has only been accomplished previously by Lester Patrick and Frank Beaucheau (phonetic) to win a Stanley Cup together as players and later serve as GM and coach.
Q. Thank you. Congratulations gentlemen for getting to this point. Craig I'd be interested in your thoughts on the Eastern Conference final at this point. You're probably happy it's going seven games, but what have you seen in the series, and what are you going to look for in Game 7?
COACH MacTAVISH: I don't know what I feel about that. I know the team that survives Game 7 is going to come through it on top of their game, obviously. I don't know whether it's better to have a lengthy lay off like we're having right now or to just keep the rhythm that obviously they have going right now. But it's been a terrific final, and we're looking forward to watching Game 7 tomorrow night. It should be a good one.
Q. Can you just give me one quick comment about the comparisons to your club this year to 1990? Obviously, that was the post-Wayne era and people didn't think the Oilers were going to go far. You rode a hot goalie kind of like you're doing now. Do you draw some paralells to that team?
COACH MacTAVISH: Yeah. A lot of similarities I think. As you mentioned, both the emergence of Bill Ranford and in this run with Dwayne Roloson. Both goaltenders emerged during the playoffs, and both teams continued to get better during the course of the playoffs. It's not completely expected certainly that the 1990 Edmonton Oilers would have success in the post season.
It certainly wasn't expected for our recent run. But both teams got better as the playoffs progressed because of the nature and the level of the competition that they faced. And you know, I don't know whether I feel -- I was pretty confident in 1990, and I'm getting more and more confident this year.
Q. Thank you. Congratulations guys. Kevin, my question is: You guys were forced to make a lot of trades for guys that were really due big paydays in the pre-lockout, and immediately after the lockout you became a buyer by picking up Pronger. Can you talk about how important the new economic system was to the health of your team?
KEVIN LOWE: Yeah. I think to not only us, but to many teams in the league, they really -- obviously Edmonton was one of the teams perhaps most vocal throughout the lockout. We -- I personally have lived it for a number of years, and thought the economics were getting to a point where it was getting increasingly difficult.
I think, you know, the 24 percent rollback was the immediate dividends for a lot of teams. In our case, it allows us to -- right away to go out and make a deal for a guy like Chris Pronger and then eventually Michael Peca. But I think, you know, none of us felt at the time that -- or anybody in hockey -- that the results would be immediate. What I liked about the new CBA was at least we knew there was a ceiling. At least we knew if we were competing with other teams that they could only go to a certain level in terms of comparison to players and arbitration and things like that.
You know, it would be a little tighter, a little more restrictions on what teams could do so we could compete in that. More importantly, to be able to draft and develop players. And if we wanted to keep those players, we had the resolve economically to do that. We wouldn't be -- our hands wouldn't be tied because other teams could go above and beyond what we could do.
Q. Can I ask you -- I mean, you mentioned feeling. I mean, did you purposely give yourself kind of the flexible and the wiggle room. You and Carolina both made big deals at the deadline because you had that space. How imperative was that?
KEVIN LOWE: I personally had a lot of beliefs that the CBA was going to get done and it would be a much better deal than what existed previously. I don't think anyone could have predicted the end result. But we allowed ourselves room thinking ahead trying to envision what the new CBA would look like. We've always had a young team and a lower-salaried team. So we in that position. It's not like we had to work very hard it achieve that.
But as this season moved on, talked about having wiggle room mostly from our budget speculative. But the Canadian dollar helped out a lot this year. We knew that if we were in a position that we could make some deals, and that we had a little money to spend.
Q. Can I also ask you, you know, pre-CBA, how demoralizing was to it to get to that point where you just knew you had to trade players away?
KEVIN LOWE: It was a progressive thing. I absolutely enjoyed every year as a manager. I never thought going into a year that we didn't have a chance to win. We had some experiences playing teams like Dallas and Colorado where we were able to knock them off, and that always gave us hope.
I know the players in the dressing room, the coaching staff, always felt they could win. But the economics were changing year after year to the worst as far as a team like Edmonton was concerned. It was at times five and ten percent. And that, you know, we were already at a point where we were in our ever over your heads in terms of competing economically, that the increased percentage by year was just making it that much more difficult.
But what helped us out was we knew there was an ending. We knew that 2004 of that CBA, and we hoped and felt that Gary Bettman could design a new playing field for everyone. So that certainly kept us going.
Q. I've got a question first for Craig then Kevin. Craig, Ryan Smyth early in the playoffs took a puck in the mouth and had to leave the game and was ready at the start of the next period to play. First of all, did that surprise you on any level that he came back into the game? And could also mention to me what it means to have a guy like Ryan on your team who's been there during the struggling years?
COACH MacTAVISH: No. It didn't surprise me at all that he came back. I've seen him come back -- a few years ago he broke his ankle here against Chicago. He came out the following period and tried -- that was the Olympic year. I'm sure you remember.
Q. Yeah.
COACH MacTAVISH: He came back from that to play in the Olympics in Salt Lake. So I've seen him come back from worse. I guess it made it worse because it was friendly fire from Prongs trying to kill the penalty kill. Took his teeth out. But, it's clear that Ryan's going to do whatever he can to get his name on the Stanley Cup. You can see it in the couple practices that we've had here that he is just totally focussed and is going to take advantage of every opportunity and make sure that he's ready to play.
So it's gratifying for me as a coach to see guys like him that have put in the work year in and year out. We always believed we could win, but a lot of times it was a tough task. Those guys, like Ryan, never cheated the coaching staff or their teammates or the fans at all in their work ethics. So it's a great example of perseverance, and hopefully he can cash in on the next round.
Q. Thanks, Craig. Kevin, I wondered about Chris Pronger. When the NHL announced the rules changes, I think a lot of people envisioned that Chris might be one of the players that struggled because of the type of game he played up until this year. I'm wondering, were you at all surprised that he's excelled under the new system? And what have you seen in Chris's play that's helped your hockey team?
KEVIN LOWE: Well, you know, we really put a lot of value in hockey sense and competitiveness. And, you know, I think in terms of evaluating players, Chris Pronger doesn't take a back seat to many players, if any, in the league when it comes to those two.
So no one really know with the new rules what was going to happen, how they were going to unfold. But he been everything times two that we could ever have hoped for. The thing that I admire most is he's a guy that stepped in and was a captain, a clear leader in St. Louis. But usually great leaders react the way he did by embracing and accepting the fact that Jason Smith was captain and that there were already leaders here, and that was just going to fit in and play hockey. And besides his on-ice contribution, I think that's what's impressed me most.
And not unlike Ryan Smyth and a lot of these guys, just to name is few -- the Stanley Cup, they've talked about it all season long. Talked about going into the playoffs.
Prongs is so focused to win the Stanley Cup it kind of reminds me a bit of Wayne -- not to compare the players, but just in terms of his desire to win the way Wayne Gretzky was in his earlier years. Because he had all the stats by then and personal accomplishments, and he knew none of it really meant anything until he won the Stanley Cup.
So hope of fully those guys, Ryan and Prongs and Steve Staios and Moreau, and Jason Smith, Michael Peca, just to name a few, will be rewarded with the ultimate prize. And I know Buffalo and Carolina has those players as well, but we're obviously hoping for these guys here.
Q. Hi, Craig. Hi, Kevin. A question for both of you. I'm sure, Craig, it seems like a long time ago that battle for eighth spot with the Vancouver Canucks. Is this just a great advertisement to just get a ticket to the dance because you never know what's going to happen?
COACH CRAIG MacTAVISH: I would say that's very safe to say based on our recent run here. But the team -- and all the teams that had the late playoff push to get in -- were all very successful in this year's playoffs. San Jose, Anaheim, ourselves. You know, quickly dispatched the four top seeds, which is very rare. And I think it speaks to the fact that all four of the teams -- five, six, seven, eight seeds -- their game was dialed in on a more immediate level than what the other teams were just based on necessity.
And once the playoffs started, it was a style of play that five, six, seven, and eight were pretty accustomed to. From our perspective we were just so happy to get in and just alleviate a lot of pressure on the players. As difficult as it is to say, the playoffs were actually less pressure-filled and less stressful than what the last few weeks were. I'm sure you saw that when we were coming through Vancouver and saw it in the play of the Canucks as well. You just get in there and you got a chance, for sure.
KEVIN LOWE: It's great for the league, and I think anybody in the west -- and I suspect we don't see the east much anymore. But they would say the same. All the people in hockey really felt that you just had to get in the dance, and this year more so than any. And you know, for many decades that was the case.
Personally, I thought going into the season that the Canucks had the best team in the west and didn't make the playoffs. Had they have made the playoffs, might have done some damage as well. So it's just a real credit to the league to the parody and a really a bonus for fans in future years, I think. I don't think much is going to change next year.
Q. Yeah. First for Kevin. Kevin, as a player you had lengthy layoffs like this all the time. Often winning series in four or five games. How did you guys cope with that?
KEVIN LOWE: Yeah. One year we had 11 days off before the final.
Q. Yeah.
KEVIN LOWE: It's just -- I was talking to a few guys earlier in the dressing room, and I jokingly said, "You think you guys got a couple more weeks in you?" You just see the smile on their faces. They're having the time of their lives. They'll do this for another two months, and put the time in and put the effort in.
Now, of course, you know, they're always going to work as hard as they need to. The coaching staff have plenty of experience in terms of putting a proper practice schedule together and having the guys dialed up at the right times, you know, as far as the conditioning element and competing in the last couple days.
But at the end of day you just have to remind the players that you got to get that intensity back up and you got to get out there and block shots and take the hits and do all the little things that you've done a week or nine days prior.
But I really believe, Eric, that when the desire's there, that you know, if it takes five minutes in a period or two periods, that over the course of a long series, the game will be dialed up to where it needs to be
Q. And to that end, there was a report that you guys were going to go east for a couple days to climatize yourself to the heat and humidity and such; is that true?
KEVIN LOWE: That's our plan. And also to break up the monotony a bit for the players. We didn't know where we were going, so we wanted to somewhere central that we could go to either Buffalo or Carolina. So we're still just trying to finalize those plans. And if so, yeah, we would depart tomorrow and practice for a few days before we headed to the next city.
Q. Kevin, it would be a stretch to compare this Oilers team to the dynasty you guys had back in the '80s. But in putting this team together, and as it's turned out, can you compare this team to the group that you guys had together back in the '80s?
KEVIN LOWE: No, I really haven't thought about it too much. There certainly are some star players on this addition of the Oilers. Great goaltending again. But the No. 1 comparison I would think is the desire and the camaraderie, the team spirit. I don't think anybody gets to the Stanley Cup finals without having it. That's always a constant.
The incredible sense for guys wanting to spend more and more time together. Can't get enough of each other, which is a good thing. Their team meals and after games and on the road and in the dressing room hours before the game. Really enjoying the experience. That would probably be the best comparison.
Q. And obviously you had a great goaltender then: Grant Fuhr. Can you tell us what difference Dwayne Roloson has made in getting you this far?
KEVIN LOWE: Well, their styles are quite different, really. But the constant there is that Grant never was ever flustered, never ever seemed to get rattled. And we've only been around Dwayne for a few months, but he seems to show those same characteristics. Very confident in his own ability, but certainly not cocky. A very workmanlike approach to the game, which, you know, Grant showed up, went through all those routines, stopped the puck. At the end of the day he didn't receive or want any of the praise. "Hey, that's what I'm paid to do is stop the puck." And Dwayne really seems to have the same mentality and personality.

Q. Thank you very much for doing this, both of you. I'm noticing that when you look at the players that you added to the team this year -- and then there's some obvious draft picks like Hemsky -- you guys have had a lot of success with players from the lower rounds. Guys from 30 on down: Laraque 31st, Winchester 35th, Stoll 36th, Horcoff 99th. And I've just been wondering about your feelings of Kevin Prendergast and the job he's done over the year watching some of those guys leave and what you've accomplished this year with a core of drafted players?
KEVIN LOWE: I'm glad you brought his name up. He certainly deserves a lot of the accolades for a team that's reached the Stanley Cup finals. Been in hockey for a lot of years with Central Scouting and then with the Oilers going on a couple decades now. Like a lot of the player personnel, guys do a lot of work behind the scenes. It's a never-ending job. Kevin is as much an Oiler as anybody that has been around. He knows what an Oiler is, and as a result, when he's out in Europe and western Canada, Eastern Canada, the States, college games he's looking for Oilers.
And you're right, we have been fortunate to have some good players picked after the first round. Recently we've had some good first rounders as well, but I really take a lot of pride in the players that have been drafted past the first ruined. They've really contributed, and to a certain extent not only allowed for us to have this success, but we really feel we're set up to stay competitive for a lot of years.
One of the reasons why we're able to make to the deal for Chris Pronger is we moved three assets for one, and that's because we were in a position where we had been acquiring draft picks and players through trades for a number of years. That stuff doesn't get done without all the work behind the scenes and Kevin Prendergast and Scott Howson and their staff.
Q. Craig, I was wondering if you could talk about your impression of Rem Murray's return to the NHL. First of all, how improbable it was and what impact he's had on the team?
COACH MacTAVISH: Yeah. It's been quite a story for Rem to come back here end the series. We saw him two years ago in Nashville when he was first diagnosed with it, and it looked really bad. I was shocked when I heard he was back playing again. He went to Detroit's camp this year and then ended up in Houston as you know, I'm sure. We got him and we were familiar with the personality having had him here before. Great Oiler and a good team guy.
So when we had the opportunity to add the depth, we needed that after we made the deal for Sergei Samsonov and had to trade Marty Reasoner. We needed the depth, and he's come in here and -- it took him a couple weeks to get up to speed, but he's playing exceptionally well right now. From the hockey side he's come in and he's really added an element that we needed, and he's playing very well.
Q. Sorry to let the cat out of the bag. I'm wondering about the decision -- if wither of you guys can talk about the decision to go from Edmonton to New York tomorrow to try to get away from Edmonton and the distractions. Why New York? Does it have anything to do with your ties to the Rangers from previous years?
KEVIN LOWE: No, not at all. Well, mind you, I should say both Craig and I played in New York, so we both had kind of earmarked an area that could be central or in between the two potential cities that we're going to. And I don't know if we've got it dialed into exact, but it's pretty close on the geography side of things. Wanted to get in the eastern time season.
You know, it's very humid in the east right now, and Edmonton is very dry climate. We just figured that might be a good thing. Change things up for the players a bit. Knew we were going east and we knew we were starting out on the road, so we wanted to move out a couple days before to allow the players to climatize out a little bit.
Q. A follow up if you guys don't mind. Can you both just talk briefly about the memory that you got from 1994 that Stanley Cup run?
COACH MacTAVISH: Well, was the ultimate mercenary in that run. I came at the deadline and I was only there for maybe the two weeks before the playoffs and then the playoff run. But it was a wild affair for everyone. The fans are pretty similar both in Edmonton and New York right now in terms of how excited they were. In mean, it was 1940s, as everybody knows, since the Rangers had won their last Stanley Cup. It's been 16 years here.
Our fans are very excited to have us back from that respect. And we haven't had it for a long run for a number of years. Both atmospheres in the building are very similar.

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